Tamara Stoffers has always been interested in traditional figurative painting. Her art school promised to support any artistic ambition she wished to pursue, but proved unable to look outside modernist and Duchampian traditions. Tamara decided to hold onto her ideal of becoming a traditional figurative painter, and searched for schools who would teach her.
It was then Stoffers stumbled upon the art education system in Russia, where they teach the same way since the 1800s. Intrigued, she started working towards getting into one of these schools. That’s when she started collecting everything about Russia: Russian dolls, traditionally painted cups, books. The Soviet Union quickly grabbed her attention. It seemed a mysterious world, full of beautifully crafted objects and art. The propaganda fascinated her, as it presented the Soviet heroes with powerful, convincing visuals. As a Dutch person living in a capitalist and democratic country, she had never witnessed such glorification of leaders. It led her to wonder about the influence of art on an entire nation.
Upon travelling to Eastern Europe at the beginning of this fascination, Stoffers was surprised to find leftovers from the regime, and nostalgia among the older citizens. In Poland and Ukraine, she found people eating in “milk bars” or “living rooms,” a kind of canteen that offers a limited assortment of food very cheaply. In Lithuania, some public places bore pictures of “citizens of honour”–displays people who achieved something special, such as making an invention, or winning a contest.
Of course there are some leftovers of the regime which are not so positive, such as corruption and bureaucratic systems that citizens become lost in. During the regime, consumer goods were scarce, with waiting lists for cars and queues outside stores to obtain anything from shoes to vegetables, and those who did not support the communist society were persecuted, resulting in labour camps and many executions.
Nonetheless, the Soviet Union’s dysfunctional idealist society offers many beautiful visuals to draw from. Stoffers makes these collages in an attempt to come closer to understanding, and being part of, this foreign world. They show the places she has discovered in Soviet history books, carefully cut out, archived, and consequently merged together using knife and glue. A humorous tribute to this mysterious world with enticing visuals, the Soviet Collages are her version of the dysfunctional utopia that is the Soviet Union.