The Love Letters carpets are based on the drawings of Russian poet, playwright, and artist Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930). Mayakovsky initially worked on behalf of the Bolshevik Revolution, lending his talents to give voice to the Russian people at a time of great social upheaval and reconstruction. But as the revolution changed its course, Mayakovsky—known as the “people’s poet”—became extremely disillusioned and could not forgive himself for being complicit in Joseph Stalin’s ruthless rise to power, ultimately committing suicide at age thirty-seven. Through caricature, the carpets depict the wrenching experience of having a foreign alphabet imposed on one’s native tongue and the linguistic acrobatics required to negotiate such change. In particular, the carpets tell two parallel stories: that of the Bolsheviks’ forced Latinization and later Cyrillicization of the Arabic script languages spoken by the Muslim and Turkic-speaking peoples of the Russian Empire, and the 1928 language revolution of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk—Turkey’s first president—in which the Turkish language was converted from Arabic to Latin script. The casualties of these linguistic takeovers—lost letters and mistranslations—are given center stage here as a testament to the trauma of modernization.
Texts and image captions by Gabriel Ritter, the Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art