Forum Lectures #11: Christina Kiaer

The “Love Affair” between Communists and Blacks: Racial Solidarity in the Soviet film Black Skin, 1931

Credits: Ivan Balyberdin, Advertising poster for the film Black Skin, dir. Pavel Kolomoitsev, 1931 (Ukrainfil’m). Department of Graphics, Russian State Library, Moscow

In the little-known silent feature Black Skin (Chernaia kozha, Ukrainfil’m, 1931), a Black American worker travels to the USSR and experiences the racial solidarity of Soviet life. The film was based on the true story of Robert Robinson, an American guest worker who was assaulted by two white American guest workers in Stalingrad in 1930; in an internationally publicized trial, his attackers were swiftly brought to justice for their “chauvinism.” The blunt title Black Skin stems from repeated statements of outrage in the press that Robinson was attacked only because of the color of his skin. But the inherent sensuousness of the reference to skin, reinforced by the high aesthetic and even avant-garde aspirations of the film, with its  lingering close-up shots of the Black actor, reveals the ecstatic character of Soviet racial solidarity and offers a counter-narrative to the assumption that such solidarity was merely opportunistic or outright phony.

About Christina Kiaer

Christina Kiaer is a professor of art history at Northwestern University (Chicago) and the Novo Nordisk Guest Professor at IKK in 2021-22. Her research on Soviet art and visual culture challenges the myth of the avant-garde and expands our definitions of modernism by uncovering the aesthetic significance of visual objects usually dismissed as kitsch or propaganda. Her publications include books on Russian Constructivism, Soviet posters and film, and Socialist Realist painting; her current research project is “An Aesthetics of Anti-racism: African Americans in Soviet Visual Culture.”

Forum Lectures

Forum Lectures is a series of lectures by Danish and international thinkers and cultural workers reflecting on how art co-forms communality. FORUM LECTURES brings thinking and shared study back to the university and invites for public lectures the last Tuesday every month at 17:00 - 19:00.

The initiative is hosted by the research group of the New Carlsberg Foundation research center Art as Forum. Our researchers are occupied by a.o. the infrastructures of the arts, collective modes of production, the entanglement of political theory and aesthetic theory, assembling strategies of curation, dematerialized art, acts of strategic separatism and temporality in digital art.

The lecture is for free and open for everyone interested.