[Marxism] Fwd: 'Vlady Lives' by Suzie Weissman

Sebastian Budgen sebastian at amadeobordiga.u-net.com
Fri Aug 5 04:59:51 MDT 2005

> Vlady: ¡Presente!
> By Susan Weissman
> Vlady Kibalchich, born in Petrograd in June 1920, died on July 21, 
> 2005 at
> home (in his studio) in Cuernavaca, Mexico after a difficult battle 
> with
> cancer which began as a melanoma, but spread to his brain.  He was 85.
> It is customary to say that someone of that age had a ‘full life’ but 
> in
> Vlady’s case it is an understatement. The 20th century was his life. La
> Jornada headlined his death saying “a subversive creator and critic of
> power has died.”
> For Vlady, the Russo-Mexican artist (painter, muralist and 
> lithographer)
> art was resistance and his themes were revolution and liberty. He was
> called a heretic and a rebel, but one who transformed his rebellion 
> into
> art. Though he painted with Renaissance formulas and Venetian colors,
> everything about Vlady was revolutionary. His art, his daily life, his
> writing: Social revolution, cultural revolution, revolution of 
> material,
> revolution of colors. His murals can be seen in the Biblioteca Miguel
> Lerdo de Tejada in Mexico City, and in the National Palace of the
> Revolution in Managua, Nicaragua.  In 1994 he was commissioned to 
> produce
> four monumental paintings for the Ministry of the Interior. True to 
> form,
> Vlady used this commission to question power through his art. The
> paintings soon suffered the fate of revolutionaries in disfavor – they
> were ‘disappeared’ – sequestered in the old Lecumberri prison because 
> the
> authorities decided they were a tribute to the Zapatista rebellion.  
> They
> will re-surface, we are told, in an exhibition of his work next year.
> Vlady belonged to the world but he was Mexico's national treasure. Last
> year he donated some 4600 works to Mexico’s National Institute of Fine
> Arts, enough to fill a museum in itself. There will be an homage to 
> Vlady
> at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in April of 2006. And just this month
> Vlady’s dream of an exhibition in Moscow was fulfilled – though he was 
> too
> sick to be there to see it.
> Vlady lived in Mexico for 64 years, but he dressed in a Russian peasant
> blouse, had a long pony-tail and always wore a workers’ cloth cap. 
> While
> his father, the anarcho-Bolshevik revolutionary novelist and historian
> Victor Serge was arguably more Belgian-French than Russian, Vlady was
> considered Russian, though his real nationality was that of revolution.
> Vlady’s life mirrored the political development of the Soviet Union: 
> born
> in the Civil War, child of the opposition, gulag and defeat. Vlady 
> said he
> understood nationalism and for that reason he detested it. His teacher 
> was
> the history he lived through and participated in, his friends the
> generation of revolutionaries surrounding him -- erudite autodidacts of
> the times. Vlady often said this generation is on the way to 
> extinction.
> He is one of the last links, and a Mexican newspaper called him the 
> last
> Bolshevik.
> Trotsky once accused Serge of having the temperament of the poet or
> artist. It was much more true of Vlady. Like his father, Vlady was 
> largely
> self-taught. Serge's teachers were the Russian anarcho-populists in 
> exile
> after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II; his parents were part of 
> the
> group, Narodnaya Volya,  and his uncle was executed for his role in the
> assassination itself. Vlady's teachers were the exiled Left 
> Oppositionist
> Bolsheviks, sent to internal deportation in Orenburg, near the border
> between Russia and Asia. Vlady did attend high school for a while, but 
> was
> expelled for insisting that free trade unions existed in France.
> Vlady’s mother Liuba Russokova was Lenin’s stenographer. Lenin was a
> frequent guest in the apartment at the famous Astoria Hotel in 
> Petrograd.
> Vlady liked to tell the story of the time Lenin visited, to find the 
> baby
> Vlady crawling naked. Lenin affectionately picked up baby Vlady, only 
> to
> find himself bathed in the warm jet of Vlady’s urine. Depending on the
> audience, Vlady would adjust the story, saying instead, “I shat on 
> Lenin.”
> The Astoria was just a few blocks from the Hermitage, or Winter Palace,
> where Vlady spent many of his days while skipping school, which he 
> found
> boring. The Hermitage changed his life – it was his refuge, and he 
> spent
> countless hours in the rooms featuring the artists of the Renaissance.
> Vlady said his house was filled with the fire of revolution, tales of
> sacrifice, repression, death, and pogroms, told in many languages and
> cultures. Vlady grew up in Leningrad, Berlin, Vienna, Orenburg, 
> Brussels,
> Paris and Marseilles.  In 1921 Serge went on Comintern assignment to
> Germany and participated in the German Revolution of 1923; then to 
> Austria
> until 1925. Vlady’s first language was German, but he was most at home 
> in
> Russian, French and later Spanish.
> Vlady’s first Trotskyist act came at the age of seven when he rescued a
> portrait of Trotsky from under the heels of the GPU agents ransacking 
> the
> apartment. As they arrested his father, Vlady wept: not in fear but 
> anger.
> He was a teenager when he accompanied his father into the gulag of
> internal exile. Liuba, Vlady’s mother, was driven insane by the 
> Stalinist
> persecution and remained behind, hospitalized in Leningrad. In Orenburg
> Vlady and his father nearly starved and froze to death. They survived
> thanks to food packets and money from the sale of Serge’s novels in
> France. Magdeleine Paz sent one with flour, sugar, rice and olives, and
> Serge gave Vlady a single olive, which he divided among a group of
> schoolmates – none of them had ever seen one.
> Art was Vlady’s escape from the tightening noose of Stalinism, the
> detention of his father and his mother’s growing insanity. Art was also
> his resistance.
> In April 1936 Serge and his family were expelled from the Soviet Union,
> just a few short months before Stalin began the trials that ushered in 
> the
> great terror. They were saved, their comrades were not. Serge, his wife
> Liuba, baby daughter Jeannine and Vlady went first to Belgium, then to
> Paris, just as the thunderclouds of fascism were darkening Europe.
> In Paris, Vlady came into contact with the surrealist painters and 
> poets.
> Along with his father, Vlady joined the POUM (the anti-Stalinist 
> Spanish
> Marxist Workers Party who were largely massacred by the Stalinists and
> fascists during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39).
> As Paris was falling, Vlady and Serge were making their way to 
> Marseilles,
> teeming with refugees in search of a visa out of the nightmare. Liuba
> retreated from sanity and lived out her life in a mental institution in
> Aix-en-Provence. Jeannine was temporarily with friends in the 
> Dordogne. In
> Marseilles Serge hooked up with Varian Fry, Mary-Jayne Gold, Andre 
> Bretón
> and others in a lovely villa Serge dubbed “château espere-visa.”  The
> surrealists around Bretón shifted their presence from the cafés of 
> Paris
> to the beauty of the château. Vlady, considered the passionate young
> Marxist of the crew, developed his entrepreneurial talent, collecting
> dried fruits and nuts and making them into croque-fruit, or fruit 
> rolls to
> sell, so there would be food to eat. While Serge wrote The Case of 
> Comrade
> Tulayev, and Andre Bretón was writing Fata Morgana, Vlady sketched
> relentlessly.
> Serge and Vlady finally sailed for Mexico (the US refused a visa to the
> Bolshevik Serge), first being detained in Martinique, Santo Domingo and
> then Cuba. On the boat Vlady read Bukharin and Preobrazhensky’s The 
> ABCs
> of Marxism which prompted Serge to angrily toss it into the sea, 
> telling
> Vlady now was the time to study a Spanish primer.
> In Mexico Vlady was part of a political group of exiles, mostly from 
> the
> Spanish Civil War. He met his wife Isabel Diaz Fabela, who survives 
> him.
> His father, Victor Serge, died in 1947, the year Vlady and Isabel 
> married.
> In 1949 Vlady became a naturalized Mexican citizen. For the next two
> decades, Vlady traveled and painted. He spent 1966 in Paris, and 1968 
> in
> New York, thanks to a Guggenheim grant.  Vlady is celebrated as part of
> the school of ‘nuevo muralismo mexicano’ along with Orozco, Rivera and
> Siqueiros. Yet Vlady reacted against the nationalistic works of Rivera,
> Orozco and Siqueiros, and came to lead Mexico’s ‘rupture movement.’
> In an interview in Mexico Vlady was asked what he thought of Rivera and
> Siqueiros. In particular, Vlady was asked if his ‘Sergean vision of the
> Stalinist fantasma’ colored his view: Vlady swore that wasn’t the case.
> But Siqueiros lost the talent he had, Vlady insisted – not because a
> painter is bad because he is a Stalinist – but because Vlady believed 
> he
> was a Stalinist because he was a bad painter.
> In 1986 Vlady took me to an exhibition of his work at Bellas Artes. His
> gigantic portrayal that he painted and repainted for years of the 
> Persian
> emperor Xerxes hung in the museum as a testament to the absurdity of
> autocratic absolute power. All around the grotesque Xerxes (a Cyclops 
> in
> Vlady’s painting) were tiny soldiers, trying to follow his command to 
> whip
> the sea for swallowing his fleet.
> Unfortunately the next day the workers at the museum went on strike,
> making entry impossible without crossing a picket line. Vlady said to 
> me
> sardonically -- if only the workers understood the content and message 
> of
> the work they were now making it impossible to see.  For Vlady, it was
> incomprehensible that the workers struck when he – Mexico’s 
> uncompromising
> revolutionary artist -- finally got an exhibition and he saw it as a
> comment on the condition of working class consciousness in Mexico.
> In 1989 Vlady and I traveled to Russia. It was his first time back in 
> 57
> years, and we were there to press for the rehabilitation of Trotsky and
> Serge in the glory days of glasnost and perestroika. Having Vlady as my
> Russian tour guide was like a stroll through the thirties.  His Russian
> was beautiful and we walked the familiar streets of his youth, 
> stopping at
> the art museums as well as the infamous Lubyanka. When he saw the 
> Kremlin
> he noted that it was yellow, the color of cowardice. In the Manezh (art
> museum) across the street, Vlady imagined the exhibition of his work, a
> life long dream finally realized this month, the month of his death.
> At a public meeting at the house of writers discussing the 
> rehabilitation
> of Trotsky (this was March 1989, at the time of the then Soviet Union's
> first semi-free elections), several relatives of left oppositionists 
> came
> to Vlady to introduce themselves. It was both moving and strange, this
> collection of the children of the revolution's heroes, converted into
> enemies and undesirables.
> In 1987 Vlady commented  that he and his father lived ‘in the tail of
> Trotsky’s comet.’  He belonged to a unique generation who saw clearly,
> fought tenaciously, but were defeated. Vlady was generous of spirit and
> intellect, an artist and a revolutionary to his core; he refused
> compromise yet socialized in wide circles of poets, politicians, 
> writers,
> artists and dignitaries.  He had the kind of energy that makes his 
> death
> unbelievable: Vlady just seemed immortal.
> Vlady is survived by his wife Isabel, his sister Jeannine, and five 
> nephews.

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