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Evgeny Abezgauz

Interview with Evgeny Abezgauz by Laura Bialis

Interview date: 2004
Place: Israel
Transcription:  Roman Tashlitskyy
Translation: Nika Gofshtein
Editing: Nika Gofshtein, Ann Komaromi
Annotation: Nika Gofshtein, Ann Komaromi
Publication: March 2017 in the electronic archive “Project for the Study of Dissidence and Samizdat,” ed. Ann Komaromi, University of Toronto

L. B. – So first tell me where you're from, and tell me what you do.

E. A. – I was born in Leningrad and lived there until I left for Israel. My problem was that my wife Natasha and I studied in the Bonch-Bruevich Electrotechnical Institute of Communications,[1] and then I worked as an engineer at a communications design company. Because of this, I had some access to secret information in the Soviet Union. However, since everything in the Soviet Union was “secret,” it wasn’t difficult to end up with this classification.[2] Eight years later I was admitted to the Mukhina art school[3] and became a professional artist.

And that is when all my problems began. The first time I heard of the possibility of leaving the Soviet Union for Israel was in 1972. At that point I was already working as an architect, after having graduated from the academy and having received a diploma in art. I knew that my involvement in secret projects was hanging over me. When I signed the form for access to secret information, it was written there that for three years after my resignation I would not have the right to meet with foreigners or to travel abroad.

So, I waited for three years and applied for an exit visa so that my family and I could leave for Israel. I was already an architect then, working in a large firm in Leningrad, and I received a refusal. The law was not enforced in the Soviet Union at that time: those three years turned out to be fictional. That is how I became a refusenik[4] and that is how I started on the path of Zionism, the Zionist struggle. At that time, I met Aba Taratuta,[5] and from that point, until the very end, until the end of my life in Russia, we worked together.    


The group “Alef” was a group of Jewish artists from Leningrad, organized as part of the Association for Experimental Exhibitions.[6] This movement started in 1975, a movement for the democratization of Soviet art. This was a movement of people who didn’t want to participate in official exhibits of socialist realism[7] and they united.  

There was a similar movement in Moscow: the first unofficial art exhibition in Sokolniki was destroyed by bulldozers. It became part of the history of Soviet art under the name “Bulldozer Exhibition.” [8] Leningrad’s KGB wanted to show that everything was quiet in Leningrad, that they were better than the KBG in Moscow, and that is why they gave us an exhibition hall on the distant outskirts of Petersburg, then still Leningrad – a large room in the house of culture,[9] which was being renovated. That is how this huge non-conformist exhibition – ninety artists participated – came to be. These were the first exhibitions of the non-conformist movement.

It was at this exhibition, where there were ninety artists, that we formed a group – there were twelve of us. Nobody knew how it would end; it could have ended very poorly, the KGB could have simply arrested everyone and sent them abroad, and so we formed a Jewish group. From then on, we exhibited as a separate Jewish group, and our name, beginning with our second exhibition, was “Alef.”

Later, around 1976, I managed to send out the work of ten members of the group with an American industrial exhibition, which was doing a show in Moscow. When the show finished, we sent our paintings off to America with the exhibition’s baggage, without the KGB knowing. Our American patrons arranged a travelling exhibition for our group, “Alef,” all across America; it was in about fifty different places, in different states. Thus, our Jewish artistic movement began.

Zionist affairs were happening at the same time. In our Jewish artists’ group there were only three refuseniks; the rest were not planning on leaving yet, and so they could feel a little freer, though they still took a great risk, because nobody knew how this would end. We prepared the first exhibit for our group “Alef” in secret. Nobody knew when, at what time, it would open. It was only an hour before the opening that people with whom we had an agreement called all their friends to tell them about it. That was how thousands of people gathered to look at the first exhibit of Jewish art in Leningrad.[10]

American Jewish organizations really helped us at that time. They were very supportive. The exhibit of the “Alef” group was something we did as an act of struggle on behalf of Soviet Jews, so that refuseniks would be let out of the Soviet Union, and we did it simultaneously with the exhibit organized by the Berkeley Museum. Regina Bublil,[11] who was a prominent activist in the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews in San Francisco, organized the exhibit there, and she organized the publication of the catalog of the first exhibit of this Soviet Jewish art,[12] which can now be found in many American Jewish museums.


These organizations really helped us, not only economically, but also by constantly monitoring our security. I remember that when we they arrested many of us during one of the exhibits, literally within the hour, Voice of America[13] was announcing the names of those arrested. And three hours later, every one of us was already home, although the KGB was watching us. They were afraid to take us to prison because the U.S. government and American media were watching. They really helped us in this way.

Later, I organized an art school for the children of refuseniks in Leningrad. By the way, Misha Taratuta,[14] who became a famous artist in New York, began his career as an artist-student of mine. When we were freed, he and I travelled around America, in 1988, through six different states with a joint exhibit of our art. It was called, then, “Two Living Legacies.”

L. B. – How did you make the decision to become active in the movement and to leave for Israel?

E. A. – I left because of anti-Semitism. It’s very simple. In the Soviet Union, I always felt, as a Jew, like a second- or even third-rate person. For example: at the academy, when I graduated, I was the best student, top in the course. I graduated with a degree in Industrial Design. I remember that before I received my diploma, seven different state-owned firms invited me, on very good conditions, to come work for them. And in none of these firms did the matter go farther than the classification department, or the head of Human Resources. Because there was no place that would take me, a Jew, for a job. Even though, based on the quality of my professional skills, the heads of these firms chose me over the other students. Evidently it was not permitted, then, to let Jews into the organizations.

Eventually, I got tired of all that. I decided to go where I would be like everyone else. There was only one place like that – Israel.


In fact, the majority of my exhibits are outside of Israel, in America, in Europe, in many countries. But after all it is best to live, if the person is a Jew, here.

L. B. – Tell me a little bit about your Jewish identity and how it is seen in your paintings.

E.A. – A person who has been denied an exit visa becomes a person basically without citizenship, without any rights, with no connection to society or with the government. They become nobody. There is no work, no source of income, nothing. And there is nothing left but communication with fellow Jews.

Once, this was also at some point in 1973, quite by chance, we went to Ukraine in the summer to live for a month in a town, a former shtetl – Korosten, Ukraine.[15] The mother of one of our friends from the Zionist movement lived there. And when I was in Korosten I was amazed to suddenly see a real Jewish small town. That is, people who grew up in Leningrad or in Moscow did not even suspect that there was anything really Jewish, like in the time of Sholom Aleichem, left in Russia. Practically everything, as far as we were aware, had been destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War.  

But this small place was preserved just the way it had always been. There I saw, for the first time, a Jewish carter on a horse, a Jewish shoemaker, a Jewish tailor – all Sholom Aleichem’s characters in real life. They behaved in the same way, they lived in the same way, in the same houses. I was so amazed that I immediately began a series of paintings about that small town, Korosten. All the paintings that are shown in American museums as representations of shtetl life, they are all from there, from that small town of Korosten in Ukraine. Those are real people; it is not a fairytale, really. They are all specific people with whom I was acquainted, whom I saw from a sort of distance, as a person who grew up in a big city where it was considered indecent to speak in Yiddish. That is why, unlike my parents, I do not know Yiddish; neither my wife nor I know Yiddish. So that’s where the small Jewish town in my paintings comes from. This theme began to develop and grow and, thanks to that, when I had a lot of these pictures, that was the origin for the idea of bringing Jewish artists together and creating this group “Alef,” which now is part of art history.


At that time the entire Western world had moved far ahead in art, while the Soviet Union was walking in place. That is why many artists – well, not many, we’ll say some –began to do work that was not in the spirit of socialist realism. However, they did not have the opportunity to show these works at exhibitions, because nobody dared to show them at official exhibitions.

Artists who were members of the official Union of Soviet Artists lived very well. The government bought their paintings; everything there in the Soviet Union was part of the government, there was no private sector. They bought paintings for good money, and artists lived very well economically. But, for many, that was not enough. An artist is an artist. He needs to express himself; it is not enough simply to do well economically. That’s how this movement, that was later called the non-conformist movement in art, began. It was pretty underground.

By the way, our first catalogue, which was released in San Francisco in the Museum of Berkeley, was called Twelve from Soviet Underground by our American friends. It was an underground movement in art. But then, for the first time, in the middle of the seventies, we managed to somehow show our art at exhibitions. At first in Moscow, then in Leningrad. But I must say that Soviet authorities, the Soviet regime, quickly dealt with this. After the exhibition at the Nevsky House of Culture,[16] at which, as I said, the group “Alef” was formed, all the leaders of the movement in Saint Petersburg and in Moscow were kicked out of the Soviet Union. In other words, they were forced to emigrate. And the movement was shut down, which is to say they no longer provided official spaces for these non-conformist exhibits.


The result was also a very funny story. We were permitted to submit a new application for an exit visa to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to OVIR,[17] once every six months. That is, we were able to renew this request every six months – which we did. And it was confirmed, every time, that we were refused. It was the same every six months, year to year. I wrote to them yet another time and received confirmation that I was being refused an exit visa.    

Exhibitions of our group, “Aleph,” were fully under way in different states of America – in different cities, in museums, in Jewish communities, universities. And somewhere in Connecticut – in one of these cities – there was another exhibit of the group “Alef,” and many leaders of the Jewish movement gathered there, along with the Chief Rabbi of the State, and the Governor of the State. The famous Senator Jackson came to the opening of the exhibit, the same senator thanks to whom Jews began to emigrate from the Soviet Union.[18]

He was campaigning for President Carter at the time. And he apparently needed Jewish voices, which is why he opened our exhibition. Jewish leaders appealed to him requesting that he ask President Carter to write a letter to Brezhnev, who was then the president of the Soviet Union, to demand Brezhnev release two Prisoners of Zion[19] and Abezgauz. But the Prisoners of Zion were not permitted to leave. I had not been in jail, so it turned out to be a very funny story – I was released as a gift to President Carter. That is, I received another rejection, and two weeks later I was called by someone from OVIR and asked to come in quickly so I could receive my permission to leave. That was simply unheard of in this system of KGB’s harassment of Jews. So there was that funny story; that is how I received permission to leave.


We were able to study Hebrew in an underground ulpan at the apartment of Beni Khaikin, a guy from Riga, an engineer, also a refusenik, who, sometime before Soviet rule in Latvia, graduated from a Jewish high school. And so he created for us an underground ulpan where Aba Taratuta, Boguslavsky, Lyova Furman (who later became a prominent Hebrew teacher), and many others studied. These were the first ulpans, the first underground Hebrew courses. 

There were no textbooks then; American tourists brought us one textbook, Elef Milim,[20] “A thousand words,” from Israel. And so Aba Taratuta and I, as I now remember it, photographed this textbook and distributed it, in the form of photographs, so people could have, at least in some form, a textbook to study Hebrew. This was all done underground, at night, so we would not be arrested, so we would not be found out. And so we studied; we studied Hebrew for two years. After this, every one of us started our own ulpan, began to teach others Hebrew. Aba Taratuta, my friend, taught Hebrew for many years to those wishing to leave, and I also ran my own ulpan for almost two years, which is to say I taught. Specifically, I taught Jewish art to children of refuseniks, and I taught their parents Hebrew. This was also an interesting story. Later, I ran into some of these people who were my students in the ulpan. They had immigrated to Israel and thanked me for the fact that they had come to Israel and hadn’t had problems with the language; they could begin to work immediately. It was very nice. 

L. B. – Can you talk a little bit about some different stages of your artwork and how coming to Israel changed your identity and consequently your art?

E. A. – In Russia I did a large series of paintings into which I introduced literary texts in Hebrew, which was forbidden then. This caused the KGB officials, who were keeping an eye on our nonconformist movement, great displeasure. There was a special department in the KGB – the art department. There were art experts in this department.

I already knew the Hebrew language, to an extent, and used it in my paintings. The lines that I inscribed were very similar to the biblical lines from the Tanakh,[21] but I came up with them myself and they often differed from the biblical text by being directly opposed in their meaning. And a conflict developed between what was depicted and what was written. This was an interesting direction, because when art specialists and art critics wanted to criticize an artist, they would say that the artist is creating literary paintings. That was considered a negative thing. To spite them, I began to inscribe lines, as if to say here, this is “literary.” I continued working that way; I was living by doing that.  

When I came to Israel, I continued with the themes of Jewish memory, but there were only Jews around me, and it turned out that I saw not only Eastern European Jews, but Jews from around the world. I developed a much broader perspective and drew the connection between the Tanakh, between the bible and those Jews whom I saw around me, often completely non-religious. That’s how my large series “Vanity of Vanities” came to be, based on the Book of Ecclesiastes.[22] And, essentially, I have been continuing this theme in various series for the past thirty years: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity”. I like the philosophy of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Kohelet, so much that I read it every night with great pleasure. And about gold and money… Yes, I really like the philosophy of the Book of Ecclesiastes and its primary dictum, that our entire life is vanity and vexation of the spirit.


L. B. – Can you tell me a little bit about your refusenik group? Your refusenik series? Because I think this is so important.

E. A. – Yes, of course. I was saying that I usually draw what surrounds me and what is presently occurring. And at the same time, with the series of pictures about the small town Korosten, which was called by American art specialists “A History of the Psychology of Eastern European Jewry in Pictures.” I did not look at it that way while I myself lived amongst them. I was making, at the same time, rather funny portraits of my refusenik friends, who were with me at the time. I dressed each one of them in some different style of clothing: medieval, Renaissance; I dressed them nicely and richly, as if they were old counts or dukes. Because each one of them was poor at this time, nobody could work; everyone was ousted from their jobs… And it cost me nothing to give them with my brush everything they were lacking in life.

On each of these portraits – if you are going to look at them in the catalogue from the Museum of Berkeley, Twelve from the Soviet Underground – I painted my self-portrait. Because they were my friends and I wanted to make it so we would always be together. And that’s how they were called – for example, “Self-portrait Number Eight on the Chest of Aba Taratuta” or “Self-portrait Number Eleven on Irina Mondrus’ Hand.” And so on. I did one self-portrait in the central pearl of a diadem worn by one of my refusenik friends. I also showed this series of portraits at non-conformist exhibitions in Leningrad, and later at the exhibitions of our group, “Alef.”


L. B. – Your work is shown internationally, and even in Russia, the place that you struggled to leave. How do you feel about this irony?

E. A. – Oh, this is very interesting. It is a whole other funny story. When Gorbachev started in with all his tricks, all his “perestroikas,” “glasnost,” and other nonsense, Russia suddenly opened up slightly to the West. Before that, in Israel we simply forgot about the Soviet Union; nothing was heard about it, it existed somewhere as if on another planet, nobody was interested in it and nothing happened there. And suddenly people began to talk about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union again. At that moment, in 1992, I was invited to return there, back to that place from which I was once exiled like an enemy of Soviet society, to Saint Petersburg and to do an exhibition of my own work in the most important exhibition hall in Saint Petersburg, near St. Isaac’s Cathedral, in the St. Petersburg “Manege.”

My soul was still filled with hatred toward that Soviet Union from which I escaped with such difficulty. I disliked it in the extreme, really despised it for all the horrible things it had done to me and my family. For that reason, I went there with a thirst for vengeance in my heart. First, I took the bare minimum of paintings with me, because I did not want to cater to them, to show them something great and genuine. Moreover, I was apprehensive, knowing the Soviet Union, that I might not be able to get the paintings back. The Soviet Union, never really changed very much, and it is still the same today.

But when I arrived I saw that all those people who were the officials then and who did all those awful things were gone; those who had been part of our non-conformist movement replaced them. There in the Department of Culture, the heads of museums – the Russian Museum, the most famous museum of Russian art in Russia – there were completely different people there now, the same people who were part of the underground movement with us twenty or thirty years ago.

It turned out that there was no one left on whom to take revenge. I spoke about this at the opening of the exhibition at the “Manege.” I said that I came with vengeance in my heart but that now I could not see anyone on whom to take revenge. The only thing left was to pity them; they lived very poorly at the time. You could go from one end of St Petersburg to the other for one dollar on a taxi. There was no produce in the stores, and even if there was, people did not have the money to buy it.

The only thing left was to pity them, and I really did. That was 1992. But then it got better for them, and now they have invited us again for a festival exhibition in honor of our thirtieth anniversary. They have already printed many books on art history in which our movement is included as a part of the history of Russian art. During the Soviet era, when employees of the Russian Museum needed to mention anything about Abezgauz – about me – they wrote that he is an artist from Leningrad, now abroad. We turned out to be Russian artists, but from overseas. They wrote the same about Marc Chagall, that he was a Russian artist living abroad. And that’s still how they write it. That’s all there is to say, regarding the relationship between Russia and me.

When I went there for the opening of the exhibition, in 1992, I purposely got away from escorts and guides, and walked alone for almost the whole day to see all the places where I spent my childhood: where I was born, where I lived when I was a child in those houses, the school, the institute where I studied, and where I later worked. I walked around all these familiar places and tried to bring out, in myself, the feeling of nostalgia that should exist for every person for their childhood. Evidently, Soviet rule poisoned all the nostalgia I could have had toward Soviet Russia. From that point on, none of it remained.

L. B. – Would you ever have imagined in your wildest imaginations thirty years ago that you would be included, that your non-conformist group would be included in a book by Russians?

E. A. – No, we did not have time to think about what would happen in the future, after us. We lived in the moment and it was such a dangerous life that nobody knew what would happen tomorrow. It was possible that you could be arrested in the night and taken somewhere. Once, by the way, the leader of our non-conformist movement, Yura Zharkih,[23] was on his way to Moscow to discuss one of his exhibitions (this was sometime in the 1970s), and KGB agents poured some new, experimental poison into his shoes, and he was not able to walk for the next few months. His legs were burned from his feet to his knees. But he was not a political person, he was just a non-conformist artist.

They did much worse to dissidents. But we always tried to keep up the distinction between dissent and Zionism. Because the goal of Zionism was to leave Russia, to leave the Soviet Union for your own country, to Israel, the Jewish country – from a Russian country to a Jewish country. It was to abandon and to let them engage, in their Soviet country, in whatever they want, and make whatever order they want to see – the Russian people.


So, naturally, we lived for today without thinking about tomorrow. Our goal was to escape from there and to immigrate to our Israel, where there is no anti-Semitism. But their goal was to somehow reconstruct the political system so that there would be democracy. We did not participate in their hopeless struggle. That struggle, by the way, is not over yet and will likely never conclude in a positive way. I mean the struggle in Russia for democracy.

L. B. –  Were you in prison for an extended period of time?

E. A. – For a short time.

L. B. –  I have two more things to ask you. One thing is: when you were in refusal, as an artist, many people in refusal who had normal engineering jobs and positions like that were fired. But you were working for a company as an architect, right? Soб what happened to you? Did you get fired? How was your struggle as an artist different from or the same as other refuseniks who had more usual jobs?

E. A. – Yeah-yeah, normal refusenik jobs. The non-conformist movement in art was somehow in communication with the democratic movement in Russia. Artists tried to achieve greater freedoms, at least in the field of art. Not political, of course, but at least in the field of art. So that not only socialist realism, paintings of the worker and the collective farm worker,[24] could be exhibited. That is why a special unit was created in the KGB, the art department, which focused on non-conformist art in full: literary non-conformism, paintings, sculpture, and even, I think, music.

There was a separate department to fight Zionism. So, really, I fit into both departments. And my troubles proceeded from the fact that, like everything in the Soviet Union, there was a poorly established connection between these two departments. I remember that, in order to deal with non-conformist artists, it had been ordered to fire all the artists who were working somewhere – as architects or book illustrators – so they would die of hunger, so that they would not have an income.

At the same time, the department against Zionism, according to which I also fell under their control, had a completely opposite order: if someone from the Zionists, the refuseniks, was working somewhere – like Taratuta and his friends were working as liftmen, or in historic bathhouses – they should by all means be kept at their jobs. Because when a person goes to work every day it is easy to keep an eye on him, but if he is not working he can, for example, go to Moscow for a demonstration, or to some other city. That is, elude surveillance.

I got burned by the fact that there was no communication between the departments. After we did an exhibition for the group “Alef” in Moscow, in December of 1975, I and Sasha Okun,[25] from our group, were fired from our jobs. They received a command from the KGB from the department against non-conformists. I was fired from the government company where I worked as an architect, and Sasha – he taught at an art school for children – was fired from his work. They likely later had troubles, because the department against Zionism definitely ordered them not to fire me. At least from ten to five every day they could know where I was. But since I was free from work, I had a lot more time to do things that I liked.


It began to annoy me that our socialists could not understand that socialism is very bad for the people, for the population – very bad. And they kept harping on when they were told – here is an example – what socialist ideas have done with one sixth of the globe: the Soviet Union. A country in which the people are starving, falling apart, crumbling. And they, these socialists, with pleasure said: no, they were mistaken, but we will build socialism with a human face. That is when I created a series of paintings and placed them in Goldman’s[26] gallery, which was our number one gallery – I worked with him for seventeen years.

It was one of the few international galleries in Israel, because Israel is a small country, like a small town, and has little access to an international arena – so this was one of the international galleries. He had an office in Boston, Haifa, and in Basel, Switzerland. And in his gallery, since I worked with him for many years, I did this exhibition. This was, by the way, the last exhibition – again, symbolism – he did, after which he closed his gallery because his grandchildren did not want to continue this business. My first exhibition in the West, after leaving, was in this gallery. And his last was my exhibition. It’s all symbolism, everything I have is symbolism. Socialism with a human face. If you want to, you can show this painting. It is a big ass, and beside it a human face. But socialism, it is always a big ass.

Then I showed them socialism with two human faces; it’s the same ass, but there are two human faces that are drawn on opposite ends of the picture. Then here’s Soviet democracy, socialist democracy: that is a crowd of obscure individuals who blow small bubbles, while the chief has the same muzzle, only a little redder, and his bubble a little larger than the rest. That is the exhibition I did at Goldman’s gallery. It was funny. But I am not interested in politics anymore.


I have a lot of funny and symbolic stories. For example, my leaving the Soviet Union was also a very symbolic story. The last year I was a refusenik, one of the American Jewish tourists who visited and helped us in Leningrad gave me a beautiful, small silver Magen David that I wore without taking it off neither in the day nor at night, from year to year. Finally, we were leaving, boarding the plane, flying out of St. Petersburg, out of Leningrad as it was still called then, yes, and arriving in Venice. At that time, everyone from St. Petersburg was gathered in the Red Cross building, surrounded by police with dogs to guard against terrorists, from Palestinian patriots – and so, at that moment when my family and I crossed this line, walked into the Red Cross where future Israelis were gathered, the chain of my Magen David (without any interference) broke, and the Magen David fell. It was so symbolic. And that is how I understood that I was now free. It was, interestingly, exactly on the day of my birthday. January fourth. That is, I was symbolically brought to understand that I, so to speak, was born anew. That is how I became an Israeli. 




[1] The Bonch-Bruevich Saint Petersburg State University of Telecommunications.

[2] “Secrecy” was one of the main reasons Soviet citizens were denied visas. “Secrecy” was ascribed on the basis of access to so-called government secrets, although the understanding of “secrets” was applied widely to many types of work-related information.

[3] The V. I. Mukhina Leningrad Higher Art and Industrial School. Now: the A. L. Stieglitz St. Petersburg State Art and Industry Academy.

[4] The term “refusenik,” coined by London teacher and activist Michael Sherbourne in 1971 as a calque for the Russian neologism “отказник,” referred to a person who had been refused an exit visa. This status, widespread among Jewish applicants for visas in the Soviet Union in the 1970s-80s, implied a host of difficulties including loss of decent employment opportunities, ostracism from the general Soviet community and possible harassment by authorities.

[5] Aba Taratuta (1935) and his wife, Ida, were activists in Leningrad. Among other activities, they taught Hebrew and supported the production of Jewish samizdat. They filed for departure in 1973 and came to Israel in 1988. After arriving in Israel, Aba for many years directed the “Remember and Save” Association, which collected historical documents on the Jewish movement in the Soviet Union. See the interview with Aba Taratuta in this section.

[6] The Association for Experimental Exhibitions (TEV) and the Aleph Group were described in S. V. Koval’skii, “Движение по диагонали: самоопрделение, самоорганизация, самообеспечение, саморазвитие (выставки ленинградских неофициальных художников ТЭВ – ТЭИИ – ТСК. 1974-1991 гг.)” (Diagonal movement: self-determination, self-organization, self-sufficiency, self-development (exhibitions of Leningrad unofficial artists TEV-TEII-TSC, 1974-1991), Неофициальное искусство в СССР. 1950 – 1980-е годы, Ed. A. K. Florkovskaia (Moscow: BuksMart, 2014), 308-309.

[7] Socialist realism was the mandated style for art in the Soviet Union since the 1930s. People working in all forms of art were to use recognizable realistic conventions for representing the revolutionary society in its historical development towards communism. See Matthew Cullerne Bown, Socialist realist painting (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).

[8] The so-called “Bulldozer Exhibition,” took place on September 15, 1974. Authorities came with equipment including bulldozers to stop the unsanctioned open-air exhibition. See Igor Golomshtok and Alexander Glezer, Unofficial Art from the Soviet Union, London: Secker & Warburg, 1977, 112-16.

[9] Leningrad officials allowed an exhibit of nonconformist art in the Gaz Palace of Culture in December 22-25, 1974. See Alla Rosenfeld, “‘A Great City with a Provincial Fate’: Nonconformist Art in Leningrad from Khrushchev’s Thaw to Gorbachev’s perestroika,” Nonconformist Art: The Soviet experience, 1956-1986, New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1995, 109.

[10] The first “Alef” exhibit took place in Evgeny Abezgauz’s apartment in November 1975. See Rosenfeld, “A Great City,” 129; and Susan Tumarkin Goodman, “Alienation and Adaptation of Jewish Artists in Russia,” Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change, 1890-1990, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1995, 37.

[11] Regina Bublil Waldman, born 1948, came to the United States in 1969 after she and her family fled Libya in the wake of the Six-Day War. Speaking as the President of the organization “Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa,” she told her story to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian Parliament in 2013: (accessed September 25, 2016).

[12] The catalog is: 12 from the Soviet Underground (San Francisco: Bay Area Council on Soviet Jewry, 1977). The catalogue is based on an exhibit held at the Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, Calif. on May 1, 1976.

[13] Soviet citizens could catch the Voice of America and other “Voices” (Russian: Golosa) on shortwave radios to hear a non-Soviet perspective on world events.

[14] Mikhail Taratuta (b. April 24, 1961, Leningrad). Mikhail, the son of prominent activists Aba and Ida Taratuta, studied art in Leningrad. He immigrated to Israel in 1987. Prior to emigration his art was shown at nonconformist exhibits, and subsequently shown in various cities in the U.S.

[15] Korosten is a regional center in the Zhytomyr region in Ukraine.

[16] The Nevsky House of Culture at 32 Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony in Saint Petersburg was one of the few houses of culture constructed in the post-war years.

[17] OVIR (Department of Visas and Registration) was the Soviet department that processed the registration of foreign visitors and exit visas.

[18] Senator Henry Jackson, together with Congressman Charles Vanik, sponsored the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked Most-Favored Nation Status in trade deals to free emigration. Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on January 3, 1975, the amendment was seen as a way to exert pressure on the Soviet Union to let Jews leave.  

[19] “Prisoners of Zion” were people imprisoned in the Soviet Union for their Zionist activity.

[20] Elef Milim (Hebr. “Thousand Words”), a four-volume textbook by Yosef Ben-Shefer and Aharon Rozen published in Israel in 1954-59, was widely used for informal Hebrew study in the Soviet Union during this period. It circulated in samizdat copies.

[21] Tanakh, the canonical set of Jewish texts, includes Torah (the five books of Moses), plus the books of the prophets, and other writings such as Psalms, Proverbs, the Book of Esther, and Ecclesiastes.

[22] “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes (Hebr. Kohelet), 1:2 KJV.

[23] Yury Zharkikh (1938), helped organize the “Bulldozer” Exhibition in 1974, as well as exhibits of nonconformist art at the “Gaz” House of Culture and the “Nevsky” House of Culture.

[24] The famous sculpture by Vera Mukhina, “Worker and Kolkhoz-Woman,” raising aloft the hammer and sickle, was prominently displayed in the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris, and it has since become a symbol of Soviet art.

[25] Alexander (Sasha) Okun (1949, Leningrad). He immigrated to Israel in 1979. He won many awards and scholarships and participated in many exhibitions, both group and individual.

[26] Abezgauz began exhibiting in Goldman Gallery, Haifa in 1979.