Corina Apostol

Corina Apostol (BA, Duke University, MA, Rutgers University) is a Ph.D candidate in the Art History Department at Rutgers University -New Brunswick. Her research focuses on modern and contemporary art from Eastern Europe and Russia. Since 2010, Apostol serves as a Norton Dodge Graduate Curatorial Fellow at the Zimmerli Art Museum, working on the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. Apostol is a founding member of ArtLeaks, an international organization that fights for art workers’ rights and a co-editor of the ArtLeaks Gazette since 2012. In 2016 Apostol was appointed as a council member in the Administration of National Cultural Funds (AFCN) under the Romanian Ministry of Culture.

Dissident Education: Socially Engaged Art from Eastern Europe (1980-present)

Contemporary art produced in Eastern Europe at the end of the twentieth century poses distinctive challenges for historians seeking to clarify the social role of the artist within a disintegrating socialist, and nascent capitalist, economy. My thesis identifies and analyzes the effectiveness of a particular mode of politicized art praxis: radical pedagogical initiatives launched within specific art communities in the region from 1980 to the present. My research addresses a newly integrated Europe, a region currently shaped by the economic crisis, growing social inequalities and the rise of nationalist rhetoric. I focus on three artists’ groups, (IRWIN with Marina Gržinic from Slovenia, Chto Delat? from Russia, and Lia Perjovschi and Dan Perjovschi from Romania) who created new practices around suppressed topics during periods of political duress. The issues their art raised included gender discrimination, the false construction of national and ethnic identities, the corrupt nature of political power, and the ethics of working under socialism, and capitalism.

My strategy addresses the broader question of why, and how, artists who came to maturity under repressive political regimes continued to question the transition from socialism to capitalism. My project connects the humanities with political engagement, by exploring the uses of pedagogical art to resist suppression of free speech and human rights, and raise consciousness inside authoritarian regimes and in the aftermath of 1989, a period which is largely ignored by existing scholarship. Now, once again artistic production within increasingly oppressive political regimes has become an outlet for exposing censorship and abuse of power, especially in Romania, with its lingering secret police power and in Russia with its re-empowered police, and single party politics. Since the rule of law and the press continue to be muzzled post-1989, it has been such groups that have engaged the public through critiques of institutions of power in public spaces in Eastern Europe’s largest cities. In doing so, they have transformed communities in Bucharest, Ljubljana and St. Petersburg by making available bodies of knowledge through art that defy oppressive structures and engage audiences to imagine the world through other scenarios.