SOVIET ASSAULT ON RELIGION opens at the Museum of Russian Icons on May 5


The Museum of Russian Icons presents Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion, from May 5 to October 2, 2022, an exhibition exploring the role of visual propaganda in the Communist Party’s seven-decade war on religion.

Karl Marx’s saying that “religion is the opium of the people” permeated official culture and everyday life in the former USSR. Beginning in the early 1920s, the Soviet state waged an aggressive media campaign against religion and its institutions, bombarding the populace with a steady stream of visually persuasive graphic materials.

With their eye-catching design, strident slogans and stereotypical characters, Soviet atheism posters and publications demonize the world’s religions and mock those who practice them. Above all, they seduced young people by promising a new world of abundance and moral values ​​replacing the superstitions and injustices of the past. Intended primarily for home consumption, this remarkable campaign to eradicate the faith is among the lesser-known aspects of Soviet visual culture.

The exhibit, curated by Dr Wendy Salmond, shows the changing strategies deployed in the Soviet war on religion, sometimes appealing to science and reason, at others stoking fear and resentment, or exposing the expressions individuals from faith to ridicule.

Highlights of the exhibition include a virtual “Godless Corner” showing how atheistic materials were to replace icons in public space; a rare wallet of anti-religious alphabet cards targeting schoolchildren; and Brezhnev-era posters intended to stem the growing religiosity of Soviet citizens as Communism neared its end. Uniting the images of this seventy-year period is a visual language of good and evil, us and others, whose coercive power is still felt today.


Dr. Wendy Salmond, professor of art history at Chapman University in Orange, California, specializes in Russian and Soviet art, architecture and design. She is particularly interested in exploring the intersection of various cultural traditions in Russia and the formation of national identity. Dr. Salmond, who received his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, has guest curated exhibitions at the Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington DC (Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs, 2004) and The New York Public Library (The Imagined Russia, 1825-1925: The Art and Impact of Fedor Solntsev, 2006). His publications on Russian art include Arts and Crafts in Late Imperial Russia, Treasures into Tractors: The Selling of Russia’s Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938, Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs, and more recently, Eternity in Low Earth. Orbit: International Space Station icons. She is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Icon Studies, published by the Museum of Russian Icons. Her current book project is Russian Icons in America. The Fate of Orthodox Painting, 1917-39.


Pysanka: Symbol of renewal

Until July 24, 2022

To support the people of Ukraine, the Museum of Russian Icons has reinstalled Pysanka: Symbol of Renewal by contemporary Maine artist Lesia Sochor, an exhibit inspired by the fine tradition of painting richly decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs. Three new works created in response to the current crisis in Ukraine are presented in the exhibition.

Tea is for tradition

Until October 2, 2022

Objects associated with Russian tea are tactile reminders of this important tradition and evoke warmth, home and family. Much of tea’s popularity is due to great Russian literary and decorative artists, as it is in their craftsmanship that tea is immortalized as a central aspect of Russian identity. This mini-exhibition in the museum lobby explores the permeation of tea culture in Russian art, crafts and literature.


The Museum of Russian Icons inspires appreciation and study of Russian culture by collecting and displaying one of the largest collections of Russian icons in the world – sacred paintings used for worship in the Orthodox tradition. With over 1,000 icons and related artifacts spanning six centuries, the museum offers a unique and personalized experience rich in art, history and culture.

The museum serves as a leading center for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies and other institutional collaborations. It is the only museum in the United States dedicated to Russian icons, and it is the largest collection of icons outside of Russia.

Visit the website, www.museumofrussianicons.orgwhich houses the online collection (including research papers on individual icons), a virtual tour of the museum, the Journal of Icon Studies and the British Museum’s Catalog of Byzantine and Greek Icons.


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