Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Emelia and Anna Akhmatova: Women Heroes

Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937

If you have seen the recent (2009) film, "Amelia" (Swank and Gere), you may have noted a scene about two-thirds through in which the couple are conversing seriously about her very public role in women's affairs, particularly in aviation and other fields dominated by men. Sitting there in the theater, my eyes were drawn the to that scene's background, a wall behind them, where hung the famous and very elegant portrait of Russian super-poet, Anna Andreevna (Gorenko) Akhmatova, by Nathan Altman.

One of modern Russia's best-remembered artists, her work is still taught to school children and remembered by adults today. She was identified with in Russia's "silver age of poetry" and a vocal protester of Stalin's vicious and indiscriminately cruel measures taken against a nation's people in the name of State security.

Below: Akhmatova's picture on the cover of one of her books of poetry.

Born in 1889, Akhmatova was raised in an upper class family near Odessa. Well educated, she traveled widely but was everlastingly devoted to St. Petersburg, the city of Russia's greatest writers. In 1963, she published Requiem, a testament of the suffering of the Russian people (and the artist, herself) during the horrific purges of intellectuals scientists and (supposed) political competitors ordered by Stalin in the 1930s and beyond. Once silenced, she did not recover her artistic voice until much later when she turned to translation work. She died in 1966.

Nathan Isayevich Altman, the portrait painter
was also born in Ukraine and in the same year as his subject. He was much more than a portraitist; he was a gifted cubist painter, stage designer, book illustrator, and as the image below demonstrates, he was also recognized in the arts movement for Socialist reconstruction of the new state . He died in 1970.

Altman, "Factories to the Workers" 1914

Why Akhmatova's portrait is shown in the film is easy to guess. Clearly, the parallel trajectories of Earhart and Akhmatova's lives and careers is challenging and rewarding to contemplate.

We begin by noticing the art.

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