New East Digital Archive

Party pieces: admiring Kiev’s utopian socialist mosaics, before they disappear

Teachers and students with books in their hands; chemists carrying sophisticated apparatus; sportsmen, astronauts and miners — all equipped for the bright future ahead. These pictures, which celebrate the arrival of the socialist era, could be found on the facades of schools, houses of culture and pioneer camps in most cities of the former USSR. Behind each image — assembled out of tiny multicoloured pieces of smalt or patterned ceramic tiles — are months of careful work by dozens of people. The mosaics are full of recurring themes and the colour palette is limited. But sometimes one comes across works evidently influenced by the Russian avant-garde — the art of Kazimir Malevich and Lyubov Popova — or Mexican mural painting by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Ukrainian photographer Vladimir Shipotilnikov explores the fate of Soviet mosaics in the contemporary city, which are slowly disappearing behind graffiti and advertising banners. The photos were taken in Kiev between 2013 and 2014, apart from the mosaic with the bicycle which was captured in Lviv. “These works narrate the story of the great expectations of the Soviet era. Such expectations are no longer of concern to people today,” writes Shipotilnikov. “The pictures documented here will help to bring back into existence a layer of the utopian past.”