A Song about Mother
Song About Mother was published in 1930, in the midst of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan (1928-1932), a cadre of economic goals intended to push the Soviet Union towards rapid industrialization nationwide. Propaganda in the Soviet Union during this time focused on increasing productive output, encouraging public participation in the industrial workforce, and motivating workers to center their lives around doing their part to push national industry forward.
Song About Mother fits into the propaganda of its time, centering the factory and showing daily life (or byt) as revolving around the factory. The “call to work” central in the narrative of Song About Mother would be a recognizable ritual for the audience living through this period of Soviet history, be this call to work in the form of a literal factory whistle that begins the day or the propaganda-fueled sense of personal responsibility for the progress of national industry which pulls citizens to their workstations daily. A child reading (or being read) this book would identify their parents as being one who leaves for work at the sound of the factory’s call and would identify themselves as being one who leaves for kindergarten every morning in much the same fashion, a kind of ritualistic preparation for their future role as factory workers (which would likely be taken on in their teenage years), energizing the child reader to one day follow in their elders’ footsteps and join them in following the call to work. As a final reinforcement of this propaganda, the sheet music at the end of the book translates the narrative into song, allowing a teacher or a parent to sing the “Song About Mother” with the child reader, turning these lessons even more memorable, familiar, and connected with home and daily life.
The illustrator of Song About Mother, David Shterenberg, studied at the School of Fine Arts in Paris before becoming the Commissar for Artistic Matters from 1917 to 1918, Head of the Department of Fine Arts of the Narkompros (Ministry of Public Education) from 1918 to 1920, and finally a teacher at VKhUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios, the Russian state arts and technical school in Moscow) from 1920 to 1930 (the year of this book’s publication). His earlier work seems more influenced by cubism (much like the illustrations in Song About Mother), a style likely picked up while studying in Paris, while his later art becomes more grounded in realism (likely at the behest of the Soviet government, which demanded realism from Soviet artists). Throughout his career, his work remained focused on objects, the material world, and showing daily life through the objects that framed it.
Sofia Dmitriadoy, Carson Welch, Benjamin Edwards, Becca Senatore (SLA 221, 2018)