Creative work of Z. I. Azgur in the second half of the 20th century

Довоенное творчество З.И. Азгура

The Boundless Portrait: Evolution of Zair Azgur's Creative Work in the Second Half of the 20th Century

Throughout the 1950s to 1980s, Zair Azgur remains a central figure in Belarusian post-war portrait sculpture. The artist’s diverse interests during these years are reflected in his choice of new subjects and compositional decisions, expanding the boundaries of traditional sculptural portraiture.


Essentially, he creates works that reflect individual episodes from the biographies or professional activities of his subjects: intimate portraits such as composer N.I. Aladov (1956), violinist A. Amiton (1975), and others; type portraits like “Komsomol Girl” (1954-1955), “Young Naturalist” (1955), and others; groups such as “K. Marx and F. Engels” (1957), “F.E. Dzerzhinsky with a Boy” (1953-1954), “V.I. Lenin with a Girl” (1957), “Lullaby” (1954), and others; monumental ensembles like the suite “Dagestan (‘Haji Murat with Son’, ‘Makhach Dakhadayev’, ‘Suleiman Stalsky’, ‘Shamil’)” (1959), and the monument to Yakub Kolas with sculptural groups “Grandfather Talash and Panas”, “Symon-Music and Hannochka” (1972).

Cyclicity remains a constant principle in his work. Azgur continues his series of portraits depicting heroes of the Great Patriotic War and cultural figures, while also exploring new images such as Heroes of Socialist Labor and leaders of communist parties.


The stylistic and sculptural structure of the portraits of Great Patriotic War heroes from the late 1940s to the 1970s remains unchanged. The process of “canonization” of the depicted individuals continues. Images like V. Lobanko (1951), N. Chibisov (1957), V. Khoruzhey (1960), partisans V. Talash (1947-1955), G. Galcheni (1967), are presented as examples of exemplary service to the Motherland.


Azgur’s post-war decades are most characterized by a diverse gallery of portraits of figures from global science and culture. It includes over a hundred portraits of writers, musicians, composers, artists, architects, actors, and scientists from various epochs and countries. Many depicted personalities were close to the sculptor in spirit, worldview, and creative character. Azgur had friendly relations with many of them: with Y. Kolos, Y. Kupala, N. Voronov, E. Glebov, L. Alexandrovskaya, Z. Byadula, N. Bogoslovsky, N. Aladov, S. Selikhanov, and others. In working on this cycle, the artist was most free and inventive. The psychological characterization of the depicted individuals is precise and comprehensive, capturing their inner movements and conveying the creative experiences of the models. Azgur’s main goal in this case was to develop the dramaturgy of the created image.


The 1950s in the sculptor’s work are notable for the emergence of portraits of Belarusian writers Kuzma Chyorny (Nikolay Romanovsky) (1956), Yanka Bryl (Ivan Antonovich) (1956), People’s Artist of the USSR and sculptor E. Vuchetich (1956), Belarusian painter N. Voronov (1957), Chinese poet Lu Xun (Zhou Shu-Jen) (1953-1954), American poet Walt Whitman (1959), and others. The 1960s featured poets P. Brovka (1963), Yu. Taubin (1966), M. Kalachinsky (1967), artists E. Zaitsev (1960), G. Azgur (1965), architect V. Aladov (1969), Mauritanian poet and thinker of the 12th century Ibn Ezra Abu Kasim (1969), and others. The 1970s included composer E. Glebov (1970s), People’s Poet of the BSSR Yanka Kolas (1970s), A. Kuleshov (1970s), E. Dolmatovsky (1970s), M. Goretsky (1975), theater artist O. Mariks (1979), sculptors V. Letun (1979), V. Popov (1979), violinist A. Amiton (1975), theater scholar B. Buryan (1975), architect V. Korolya (1974), writer I. Shamakin (1970s), and others. The 1980s included sculptor M. Kerzin (1982), Hero of Socialist Labor and writer B. Polevoy (1980), poets A. Vergelis (1980), I. Kharik (1987), poet and public figure T. Hartny (1987), Tajik poet and scholar Omar Khayyam (1984), humanist poet and educator of the Renaissance era N. Gusovsky (1980), opera singer L. Alexandrovskaya (1985), cinematographer I. Vaynerovich (1987), German composer R. Wagner (1987), and others.


In this series of works, several compositional systems are distinctly traced: portrait heads (Ibn Ezra Abu Kasim, S. Botkovsky, S. Smirnov, A. Pushkin, etc.); frontal or nearly frontal bust portraits without significant angles (I. Bolotin, N. Bogoslovsky, B. Polevoy, A. Pashkevich, etc.), figures with complex spatial twists (M. Mussorgsky, N. Voronov, M. Bogdanovich, etc.), half-figures complemented by hand gestures (K. Cherny, Y. Kolas, G. Azgur, R. Tagore, Lu Xun, N. Aladov, etc.), and statues (P. Brovka, A. Kuleshov, L. Alexandrovskaya, M. Mussorgsky, etc.).


From the late 1950s onward, there was a noticeable increase in artists’ interest in depicting contemporary reality. Alongside the heroism of wartime, there emerged heroism in everyday labor, industrial themes demanded by the pace and ideology of post-war life. Artworks were dedicated to production pioneers, agricultural laborers, whose daily work was seen as heroic. The lives of Heroes of Socialist Labor were taken as examples and benchmarks.


The gallery of portraits of Heroes of Socialist Labor is relatively small. It forms a cohesive, closed cycle that resonates with the events and sentiments of a specific time. For each “hero” figure, Azgur finds expressive means, vibrant genre strokes intended to soften the strict classical sculptural form and bring monumental sculptures closer to the viewer. In the portrait of T. Shkurko (1948-1949), he introduces ornamental inserts that rhythmize the volume and enliven the sculpture; in the portrait of E. Lesnichy (1949), a precise gesture preserves the integrity of the compositional solution; in the portrait of A. Stykut (1951), attention is drawn to details like the model’s scarf draped over the shoulders; in the portrait of A. Goretskaya (1951), there’s a contrasting juxtaposition of textures – the smooth surface of the jacket against the uneven surface of the high-neck sweater.


Similarly local and more historically significant is the series of portraits of communist party leaders: Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Dolores Ibarruri, Palmiro Togliatti. All dated to 1950 and conforming to the scheme of official ceremonial representation.


From the late 1940s to the 1970s, Azgur was the most sought-after Belarusian artist in monumental sculpture. He authored monuments installed in many cities across Belarus, Russia, Dagestan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, India, and China: bust monuments to Yanka Kupala (1947-1949, Vyazinka village, Minsk region), Dmitry Pozharsky (1945-1950, Suzdal), P. I. Bagration and M. B. Barclay de Tolly (1946-1949, Borodino village, Moscow region), Alexander Pushkin (1947, Astrakhan), Felix Dzerzhinsky (1951-1953, Minsk), monument-ensemble to Yanka Kolas (1972, Minsk), among others.


A significant monumental work of Azgur in the 1950s was the relief for the obelisk monument at Victory Square in Minsk (1954), commemorating the tenth anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from German fascist invaders. The architectural project was co-authored by V. Koroly, G. Zaborsky, A. Matskevich. For the sculpture of the monument, Azgur collaborated with A. Bembel, A. Glebov, Z. Azgur, S. Selikhanov.


One of Azgur’s largest monumental works in the 1970s was the monument to Yakub Kolas, erected at Yakub Kolas Square in Minsk. Architects G. Zaborsky, Yu. Gradov, L. Levin participated in the architectural design. The sculptor’s work on the monument spanned 10 years. The initial sketches, depicting the poet in full growth, date back to the early 1960s. Following several stages of competition, the artist abandoned this compositional structure in favor of an ensemble consisting of three parts. The dominant element organizing the spatial environment is the image of Kolas, seated on a boulder pedestal. The poet’s face and figure are rendered with bold planes. The silhouette of the monument stands out distinctly against the architectural backdrop of the square. The central part of the ensemble is surrounded by sculptural groups representing heroes from the poet’s literary works “Marsh” and “Symon-Musician”: “Grandfather Talash and Panas”, “Symon-Musician and Hanna”. The sculptural compositions are complemented by a landscaping system including fountains and pools, recreating the natural features of Belarus and symbolizing Kolas’ inseparable connection to Belarus.