“Deliberately Unattractive”: Food in Soviet Estonian Visual Culture

Bart Pushaw (IndianaUniversity) and Kristina Lupp (University of Adelaide)

As food is tied to basic human experience, its depiction is often easily understood and thus universal. The visualization of food has often been used to connote wealth and power, and conjure the merriment of abundance. The advent of realism and focus on the urban poor illustrated the opposite: people living in poverty with very little. During the Soviet occupation of Estonia, food was also in shortage. What use are food advertisements if there is no food to buy?  Set against a backdrop of Soviet Estonia, this paper will deal with the following questions: How did Estonian artists respond to these changes? Are there major differences in food motives between artists that adhered to Socialist Realism and those who are considered “non-conformist?” By examining images across an array of visual media — including but not limited to painting, advertisements, and other print media — this paper explores the various representations of food in Soviet Estonia and how artists, both commercial and studio, used the universality of food in order to express the conflict between Soviet ideology and everyday life.

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