Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

How Soviet Artists Created Their Own Vision of Tolkien

Around the world, artists provide snapshots into national psyches.

Frodo stands before the Cracks of Doom in Sergei Iukhimov’s cover illustration for Volume I of Vlastelin Kolec, Natalya Grigor’eva and Vladimir Grushetskij’s two-volume 1993 translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Frodo stands before the Cracks of Doom in Sergei Iukhimov’s cover illustration for Volume I of Vlastelin Kolec, Natalya Grigor’eva and Vladimir Grushetskij’s two-volume 1993 translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Frodo stands before the Cracks of Doom in Sergei Iukhimov’s cover illustration for Volume I of Vlastelin Kolec, Natalya Grigor’eva and Vladimir Grushetskij’s two-volume 1993 translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

All art may be political, the adage goes, but some—as Diana Seave Greenwald writes of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s portraits—“begs for political interpretation.” That is especially the case, it seems, for art created amid conflict, oppression, and political polarization.

This collection of essays from our archive explores how artists, intentionally or not, make political statements through their work and provide snapshots into a country’s politics, from Soviet artists creating a Russian Middle-earth to a sculptor in Myanmar commemorating dissidents to a cartoonist defying Chinese censorship.—Chloe Hadavas

Comrades of the Ring

How Soviet artists evaded censors to create their own visions of Tolkien, according to Joel Merriner.

All art may be political, the adage goes, but some—as Diana Seave Greenwald writes of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s portraits—“begs for political interpretation.” That is especially the case, it seems, for art created amid conflict, oppression, and political polarization.

This collection of essays from our archive explores how artists, intentionally or not, make political statements through their work and provide snapshots into a country’s politics, from Soviet artists creating a Russian Middle-earth to a sculptor in Myanmar commemorating dissidents to a cartoonist defying Chinese censorship.—Chloe Hadavas


Assorted Soviet Tolkien illustrations (from left to right): Bilbo and Gandalf meet, by Mikhail Belomlinsky from <em>Khobbit</em> (1976) translated by Natalia Rakhmanova; Gandalf arrives in Hobbiton by Sergei Iukhimov from <em>Vlastelin Kolec</em> Volume I (1993); Wilderland/Thror’s Map amalgam by Mikhail Belomlinsky from <em>Khobbit</em> (1976).
Assorted Soviet Tolkien illustrations (from left to right): Bilbo and Gandalf meet, by Mikhail Belomlinsky from <em>Khobbit</em> (1976) translated by Natalia Rakhmanova; Gandalf arrives in Hobbiton by Sergei Iukhimov from <em>Vlastelin Kolec</em> Volume I (1993); Wilderland/Thror’s Map amalgam by Mikhail Belomlinsky from <em>Khobbit</em> (1976).

Assorted Soviet Tolkien illustrations (from left to right): Bilbo and Gandalf meet, by Mikhail Belomlinsky from Khobbit (1976) translated by Natalia Rakhmanova; Gandalf arrives in Hobbiton by Sergei Iukhimov from Vlastelin Kolec Volume I (1993); Wilderland/Thror’s Map amalgam by Mikhail Belomlinsky from Khobbit (1976).

Comrades of the Ring

How Soviet artists evaded censors to create their own visions of Tolkien, according to Joel Merriner.


Political cartoonist Badiucao reveals his face in a self-portrait in April.
Political cartoonist Badiucao reveals his face in a self-portrait in April.

Political cartoonist Badiucao reveals his face in a self-portrait in April.Badiucao

China’s Rebel Cartoonist Unmasks

Badiucao’s work has brought him praise from critics—and threats from Beijing, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes.


Former U.S. President George W. Bush paints.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush paints.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush paints in this undated handout photo. C.A. Smith Photography for President George W. Bush

George W. Bush’s Newest Portraits Are Political

The amateur painter still shows an eye for spin, Diana Seave Greenwald writes.


GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

A Russian Artist’s Snapshot of the National Psyche

Why Russia’s entry at the world’s toniest art fair speaks volumes about the country’s predicament, according to Anna Nemtsova.


A Political Artist’s Tools

In his sculptures, Htein Lin commemorates the sacrifices that dissidents made under Myanmar’s military junta, Francis Wade writes.

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