American culture has been one of key forces behind many global developments in the last two centuries. In turn, USA has historically provided a platform for international personalities who were “ahead of their times”. The person-culture-people cycle of influence continues today. Depesha launches a new series highlighting contributions of Russia’s top minds to the American Dream and beyond.
Emigrants from the Russian Empire, and later from the Soviet Union, came to the US in several waves. In the second half of the 19th century, dispossessed residents of the western provinces of the country – mainly Poles, Byelorussians, and Lithuanians – came to America in search of a better life. There were many Jews and other oppressed religious minorities in this group, as well as a number of political exiles. Another major wave of emigration came in the wake of the October Revolution. It brought over many members of the Russian intellectual and artistic elite: engineers and inventors like Vladimir Zvorykin, Igor Sikorsky and Alexander Ponyatov, composers like Alexander Prokofyev, Sergei Rakhmaninov and Igor Stravinsky, as well as writers like Vladimir Nabokov and Alisa Rosenbaum, the latter having achieved fame in America under the name Ayn Rand. After the Second World War, immigration from the Soviet Union restarted in the 1970s. Not wanting to risk international ostracism for depriving an increasingly large number of prominent dissidents of freedom (the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vasily Aksenov, and Joseph Brodsky), the Soviet regime allowed some of them and forced others to leave. They continued their work abroad.
The twentieth century was generous in cultural –isms. Many of them were embraced by popular culture. Surrealism, with its elusive associations, found its way into the wordplay and psychological symbolism of advertising, comics, and theme parks. Dadaism ridiculed the snobbism of elitist cultural institutions and intensified desire for and production of mass entertainment. Modernism laid the foundations for a genuinely new global culture. Music, ballet, and literary works created by Russians in America helped define the context of this era. Igor Stravinsky, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Ayn Rand are among those whose contributions and influence cannot be overestimated and we commence the series with profiles of these three creative pioneers.
Russia’s Geniuses That (Re)Shaped America
Curated by Alexey Timbul and Stephan Rabimov
Part 4. Nicholas Roerich (coming soon)
Part 5. Issac Asimov (coming soon)