Saturday, May 17, 2008

Graveyard of Fallen Statues

Remember all the pictures of the Soviet Union where intimidating, super-sized and powerful stone and metal sculptures of Stalin and Lenin towered over the landscape below?  For example, here's Lenin at Oktyabrskaya square. (I managed to take that picture from my car window while at a traffic light near the Graveyard). Sculptures like this were omnipresent during the years of the Soviet Union. Even though many of the sculptures had been removed immediately after the coup--before I arrived--I still remember feeling as if they were everywhere when I lived here in the fall of the 1991. There are probably as many sculptures today; I just don't notice them as much. Moscow has changed a great deal--that's sure an understatement--and I've become so accustomed to living here--that Soviet architecture/monuments don't have the same effect on me anymore. (That being said, it's hard to live here without feeling SMALL--the wide main streets, soaring Stalin skyscrapers and many monuments do inspire awe!).

Remember all the television footage in 1991 during and after the coup in the Soviet Union? Tanks and crowds in front of the White House (parliament)? (I've written about the amazing children's park behind this building). Angry mobs victoriously knocking down the intimidating statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the police organization that became the KGB, and toppling giant statues of Lenin? Jubilant citizens chipping away at Stalin's face with crowbars and rocks? Here's an overview of the collapse of the Soviet Union, with footage at minute 7:59 of Dzerzhinsky being knocked down.

Here are photos of Dzerzhinsky's statue of Lubyanka square (in front of the KGB headquarters), before and after (Dyetsky Mir, the flagship children's store dating from the '50s where I recently bought the girls' Russian costumes, is to the left of the KGB building):

So what happened to all of those statues? I'd never really thought about it until I came upon this park behind the Central Artists' House (New Tretyakov Gallery, the modern art part of the museum), along the south bank of the Moscow River in the center of the city and across the street (Garden Ring) from Gorky Park. This garden of sculptures is referred to as the "Graveyard of Fallen Statues," a park where you can walk among both non-political artwork and many of the marble and bronze "fatalities" from the end of the Soviet Union. These sculptures outside of the park gates give you an idea of what you'll find inside:

I brought the girls here on April 19th and am only now getting around to blogging about it. If you visit the park now, you'll find flowers everywhere and the trees will be full of pretty green leaves. That being said, there's something to be said for being there before the greenery has come alive; the park does feel like a graveyard in many ways... The barren trees are a fitting backdrop for the sculptures of Soviet leaders who were responsible for murdering millions of their own citizens.

I'll take you through our own day in the park now. The kids started off by running around these modern statues:

Hmm... A LOT of differing themes run through the artwork... Sexual liberation? (That woman looks an awful lot like the logo from a certain company--G**d Vibrations, known for selling certain types of adult gadgets...) Next... perhaps religious oppression? Yeah. Right next to each other! Katya was then excited to recognize Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, wilderness, wild animals, childbirth, and the protector of unmarried girls. (They studied Greek mythology at school this winter). Both girls also liked this golden angel and the globe.

We then encountered our first political sculpture, that of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Iron Felix. It was relocated here after being removed from Lubyanka square.

We stopped for awhile so the girls could run around the tall the trees and playground areas. Yet again, they had fun being spies... (I don't think it'll ever stop "blowing my mind" that my American kids play "spy" in Moscow--especially at this place, playing hide and seek behind Lenin and Stalin...) Behind this first picture you can see the President Hotel, where many families who come to Russia to adopt end up staying. Did you remember seeing this garden from your window when you were here getting Peter, Julie? (That's a different Julie, guys, from my "Starbucks Buddy" Julie).

In this larger view of part of the park you can see a huge ship looming in the background--it's the much-hated monument to Peter the Great by the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. Here's a link to a great blog I just found about Moscow that talks more about the monument.

Talia meanwhile found a "measure of courage" (staff/stick) and switched from being a spy to a fairy tale princess (as inspired by Barbie in the Magic of Pegasus).

Next we went to my favorite part of the park, a memorial to the citizens (between 28 and 50 million) who were imprisoned, many dying, in the Soviet concentration camps and during Stalin's Reign of Terror and Great Purge--when an estimated 2 million were murdered. I find this installation incredibly moving; the feeling you get from looking at this memorial stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Stalin and Dzerzhinsky watch over the prisoners from the right; it's really sinister. I'm always glad to see bird poop on these two statues (there was some that day).

Natalia wanted to know what these statues were about and I tried to explain to her in simple terms. She grew very, very quiet and sad and asked if she could just there for a while and think about the people who had been hurt. I reassured her that the "bad people" who had done this had been gone for a long time, that we're all safe and that these statues were here to help us remember times when we didn't have the freedoms we do now.

Here's a gallery of Karl Marx, a USSR sign, Lenin and Brezhnev:

After the drama of the memorial to all those who died in the Siberian gulag, we were quite happy to move along to another section of the park that features Russians who made great contributions to the arts. Katya ran to hug Alexander Pushkin; isn't it cool that my seven-year-old has a favorite poet?!

A little more Soviet propaganda...

And then some whimsical modern art. This violin was a big hit. Katya wants her Grandma in Colorado (a professional violinist) to see it and asked me to take these pictures.

About the modern art... The violin sculpture was well-received, but this collection of torsos was NOT. To quote both girls, "BUTTS? You've got to be kidding. GROSS. EE-UUWW."

This sculpture of the old man usually has him holding a fresh flower, examining it closely, once the garden is in bloom. What a neat idea!

There is another playground area in the back of the park. The girls had fun playing on the bridges/wooden paths. By now they will have filled the little moats with water and this area will be much more fun! I like the Pinocchio, too...

We highly recommend this park! A great day trip would be to combine a visit to the New Tretyakov Gallery and this park behind it, finishing off the outing by walking across the street and taking in Gorky Park. You can easily get here from the Oktyabrskaya and Park Kulturi metro stations, or by taking the "Б" trolleybus that follows the Garden Ring road.


Tina in CT said...

Thanks for the "walking" tour of the park for those of us that won't get to it! You always find the neatest things to do with the girls on the weekends.

Rachael said...

Yes, a great little walking tour. The picture of all the stone heads is very interesting and kind of creepy. I still can't get over how many parks there are in Moscow. You should write a guide on Moscow parks, children's spots, etc. Our Moscow guidebooks had about 1 page dedicated to that.

Tami said...

I LOVE these little tours you're giving us. It's so nice to get to 'see' parts of the city we will never visit! :) Thanks!

Annie said...

There's that headband, again! (But, I like it that way!)

This is SUCH an amazing spot! How I'd love to spend some time there! I love statuary, and I must say Lansing is lean on it. (Ha!)

One thing I notice is that "living simple" in Moscow, you do have the opportunity to do all these wonderful, enriching things! What do we spend our weekends doing? Cleaning house, the garage, the yard, the car, etc. Of course I have a job that requires weekends, too (this week, just about every waking moment), but I am envious of your freedom - AND so many wonderful things to do with it!

kate said...

What a fantastic park! Interesting that the chipped off faces were saved. I'd always imagined the chipping continued until they were destroyed.

You can imagine how many statues of Lenin we have here...

Nataliya said...

Wow, it's unbelievable! Thank you for the great tour!

pearly1979 said...

Wow what an amazing place. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

The Expatresse said...

I'm impressed you know about the Good Vibes logo . . . I thought that statue looked like something I had seen, but was unable to put my finger on it, so to speak. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You're blog is dripping with venomous propaganda, to try and claim that the goal of socialist realist architecture and sculpture was to intimidate could only have been written by an ignorant and propaganda swallowing American. I am no Stalinist but you're Weltanschauung is so far removed from the truth, I feel sad that you have the responsibility of educating those children. America and the west in general created the monsters of isolated socialism through first of all isolating, then waging economic and information wars that made it inevitable for authoritarian elements to seize power to themselves. Leaving aside the millions that America killed, sponsored to be killed, Korea, Vietnam, Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran.. the list goes on and on, it is also the biggest underminer of democracy in the world having overturned more democratic regimes than anyone (the U.S.S.R) included in the history of nation states. Also having established or supported more dictatorships that routinely terrorised their inhabitants and indeed resorted to murder than any other country in the world. Get real!!!