I can barely believe that three months have passed since my visit to Volgograd. And so, whilst planning an event to talk about Coventry’s sister city and the AIRMAIL/aviapochta exhibition in the future, I also want to share some reflections and photographs here.
When I was invited in January to create a show of Coventry’s artists’ work for the Museum of Fine Art, I had little knowledge of the place, how it was connected to Coventry, why this was relevant and what I might expect or achieve during a formal visit to explore some of these things in May. Research said things like: was 91% destroyed during the great battle of Stalingrad….established the twinning movement with Coventry….home of Mumayev Kurgan (hill) and the ‘Mother Russia’ sculpture…population of £1m, spanning a 14km length of the river Volga…
What I discovered was a city of three names.
I arrived in a place named ‘Stalingrad’, to gather with a contemplative citizenship commemorating Victory Day. For six days each year, the city is renamed as Stalin’s city – a move which some people call for on a permanent basis. During that time I absorbed some of the grandiose, Stalin Empire-style architecture, Soviet memorials to the Great Patriotic War and the public spaces and museums that are so crucial in comprehending the trials this city has lived. This is the city of concrete and strength, of fire and determination.
Whilst witnessing the national holiday proceedings there in Stalingrad, I met people that wanted to show me their ‘Tsaritsyn’. Those, including an artist called Vlad who invited us to view the Victory Day firework display from his studio rooftop terrace, were roaring with a desire that the city’s founding name should be restored.This felt like the impassioned city of the wild conspiracy theorists, of artists guided by the hand of god, of vodka toasting and a yearning for a blank canvas from which a new, primal city would be born….and I was seduced.
Lured in by everything that ‘Tsaritsyn’ could offer, I was somewhat softly pulled into, with great care, a little more of ‘Volgograd’, the city remembering its past while harbouring a youthful appetite for the future. Volgograd is the city that is shared with visitor but it is mostly occupied by those with a balanced historical, emotional and lived-in understanding of the place, who are growing it into something more than it is. It was here I met the city’s young artists, school children, and those that ‘are’ Volgograd as part of their working lives. Volgograd is the unending and ever changing blue of the Volga.
Some of these observations and inevitable comparisons with our own city of three spires, I was able to share with the artists, diplomats, visitors and new found friends that I was privileged to spend time with. I found that those people had a desire to know more about Coventry, our artists and the opportunities that might exist for collaboration and exchange in the future. It was fascinating to see Cllr John Mutton and Jenni Venn speaking about their Coventry – and their Volgograd too.
Below is a gallery with some images of this Stalingrad, Tsaritsyn, Volgograd. Soon I will talk more about AIRMAIL/avaipochta and the proposals for future projects for artists with the Museum of Fine Arts, the Children’s Gallery and the International Affairs Department at the Volgograd Administration (Hello Mary, Natalia, Inna and the team!).
In the mean time, there’s an article that I happened upon by Volgograd Journalist Oksana Zagrebnyeva that resonates with some of my thinking about the city and will give you more of an overview: