Who is Nikolai Getman?

By Gwylym Owen

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Nikolai Getman (Mykola Hetman; Russian: Николай Гетман, Ukrainian: Микола Гетьман), an artist, was born in 1917 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and died at his home in Orel, Russia, in August 2004. He was a prisoner from 1946 to 1953 in irritated labor camps in Siberia and Kolyma, where he survived appropriately of his ability to sketch for the propaganda requirements of the authorities. He is remembered as one of few artists who has recorded the vibrancy of prisoners in the Gulag in the form of paintings.

The Gulag’s paintings were not shown until 1993 at a private exhibition in the gallery of the Union of Russian Artists in Orel. In 1995, the Oryol Theater named after Turgenev hosted the opening ceremony of the Hetman’s exhibition “The Gulag through the Eyes of an Artist” in the presence of the artist and author of the book “The Gulag Archipelago” Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In June 1997, a private exhibition “The Gulag Through the Eyes of an Artist” was presented at the US Congress in Washington, DC.

Only in 1993, the paintings were publicly exhibited in Russia. The Ukrainian artist came out in 1953, but exhibited 50 canvases from the “GULAG Collection” only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After his vacation in October 1945, Hetman was with other artists when one of them painted a mocking image of Stalin on a piece of cigarette paper.

The Hetman spent 8 years in the Gulag, just seeing another artist in a cafe who drew a caricature of Stalin on tissue paper. Although he survived the camps, the horrors of the Gulag remained in his memory. After Hetman’s release in 1953, he secretly began painting a series of paintings about life in the Gulag. He immediately began to write from memory of life and death in the Gulag.

Until 1962, no hints of the life of the Gulag were allowed in the Soviet Union. He also secretly painted dozens of field paintings and carefully concealed them. After being fired from the Red Army, he contacted a group of artists, one of whom painted a mocking portrait of Stalin on tissue paper.

After recovering, he joined the local artist alliance and lived on authoritative subjects of painting: socialist labor heroes, aristocratic farmers, and peaceful landscape paintings. He joined the local artist league and got a small studio, where he continued to paint, living on a pension equivalent to $90 a month. When Mr. Getman was released after serving “7 years, 10 months and 8 days”, he married a woman he met in a concentration camp and settled in Magadan.

He spent eight years in one of the most notorious Gulag camps, Kolyma, located in the Russian Far East. During the eight years Hetman spent in Taishetlag (Siberia) and Svetlag (Kolyma), he began to develop a plan to capture the horrors of camp conditions in the form of pictures.

But the Chilean artist was not a U.S. citizen when he created these works, so he decided not to show them until he became these works. They were written by Ukrainian Nikolai Getman for more than 40 years, who spent eight years in the Soviet concentration camps in Siberia and Kolyma. In my exploration of Gulag art, I discovered Ukrainian artist Nikolai Getman (1917-2004), who created a complete series that recorded the experience of the reeducation through labor system.

A survivor of the Soviet Gulag, Hetman wrote the only known visual evidence of a tragic event that claimed the lives of about 50 million people. For over four decades, however, Getman worked to create a visual recording of the Gulag that vividly depicts every aspect of the horrific life (and death) that millions of innocent people endured during that infamous era. Hetman’s vivid paintings cover everything from transporting prisoners to camps in unheated trucks and ships to the horrific and almost ineffable living conditions in the Gulag.

The plans of fences, streets and buildings are accurately conveyed, and the documents for release in the hands of the former convict in the painting “Rehabilitated” are authentic. Many of Getman’s inmates experienced a different release.

Dedicated to Hetman’s brother, executed in 1934, In the NKVD Dungeon depicts a man in a narrow stone-walled aisle surrounded by two Stalinist secret police officers; the head of the convict is illuminated from behind, like a halo. Their fragile existence is captured in Hetman’s paintings, which is a huge achievement considering that all the scenes are written from memory. This is one of the few paintings in the collection that depicts an event or circumstance that Hetman did not witness. It is dedicated to Alexander Getman, the artist’s brother, who was executed on December 1, 1934. Most likely, he was led down a dark corridor and shot in the back, into the basement, where few could hear.

The Heritage Foundation is exhibiting a “new” collection of 50 paintings from the Soviet Gulag, the infamous system of punishment for political prisoners and slaves. Sondra N. Arkin and Joan Belmar are featured in Call Collect, which features over 100 local artists (some are also gallery owners or museum curators). Six artists will discuss their work in the gallery at 15:00. Sunday.

But some are still available, and the general range provides a wide (if not systematic) overview of the artists of the area. Nikolai Ivanovich Getman has 3 samples of artists’ signatures in our database.

Nikolai Getman was convinced that it was his duty to leave evidence of the fate of millions of deceased prisoners, which should not be forgotten. Looking at Hetman’s paintings, I realized that if my father, who fought the communists, had not fled Russia when they came to power, he would undoubtedly have ended up in the Gulag if he had not been immediately executed by the secret police.

Japanese prisoners of war were held in GULAG labor camps and used to build the main Baikal-Amur railway, despite claims from the Soviet Union that these efforts were the result of the hard-working Union of Young Communists. They were one of the main methods by which Stalin exercised absolute control over the life and decisions of the Soviet people.

The Hetman deliberately placed the figures in the shape of a cross as a reference to the enormous burden that the prisoners had to bear. All artists design forms above or clearly below the surface.

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