Exhibit Takes the Chill Out of the Cold War
Upstairs in Whitebox Studios, located in the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, a unique documentary takes place. Rebecca Matlock, wife of former US Ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock, makes small talk with Aleksey Isakov. Aleksy, counselor for the Embassy of the Russian Federation, and his wife Lyudmila, have flown in from Washington just for the occasion.
Lining the walls of Whitebox are rows of snapshots enlarged to 8x10s and simply matted and framed for display. What makes this display unique is where and when these photos were taken.
A rarely-seen timeline was recorded by Matlock’s camera as she accompanied her husband from 1961, when he was a foreign service officer to the Soviet Union, to 1991, his last year as ambassador. They allow us access into places many never get to see otherwise. Most of the photos cover her time spent in Russia during Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency. Hence the title of the display: The Time of Mikhail Gorbachev.
On the left-hand wall are a series of photographs labeled Big Changes. They show Soviet citizens visiting the Spaso house (the ambassador’s house), something previously not allowed. There’s a photo of young Soviets and Americans planting trees as a symbol of friendship, foretelling the times to come. There are photos of a Music Peace Festival in which American rock band MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e played. There is a photo of a new McDonald’s restaurant and further down the wall is a photo of the MIR spacecraft suspended in a hangar.
During the last days of the Soviet Union you see photos of Brooke Shields and Bob Hope together for a television presentation in Moscow, remnants of the Berlin Wall, and Boris Yeltsin after being elected president.
Another wall displays photos taken during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. In one, Raisa Gorbachev entertains Barbara Bush at tea in the Kremlin. In another Barbara Bush entertains Raisa Gorbachev at the White House. Presidents Bush and Gorbachev are shown dining together in one; Gorbachev waves goodbye from the steps of a plane in another. And one rare photo shows Bush dictating notes into a recorder on Air Force One.
At the end of the display are photos Gorbachev during retirement and after the death of his wife in which he appears aged and worn. A few portraits of Gorbachev snapped by Matlock also appear.
The display brings to life the meetings and strides toward peace that took place after the end of the Cold War. With dated clothing and furniture in the photographs one is taken back to the 1980s in which we watched the world change before our eyes on our television sets at home.
While Greensboro seems an odd place for Russian dignitaries to be discussing history over Russian made delicacies, it makes more sense when you learn that Jack Matlock is a native of Greensboro and the Matlocks are acquaintances of George Fesenko-Navrotsky.
Fesenko-Navrotsky, owner of Studio St. George at the Nussbaum Center, asked Rebecca Matlock to show her work after going to a presentation given by Jack Matlock at Guilford College. Fesenko-Navrotsky had a special interest in Rebecca Matlock’s work because of his own Russian heritage.
Matlock has had over 40 exhibitions of her work, including shows at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and at Princeton University. Her book At Spaso House, printed in English and Russian, chronicles the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union between 1933 and 1991, with a special focus on Gorbachev’s presidency.
The Time of Mikhail Gorbachev will remain on display at Whitebox through April 20.