I n the heart of the Russian State Library, Marina Chestnykh takes the creaking elevator up to the ninth floor. She walks past stack after stack of books kept behind metal cages, the shelves barely visible in the dim light from the frosted-glass windows. When she inserts a key in the padlock, the door swings open to reveal thousands of books, paintings, engravings, photographs and films — all, in one way or another, connected to sex. Off limits to the general public, the collection was always open to top party brass — some of whom are said to have enjoyed visiting. Today, the collection is still something of a secret: there is no complete compendium of its contents and many of them are still not listed in the catalogue. Despite joining the library in the s she only learned of the collection's existence in the s, when she was asked to help reassign its holdings to a different department. As the newly named Lenin Library began amassing new literature, it also opened a rare book department to house compromising materials acquired primarily from confiscated noble libraries. One of the most stunning items seized from an unknown owner is The Seven Deadly Sins, an oversized book of engravings self-published in by Vasily Masyutin, who also illustrated classics by Pushkin and Chekhov. Among its depictions of gluttony is a large woman masturbating with a ghoulish smile. An ostentatious leather-bound album with Kniga Dlya Dam embossed in gold on the cover opens to reveal a Chinese silk drawing of an entwined couple.
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After Soviet repression and 90s debauchery, erotic artists are reinventing sex for a new audience
Some people even used tights packages as wallpaper, turning their bathrooms into peep shows. When perestroika came, Burda and tights were joined by illegal porn movies and Playboy print issues, for those who could get their hands on them. The late 80s were also the time when so-called chernukha films like Interdevochka and Little Vera hit screens — the first Soviet films with scenes of explicit character, they attracted millions of viewers. Rewatching music videos from the 90s, with Babylon by Angelika Varum among the highlights, it can seem like the new-found freedom that mattered most was the right to be naked. Here is our list of the magazines, projects and photographers reinventing erotica. In contemporary Ukraine, unrest and a lust for freedom blend with new national truths and audacity: this is what Kiev-based street artist and photographer Sasha Kurmaz treats with poetic irony in his nude series. Some of the images — a naked woman climbing the barricade, laddered tights collaged with a bombed building, a woman clinging to the black granite arms of a war-time monument — provoke discussion on nudity and vulnerability when contrasted with their Brutalist environment. Other works range from playful images of naked bodies and fake phalluses put together from toys from the 90s, to overtly erotic, even brutal scenes.
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Censorship of images was widespread in the Soviet Union. Visual censorship was exploited in a political context, particularly during the political purges of Joseph Stalin , where the Soviet government attempted to erase some purged figures from Soviet history, and took measures which included altering images and destroying film. Soviet law prohibited the creation and distribution of pornography under Article of the criminal code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and analogous legislation adopted by other republics of the Soviet Union. While nude shots appeared in a number of Soviet films before the glasnost reform of the s, the film Little Vera was the first to include an explicit sex scene. Pornographic images and videotapes were smuggled into the Soviet Union for illegal distribution. In addition to the anti-pornographic law, such smuggling was prohibited by legal provisions giving the Soviet state the exclusive right to conduct foreign economic trade. This image taken by the Moscow Canal was taken when Nikolai Yezhov was water commissar. After he fell from power, he was arrested, shot, and had his image removed by the censors. After February , he worked in the political system, rising in to the Central Committee of the Communist Party; in the next year he became a secretary of the Central Committee. In he wrote a paper in which he argued that political opposition must eventually lead to violence and terrorism; this became in part the ideological basis of the Purges.
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