The Boston University Art Gallery Presents Territories of Terror: Mythologies and Memories of the Gulag in Contemporary Russian-American Art

in Arts, News Releases
October 20th, 2006

Contact: Erin Whipple, 617-358-1688 |

(Boston) – On October 24, the Boston University Art Gallery will unveil a groundbreaking exhibition, Territories of Terror: Mythologies and Memories of the Gulag in Contemporary Russian-American Art. Open through January 14, 2007, this marks one of the first attempts to chronicle the history and mythology of the Soviet Gulag through contemporary art.

Following the exhibition opening, a reception with the artists will be held on October 26, 6-8 PM. A second reception will also be held on November 2, 6-8 PM, in conjunction with the formal opening of the companion exhibition, GULAG: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom, which will run concurrently. This exhibition comes to Boston University’s 808 Gallery after a successful opening run on Ellis Island in New York, where it attracted tens of thousands of visitors.

Territories of Terror was organized by guest curator, Svetlana Boym, Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University.

The exhibition features seven internationally acclaimed artists—Grisha Bruskin, Vitaly Komar & Alexander Melamid, Irina Nakhova, Leonid Sokov, Eugene Yelchin and Vadim Zakharov—each of whom has been given a “territory” within the gallery to confront the haunted space of the Gulag in history and the individual psyche. Working in sculpture, painting, photography and installation, the artists capture the legacy of terror that shaped the Soviet mentality and demonstrates the tragic paradoxes of 20th century history.

The persistent difficulty in coming to terms with the Gulag lies in its dual image: serving simultaneously as an ideal socialist construction site and a slave labor camp, it represented both paradise and unbearable hell. To expand the image of the Soviet utopia, Stalin recruited artists, writers, and filmmakers to create Soviet popular culture that covered up the violent reality of the Gulag. Speaking an international artistic language, the Territories of Terror artists reflect upon this unique historical experience in which terror and the idea of paradise overlap.

A contested period in Soviet history, the Gulag experience has not to date received significant representation in the visual arts as compared to the Holocaust. By using visual and verbal elements to prompt memory and imagination on the subject of the Gulag, this exhibition is unique in both its intention and outcome. While the artists in Territories of Terror do not always speak directly about the Gulag, they present space for reflection on the experience.

“The artists belonged to the last generation of non-conformist art in the former Soviet Union. The works presented in the exhibition can be called ‘existential conceptualism,’ offering a glimpse into the experimental art of the 20th century that existed on the border of the territory of terror,” states curator Svetlana Boym. “It is not only about confrontation with the past, but also—more polemically—about unconfronted memories that have their own subterranean architecture.”

While art is not enough to fully comprehend the catastrophe of the Gulag, Territories of Terror creatively contributes to the dispelling of its mythology, commemorates its art, and seeks to confront its consequences on both and individual and societal level.

Dedicated to serving the public of New England as well as the University community, the Boston University Art Gallery (BUAG) is a non-profit art gallery geared toward an interdisciplinary interpretation of art and culture. Maintaining an ongoing exhibition schedule in its current location on Commonwealth Avenue since 1958, exhibitions focus on international, national, and regional art developments, chiefly in the 20th century. BUAG has a particular commitment to offer a culturally inclusive view of art, one that expands the boundaries of museum exhibitions.

The Boston University Art Gallery is located at the Stone Gallery inside the College of Fine Arts building at 855 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 (With the Artists): Thursday, October 26, 6-8 PM
SECOND RECEPTION: Thursday, November 2, 6-8 PM

ARTIST PANEL: Friday, October 27, 1-3 PM
Join artists and the guest curator for a discussion of the Gulag and contemporary art.
The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University
1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

GALLERY TALK: Friday, December 8, 4 PM
Svetlana Boym, guest curator, will discuss the artists and images in the exhibition.
The Boston University Art Gallery
At the Stone Gallery
855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

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