Anna Artaker’s works examine visual production in the context of how history is written: she analyzes images that have been used in the construction and communication of history and have thus become part of a specific historiography.
In recent years, Artaker has closely studied the death masks created by the Armenian-Soviet sculptor Sergei Merkurov (1881–1952). Merkurov was a “National Artist” of the young Soviet Union and sculpted numerous monumental statues of the country’s heroes. In addition, he took death masks of prominent figures in Soviet history. These casts—of the faces of Lenin and his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya, of Sergei Eisenstein and Maxim Gorky, but also of party functionaries such as Felix Dzerzhinsky, director of the dreaded secret police, and Andrei Zhdanov, who was responsible for the repressive cultural policy and censorship under Stalin, among many others—became part of the official Soviet historiography. Given the religious-cultic origins of the form, the fact that these death masks were created as part of a modern historiographic project renders them unique.