Visual communication in Turkic magazines
Michael: A fascinating presentation - I really enjoyed it. One of the factors you emphasise, as a shared context for these magazines, is the relative illiteracy of some of these populations. In the Soviet Union, magazines were used as a means of communicating visually to illiterate or semi-literate audiences - using constructivist graphics and photomontage, for example. Do we find a similar propagandist visual culture in the Soviet Turkic magazines?
Dear Tim: Visual propaganda is certainly a massive, and often problematic, topic with Soviet Turkic magazines. As with other regions and populations of the Soviet Union, semi-literate Turkic speakers were targeted by the campaigns of visual ideological cues and messages that were found throughout Russian-language media during the 1920s and early 30s. The problem is that this material has to be divided into two segments. One is the material that was simply translated from Russian into Turkic languages. We have some examples of items coming out of Leningrad and Moscow that were in this form, but also Kazan from later in the 1920s, and which seems to indicate an attempt at creating a Union-wide approach to particular issues within Marxist-Leninist ideology. This is where you'll find works by artists such as Rodchenko, Lissitzky and Gabo with Chagatai or other Turkic-language captions, including items with photomontage. The second camp is bespoke (of a sort) Turkic visual propaganda. This was material created exclusively for use in the Caucasus, Siberia and Central Asia, and it often addressed local issues, such as the influence of the feudal or Muslim clerical classes, or perceived threats of pan-Turkism, pan-Islamist, etc. Here, there are some traces of Constructivist or agitprop influence, which would lead us to suspect a mass campaign targeted at literate, semi-literate and illiterate groups as a whole. But there are also obvious connections to pre-Revolutionary traditions of satire (such as Molla Nasraddin, for example), which were far more the preserve of the educated, literate elite during the pre-1917 era. Constructivism reached Turkic Siberia and Central Asia a bit late, and only started to show a bit of productivity just as it was facing a clamp-down in Leningrad and Moscow, so we only really have a few instances of its organic use in the Soviet Turkic world. You get a few more echos in throughout the 30s and 40s, as exiles began to arrive in Tashkent, Bukhara, Baku, Ashgabat, etc., but they're largely smothered by official campaigns of Socialist Realist art.
I gave a presentation on tracking out these issues in both typography and imagery in two Tatar periodicals from the 1920s at Sharjah Art Forum in late 2018, and you can read the script to that, which addresses these topics in greater detail, here. You can also see some examples from an Uzbek magazine called Mihnat (Labour) thanks to a blog by a colleague of mine from the Institute of History in Tashkent, Dr. Akmal Bazarbaev.
Thank you so much for a fascinating talk, on a subject I knew nothing! I was particularly interested in your discussion of the relationship between the printing technologies and the magazines' content.
@mjerdman Dear Mr Erdman, thank you so much for this fascinating presentation which I enjoyed very much and learned a lot from.
I was particularly interested in the topic of typography. If I understood you well, you suggested that the industrialization of the press generated new uses of typography and maybe even new aesthetics. For instance setting arabic letters with a little space between them, thus drifting away from the calligraphic model, would be a way to signal mechanization and modernity. I find interesting how this idea sort of mirrors the change towards sans-serif typefaces in latin prints, as called for by modernist design and constructivism. I wonder how much of these phenomenons were conscious choices as opposed to mere consequences of technical evolutions in the printing process. Is this an issue you have dealt with with regard to these periodicals? I will certainly read your article about looking for constructivism in Tatar periodicals.
Another question that I have is how the printing sector and the press could adapt, within a short period of time, both to what appears to be a rather rapid industrialization, and latinization — from a material point of view. Do you know if the types that were used in the periodicals you studied (for example the "modern" arabic letters you showed) were imported? Or if there were any national typographic foundries? Do you know of any ressources on the subject?
Thank you very much!
@lauratruxa Dear Laura (if I may),
First, my deep apologies for replying so late to your comment! I do believe that the shift from lithography and joined-up, calligraphic types was a conscious choice. We do have accounts of displeasure with the disjointed, "mechanical" types from the first introduction of moveable-type printing in Istanbul. The continued use of lithography on a (relatively) large scale for printing of texts in the Turkic-majority cities of the Russian Empire, as well as in Istanbul, leads me to believe that such an aesthetic was prized by some/many readers in the literate Turkic world in both monographs and periodicals. I've extrapolated a bit from Soviet ideology regarding the importance of industrialization, the ethos of Constructivism and the creative environment of the 1920s, and this background of the history of printing in the Turkic world to synthesize my argument. Many of the periodicals were showpieces of the new Soviet way of doing and being - whether in terms of occupations, means of expression, dress, gender roles, or self-identification - and I would find it difficult to accept that the switch from calligraphic-style type faces to ones that look more mechanized was a purely coincidental trend.
The development of the publishing and printing industries in the early 1920s was very much a difficult one, and it's easy to see from the magazines themselves a notable improvement in quality and quantity between, say, 1920 and 1928. The changes happened in stages, however, which might have been one reason why they were implemented in what appears to be so short a timeframe. Industry began to stabilize in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Civil War, and the first half of the 1920s allowed for centres such as Baku, Kazan, Crimea and Tashkent to resume publishing activities. At this point, Kazan had over a century's worth of experience as a foundry for Arabic-script type, and was able to begin producing new type for use in presses across the Union. Baku also had a number of presses specializing in either moveable type-printing or lithography that were established in the late 19th century, and Tblisi would have had a few as well, but I'm not sure if they sourced their type from Kazan or had it produced locally. Latinization was only gradually imposed starting from 1927 onward, and there were already well-established foundries inside the Union (especially given that Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and German printers would have needed it), so I'm guessing that the production of such sets wouldn't have been a massive stretch, but I'm not entirely sure about this.
Borna Izadpanah of Reading University is a good source for information about the development of type for Persian ( https://borna.co.uk/ ), and I know that he has also done some research on the first set of type developed for the printing of the Qur'an in Kazan. I haven't seen it yet, but Yukiko Tatsumi and Taro Tsurumi have just edited a book on printing in Tsarist-era Russia with a comprehensive chapter on book culture and Arabic-script printing among the Volga Tatars by Danielle Ross. It's called Publishing in Tsarist Russia: A History of Print Media from Enlightenment to Revolution and was published by Bloomsbury.