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The Rivera Murals
The Casa Azul
The Trotsky Museum
Rain on canvas
The Anthropological Museum
Life is a miracle
Turtles Can Fly
Luis Barragans house
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Trotsky’s real name was Lev Bronstein. In one of the struggles for power in Russia he was deported to the camps in Siberia , but escaped with a false passport. When questioned in a train he gave the name of a guard in the camp who had been nice to him; and the name ‘Trotsky’ stayed. He was first exiled by Stalin to Turkey : (to an island where the Austro-Hungarian empire had exiled its errant princes), then transported to France , and later sent to Norway . When Stalin threatened economic sanctions against Norway they expelled Trotsky too. No one would take him in. He applied for a visa to the USA , but eventually, under pressure from Rivera and others, the Mexican government accepted him. There are photographs on the wall of the museum of the small group meeting Trotsky and his wife, Natalya, when they arrived, Frida Kahlo and Rivera prominent amongst them.
Natalya herself is an overlooked figure, living in the shadow of her famous husband; but she was a botanist who had studied in Geneva , and was the first director of museums in Russia after the Russian Revolution.
Perhaps it was this that led her to treat her own home as a museum, a slowly fading monument, when Trotsky died. (The assassin was someone known to the household, the lover of the sister of Trotsky’s secretary, and therefore not searched when he entered the fortified, heavily guarded building. He concealed an ice pick, a gun and a knife beneath a raincoat. Trotsky survived the head-wound from the ice-pick for twenty-four hours. But he had said “I am an individual. How can I survive against a whole state? They will get me sooner or later.” It is widely believed that the assassin was an agent of Stalin’s, but though caught and interrogated he never confessed that this was the case.)
One non-image of Trotsky is famous; he was erased from a photograph of political leaders in Red Square ; perhaps the first ‘digital’ re-touching? The attempt by Stalin was not just to erase his family and his being, but also to erase even the memory of his existence.
It reminds me of my visits to the Eisenstein Museum in Moscow ; in 1984 on my first trip to the Soviet Union , and then in 1986 as part of a film delegation from the UK . Naum Kleiman had lovingly conserved and run the museum – almost as a private shrine - for many years. On my first visit I had a private tour (with Renny Bartlett and Sian Thomas who had organized it), and sat, marveling, in Eisenstein’s sitting room eating creamy sweet cake – probably queued for for hours – which was graciously served by Naum on porcelain china as he told stories of Eisenstein’s life, leaping up now and then to pull a drawing out of a drawer, or show us what Eisenstein had been reading.
When I went back there two years later with Derek Jarman (another member of the film delegation), he stumbled across books where Trotsky’s name had been scratched out by the censors; little black lines dotted through the text.
Derek Jarman at the Eisenstein Museum, 1986
Naum Kleiman curator of the Eisenstein Museum
Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated