Arts & Leisure

Communist curiosity: looking for Lenin after the fall

Posted on July 02, 2014

DESPITE THE FALL of the Soviet Union over 20 years ago, busts of the Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin are still abundant in Moscow. Not only that, the city’s residents have kept portraits of Lenin, magazines about Lenin, and more. This is what Japanese artist Yoshinori Niwa found out when he decided to create Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments, a three-channel video taken in 2012 and currently part of his exhibit Never Trust in People without Contradiction at 1335Mabini in Manila.

A SCREENSHOT from Yoshinori Niwa’s Looking for Vladimir Lenin at Moscow Apartments
Consisting of Mr. Niwa’s major video installation works since 2004 to the present, the show mostly revolves around his interest in the history of Communism.

To start his project to search for Lenin’s presence in Russia, Mr. Niwa printed a poster -- as though for a missing person or a wanted sign for a criminal -- with the photograph of the communist leader. Mr. Niwa showed it to people, telling them that he is looking for Lenin. The artist was met with confused frowns up until he explained that he was hoping to collate memorabilia related to Lenin which would be included in an exhibit, Double Vision: Contemporary Art From Japan at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

Though Lenin died in 1924, some homes still use his bust as a coat hanger, and an old woman even recalled how she wrote a poem for Lenin because it was a requirement at school.

"It’s impossible to meet Lenin, but everybody still has Lenin in their homes," said the artist, remarking on the continuous survival of the historical figure years after the demise of the political system that he espoused.

For another multimedia work, Tossing Socialists in the Air in Romania (2010), Mr. Niwa interviewed three representatives from different communist parties in the now democratic country. Mr. Niwa went on to ask them if they were willing to take part in a performance where they would be tossed into the air by young Romanians.

Only one agreed, and when that person experienced being tossed into the air, he was shaken, commenting that it reminded him of the revolution, how it happened so fast. In one quick moment, the communists were overthrown and were delegated to the political margins of Romanian society.

Mr. Niwa explained that through this piece he wanted to make a contradiction. Tossing a person up is like a celebration, and yet the ones who are doing it were young individuals who did not know anything about their country’s communist history and did not care at all for what the current communists are fighting for.

Also on view at 1335Mabini are Joseph Gabriel’s photographs and sculptures in an exhibit, Incognitum. The pieces stemmed from an earlier exhibit back when he was a fine arts student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. For that show, he presented temporary sculptures of bread that were purposefully left to rot. As mold grew on the bread, this made for interesting patterns, said Mr. Gabriel. He decided to take close up photos of the thriving microorganisms, and these are what he presents in his current exhibit.

Mr. Gabriel’s exhibit runs until July 4, while Mr. Niwa’s works are on view until Aug. 8 at 1335 A. Mabini St., Ermita, Manila. For details, visit -- Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz