The Black Square and the Blue Pencil: Modernist Mimicry of Censorial Style in Russian Avant-Garde Books


Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowships in the History of Art


The Wiener-Anspach Foundation


From plastering paragraphs with thick black ink, to cutting up newspaper columns with scalpels, and scrawling over post with colored pens, Russian censors redacted unwelcome content with a range of creative devices. This project develops the concept of “subversive mimicry” to argue that the censor's cuts and strikes influenced avant-garde book design from 1914-1921. Artists and writers such as Kazimir Malevich, Aleksei Kruchenykh, and Varvara Stepanova, collaborated on ruptured books full of partially deleted poetry, abstracted imagery, and fissured text. By reinterpreting censorship, not as a dam blocking the flow of cultural communication, but as a current running alongside it, this project argues that avant- gardists were creatively stimulated by the institution they so vocally opposed.