Renowned Exhibition GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom Displays at Boston University

Contact: Erin Whipple, 617-358-1688 |

(Boston) – The National Park Service, in a unique partnership with Amnesty International USA, the Gulag Museum at Perm-36, and the International Memorial Society, will present the first exhibition on the Soviet Gulag in the United States. GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom will open at Boston University’s 808 Gallery on October 24, and run through January 14, 2007. The opening reception will take place Thursday, November 2, 6-8 PM.

GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom comes to Boston after a successful opening run on Ellis Island in New York. During its debut, the exhibit attracted tens of thousands of visitors and received significant critical acclaim, including powerful reviews in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The National Review Online, praising the exhibit’s ability to effectively portray the realities of the Soviet Gulag.

In Boston, a dynamic committee of leaders in human rights, art, history and theatre collaborated to develop a companion exhibition, Territories of Terror: Mythologies and Memories of the Gulag in Contemporary Russian-American Art, along with a wide variety of related, supplementary programming. Territories of Terror will run concurrently and is one of the first attempts to chronicle the history and mythology of the Soviet Gulag through contemporary art. The committee is composed of representatives from the National Park Service, Amnesty International USA, the Boston University Art Gallery, Boston University’s School of Theatre, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, and Boston College.

GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom traces the history of the Soviet Union’s forced labor camp system and its impact on Russia and the world today. The vast network of labor camps was an integral part of Stalin’s plans for rapid industrialization and at its height the Gulag imprisoned or internally exiled over five million citizens. This resulted in both the repression of political opposition and the availability of labor for Stalin’s economic program. Highlighted in the exhibit is the history of one camp in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Perm-36, which has been transformed into a historic site and museum by Russians committed to preserving the memory of the Gulag.

According to Victor Shmyrov, director of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36, “Our mission is to promote democratic values and civic consciousness in contemporary Russia through preservation of the last Soviet political labor camp.”

Featured in the exhibit are rare artwork of former Gulag prisoners depicting the degrading living and working conditions; archival footage from Soviet propaganda films of the largest construction projects under Stalin’s dictatorship; a re-creation of a dismal solitary confinement cell for political prisoners; portraits of former political prisoners at Perm-36; historic photographs; and artifacts depicting daily camp life, including hand-made cups, spoons and crude tools prisoners employed in their backbreaking labors.

Also incorporated are seemingly commonplace objects, such as a pair of toothbrushes inscribed with secret love messages for the recipients who were husband and wife, as well as small glass vials utilized to pass secret messages between prisoners. While these objects may not initially stand out, they serve as remarkable testaments to the human determination for freedom in the face of brutal tyranny.

In terms of presentation, the exhibit is broken down into four distinct sections. The first part details the growth of the Gulag under Josef Stalin, describes the prisoners and their supposed “crimes,” and depicts a typical day in the life of a Gulag prisoner; the second highlights the human-rights movement in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s and details how Perm-36 was converted into a high-security camp for political prisoners; the third examines the legacy of the Gulag in Russia today and focuses on the efforts of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 to educate young Russians on the history of the Gulag and the totalitarian state. Finally, the fourth part shows the links between the efforts of Russia’s Gulag Museum and historic sites around the world that endeavor to explore and give meaning to the difficult histories in their own countries.

The National Park Service provided the major funding for this exhibit. Additional funding came from The Bodman Family Foundation, The Trust for Mutual Understanding, Eastern National, The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, Amnesty International USA and generous individuals.

“The National Park Service is proud to partner with the Gulag Museum, a historic site dedicated to preservation, education, and connecting history to contemporary concerns,” declared Mary Bomar, director of the Northeast Region of the National Park Service. “In the spirit of our civic engagement initiative, this exhibit examines the meaning of liberty and the complex relationship of history, memory and the present.”

Larry Cox, executive director, Amnesty International USA adds, “We are honored to be working with the National Park Service and human rights activists from Russia on this remarkable exhibit that will help to remind and educate a new generation about this brutal forced labor camp system.”

Following the display of GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom at Boston University, the exhibit will travel to sites throughout the United States, including Independence, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Poughkeepsie, New York; and Washington, D.C.

An impressive gallery well suited to showcasing significant exhibitions of art and culture, Boston University’s 808 Gallery is the largest space committed to contemporary exhibitions in the Boston area. The 808 Gallery is located at 808 Commonwealth Avenue, on the BU campus (BU West T stop on the “B” Green Line). Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 10 am – 5 pm, Saturday & Sunday 1 – 5 pm. For more information please visit



OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, November 2, 6-8 PM


October 20-22, 2006:
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by Tom Stoppard, music by André Previn
Jim Petosa, Director
Neal Hampton, Music Director

Presented by the Boston University School of Theatre, the play takes place in a Soviet asylum, where two men, both named Alexander Ivanov, share a cell. One, a genuine lunatic, conducts an orchestra of “imaginary” musicians. The other, a political prisoner, must admit his “mental illness” to earn his freedom.
Tickets: $10.00
Contact: 617-933-8600

October 26, 2006, 6-8 PM:
Territories of Terror: Mythologies and Memories of the Gulag in Contemporary Russian-American Art – Opening Reception with the artists

The Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue

Friday, October 27, 1-3 PM:
Territories of Terror: Mythologies and Memories of the Gulag in Contemporary Russian-American Art – Artist Panel

Join artists and the guest curator for a discussion of the Gulag and contemporary art.
Held at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge.

November 2-5, 2006:
Conference on the Soviet Gulag: Its History and Legacy

Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies will hold the first international conference on the history of the Gulag at Harvard. Scholars from across the United States and the world will discuss their research and analysis of the brutal Gulag system. The keynote speaker will be Victor Shmyrov, Director of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36. Participation by pre-registration only.
Contact: 617-495-4037

November 8-9, 2006:
Teacher Workshops Featuring the New Curriculum unit, Gulag: Soviet Prison Camps and Their Legacy

The Outreach Center at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies has joined with the National Park Service to bring the history of the Soviet Gulag into American secondary schools with the publication of a new curriculum unit.
November 8th Registration: Contact Judith King, Museum of Fine Arts,
November 9th Registration: Contact

November 15, 2006, 4:30-6 PM:
Panel Presentation: Religion, Human Rights and the Gulag

Hosted by Boston College and moderated by Joshua Rubenstein, Amnesty International USA. Held at McGuinn Auditorium 121, parking is available at the BC Beacon St. garage, adjacent to the stadium.
Contact: Professor John Michalczyk,, 617-552-4295

December 3, 2006, 9 AM–3 PM:
Film & Symposium: Propaganda Textiles and Stalinist Culture in the 1920s and 1930s

Held at the Remis Auditorium in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Contact: Alexandra Huff, Museum of Fine Arts,

December 10, 2006:
Program to Commemorate International Human Rights Day

A coalition of human rights advocacy groups in Boston will sponsor a program examining the state of human rights today in the former Soviet Union to commemorate International Human Rights Day. Held at Boston University School of Management. Keynote speaker will be Ambassador Jack Matlock, who served in Moscow under President Ronald Reagan.
Contact: 617-623-0202 (Amnesty International)

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has developed a companion website for the traveling exhibit. Located at, the website provides a virtual tour of the exhibit, information on related activities in the exhibit’s host cities, curriculum materials for secondary school teachers, and a place for visitors to respond to the exhibit and share their own stories. For up to date information on all of the programming in Boston related to GULAG, please visit this website.