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2017, Sun, Dec 17

A lot of fuss about a drawing: On Stalin by Picasso and other Cold War battles

Expert talk with Nida Ghouse & Lene Berg

Shortly before the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, Pablo Picasso, who had been a member of the French Communist Party since 1944, was asked to do a portrait of the dictator, which was then published on the front page of the communist newspaper Les Lettres françaises alongside ovations to Stalin. The publication caused a scandal amongst Communists and anti-Communists alike, since both claimed the artist as a figurehead for their respective movements. While the Soviet regime presented Picasso as a shining example of a Western artist devoted to communism, his avant-garde paintings sharply contradicted the officially endorsed realistic style. Lene Berg’s film Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of a Woman with Moustache (2008) not only tells the story of a painting, but sheds light on the ever-evolving media depiction of both the artist and the dictator.

Lene Berg was educated as a film director at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. She works with video, installations, photography, and text. Her video, The Man in the Background, and her publication, Gentlemen and Arseholes, were launched as two parts of one project about art and propaganda during the Cold War. Among other exhibitions, Berg has contributed to Transmediale (2008), Pensee Sauvage at Frankfurter Kunstverein (2007), Headlines and Footnotes, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Norway (2008), and Sydney Biennale (2008).

Nida Ghouse is a writer and curator. Her ongoing writing project "Lotus Notes” has appeared variously in Mada Masr (Cairo 2014), After Year Zero (The University of Chicago Press 2015), ARTMargins (The MIT Press 2016), and Critical Writing Ensembles (Mousse Publishing 2016). Alongside Parapolitics, her current curatorial projects include The Matrix of All Possible Narratives (with Anselm Franke and Erhard Schüttpelz, forthcoming) at Haus der Kulturen der Welt. She was director of Mumbai Art Room from 2015 to early 2017.