"Fighting Pencil" vs. the Bureaucrat: Satirical Posters from the Soviet Union

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - 9:00am to Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 5:00pm
Rooster cartoon

Fisher Family Commons, CGIS Knafel Building, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA

By the 1960’s and 1970’s, outrageous practices in Soviet bureaucracy flourished. Poor planning, endless paper-pushing, redundancy and shirking, bribery, embezzlement, phony reporting, and cover-ups at all levels of the centralized economy had become the norm. The results included shoddy construction, inefficient farming methods, empty store shelves, environmental pollution, and a decidedly uncivil civil service. To combat these ills, the government enlisted the help of cartoonists and poets from the Fighting Pencil, a Leningrad-based artists’ collective. Borrowing from the folk tradition of the satirical woodcut (lubók), the artists imaginatively combined image and text to lampoon villainous officialdom with irony and sharp bite. 

This exhibition presents a selection of their arresting “public service announcements.” These posters and cartoons are among the 140 acquired by Harvard’s Davis Center Collection for Russian and Eurasian Studies in 2018 from noted public administration scholar Marc Holzer. While some target distinctly “Soviet” bureaucratic evils, others may strike the viewer as surprisingly – perhaps even uncomfortably – germane in today’s America. 

English translations are by Valerii Egorov and Vatche Gabrielian. Additional translations by Maya Garcia, Svetlana Rukhelman, and Madeline Kinkel.

Primary source of background information: Holzer, M., & National Center for Public Performance. (2010). Red tape from red square: Bureaucratic commentary in soviet graphic satirical art. Newark, N.J: School of Public Affairs and Administration.

With special thanks to Marc Holzer. 


Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 13, 7:00 p.m., Fisher Family Commons, CGIS Knafel Building, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.