|Art intersects with history in the work of Yevgeniy Fiks, professor of visual arts at Mercer County Community College (MCCC). Fiks discussed some of his recent art projects as they relate to the Soviet and Post-Soviet history in a talk at the college’s West Windsor campus on Thursday, April 5.
“He is truly one of the treasures of this college,” said Mel Leipzig, MCCC art professor and renowned local artist. “He represents a new way of thinking. He is a real artist.”
Professor Fiks’ work has been shown internationally, at museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow. He was also featured in the March edition of the magazine, ARTnews.
However Fiks would argue that he’s not an artist in the way that many would define it. For the last decade he has focused on studying the history of his home country of Russia and how the U.S. has reacted both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He has created several works of art that reflect key moments in history between the two countries. “It’s not about me as an artist; it’s about being a historian,” he said.
Fiks discussed several projects he has undertaken during the last seven years, including “Songs of Russia.” In this series, he created black and white oil paintings based on images from American movies made in 1943-44, which reflected the short-term alliance between the U.S. and Russia during World War II. “The movies portrayed life in the Soviet Union in a very positive light,” he said, adding that this was the only time America showed Russia positively in films.
Following this project, Fiks began research on a new set of artistic pieces, which he titled, “Communist Party USA.” This was a series of portraits he painted of current members of the Communist Party in New York. He noted that one individual was a 92-year-old woman who has been part of the Communist Party since 1937. “The project was meant to show how members of the party come from a large range of ages and races,” said the artist.
A similar project by Fiks, “American Cold War Veterans Association,” involved painting the portraits of a group of service men and women nationwide who still have a strong attachment to the Cold War. “Their attachment is almost always personal,” said Fiks, mentioning one man he painted who had led a group of soldiers that tried to take Cuba from Fidel Castro. “In a way they are still captive by that history and their memories,” Fiks added, noting that these people are still waiting for the Cold War to be declared as an official part of history. “They definitely feel betrayed by the government for not acknowledging their efforts,” he said.
Fiks’ more recent project, “Adopt Lenin,” was a more conceptual type of work. The artist bought 90 Lenin memorabilia on EBay including statues, posters, paintings, books, photographs, and even a porcelain plate. The items were on display at the Winkleman Gallery in New York for one month, after which patrons were able to take the items home for free after signing a contract that they would not sell or make a profit from them.
A total of 85 of those items were adopted, said Fiks. “There was a playful element to this, but also a truthful one,” he said, explaining that the idea of this exercise was to make people think about the meaning behind the objects and what they represented. “By taking the object they were acknowledging that this was a piece of history.”