Danzig Baldaev: Drawings from the Gulag

Overview

Drawings from the Gulag consists of 130 drawings by Danzig Baldaev (author of the acclaimed Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia series), describing the history, horror and peculiarities of the Gulag system from its inception in 1918. Baldaev's father, a respected ethnographer, taught him techniques to record the tattoos of criminals in St. Petersburg's notorious Kresty prison, where Danzig worked as a guard. He was reported to the K.G.B. who unexpectedly offered support for his work, allowing him the ...
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Overview

Drawings from the Gulag consists of 130 drawings by Danzig Baldaev (author of the acclaimed Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia series), describing the history, horror and peculiarities of the Gulag system from its inception in 1918. Baldaev's father, a respected ethnographer, taught him techniques to record the tattoos of criminals in St. Petersburg's notorious Kresty prison, where Danzig worked as a guard. He was reported to the K.G.B. who unexpectedly offered support for his work, allowing him the opportunity to travel across the former U.S.S.R. Witnessing scenes of everyday life in the Gulag, he chronicled this previously closed world from both sides of the wire. With every vignette, Baldaev brings the characters he depicts to vivid life: from the lowest "zek" (inmate) to the most violent tattooed "vor" (thief), all the practices and inhabitants of the Gulag system are depicted here in incredible and often shocking detail. In documenting the attitude of the authorities to those imprisoned, and the transformation of these citizens into survivors or victims of the Gulag system, this graphic novel vividly depicts methods of torture and mass murder undertaken by the administration, as well as the atrocities committed by criminals upon their fellow inmates.
Danzig Baldaev was born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, Buryatiya, Russia. In 1948, after serving in the army in World War II, he was ordered by the N.K.V.D. to work as a warden in the infamous Leningrad prison, Kresty, where he started drawing the tattoos of criminals. His collection of drawings, which he made in different reformatory settlements for criminals all over the former U.S.S.R. over a period of more than 50 years, have been published by Fuel in three volumes, in the bestselling Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia series.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
What is it about sparse, black-and-white drawings that so powerfully evoke the horrors of the 20th century? Marjane Satrapi depicted the Iranian revolution using the medium in Persepolis I & II, as did Art Spiegelman in Maus I & II. Now Baldaev does the same for the gulag, albeit without any narrative arc to guide us. Rather, Baldaev, himself the son of "enemies of the people"—he was forced to work as a warden in an infamous prison camp—presents a series of pen-and-ink drawings of anonymous prisoners as they are arrested, tortured, and shipped to the camps. There, they labor, starve, and die by the millions. Oddly, almost anything to do with communism has become kitsch. Soviet propaganda posters paper many a dorm room wall, and even Baldaev's earlier work, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, can now be found in stores for hip young things in Brooklyn, NY. The images presented here—graphic, nightmarish, and evoking R. Crumb's shaky, sometimes grotesque aesthetic—do having something of the kitsch about them, but they are also a reminder of the terrible consequences that belie all that visually appealing propaganda.Verdict The images can be hard to look at and even harder from which to look away. By the end, it's difficult not to feel desensitized—a chilling testament to the grim truth Stalin propounded (and ruthlessly exploited): one death is a tragedy; one million, a statistic. Followers of politically charged memoir will seek this out.—Tania Barnes, Brooklyn, NY
The Observer
In the Soviet Union, desk drawers became sarcophagi; entombed within them were the creative endeavours of the most talented and perceptive Soviet citizens. Yet it is best not to idealise such hiding spaces as reserves of dormant illumination; indeed, there may have been no limit to the depths of darkness possible within them.
Consider the case of Danzig Baldaev. Born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, in east-central Russia, Baldaev was the son of an ethnographer who was arrested as an "enemy of the people". He grew up in an orphanage for the children of "enemies" and following his service in the second world war was "forced", as he described it, by the NKVD (a forerunner of the KGB) to work as a warder at Kresty prison in Leningrad, now St Petersburg. His employment in the Soviet penal system took him all over the USSR, but in private, he poured the psychological detritus of his profession into a terrifying work of sadistic pornography, which he dedicated, in 1988, to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Roland Elliott Brown - The Observer, Oct. 17, 2010
— Roland Elliott Brown
Library Journal
What is it about sparse, black-and-white drawings that so powerfully evoke the horrors of the 20th century? Marjane Satrapi depicted the Iranian revolution using the medium in Persepolis I & II, as did Art Spiegelman in Maus I & II. Now Baldaev does the same for the gulag, albeit without any narrative arc to guide us. Rather, Baldaev, himself the son of "enemies of the people"—he was forced to work as a warden in an infamous prison camp—presents a series of pen-and-ink drawings of anonymous prisoners as they are arrested, tortured, and shipped to the camps. There, they labor, starve, and die by the millions. Oddly, almost anything to do with communism has become kitsch. Soviet propaganda posters paper many a dorm room wall, and even Baldaev's earlier work, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, can now be found in stores for hip young things in Brooklyn, NY. The images presented here—graphic, nightmarish, and evoking R. Crumb's shaky, sometimes grotesque aesthetic—do having something of the kitsch about them, but they are also a reminder of the terrible consequences that belie all that visually appealing propaganda.Verdict The images can be hard to look at and even harder from which to look away. By the end, it's difficult not to feel desensitized—a chilling testament to the grim truth Stalin propounded (and ruthlessly exploited): one death is a tragedy; one million, a statistic. Followers of politically charged memoir will seek this out.—Tania Barnes, Brooklyn, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780956356246
  • Publisher: FUEL Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/31/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 541,798
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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