Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


SAVA: Infrastructural Internationalism

14 March 2024, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

Socialist mural

A SAVA panel discussion with Monika Motylińska (Leibniz Institute Berlin), Alessandro Iandolo (SSEES UCL), Dubravka Sekulić (Royal College of Art), Eszter Szakács (University of Amsterdam).

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Reuben Fowkes


IAS Forum
G17, ground floor, South Wing
UCL, Gower St, London
United Kingdom

This SAVA panel will consider the physical and cultural infrastructures of socialist internationalism, from flagship histories of East-South industrial collaboration and dam-building as a symbol of modernity for the Third World and site of Cold War competition, to the alternative networks for economic development of the non-aligned movement and the residues of state-managed solidarity campaigns.

Monika Motylińska (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Erkner, Germany) will give a presentation on Constructing Solidarity? Comecon Joint Ventures in Cuba and Ethiopia. In the official discourse of the Eastern Bloc, the nickel plant ‘Las Camariocas’ in Cuba or the cement plant ‘New Mugher’ in Ethiopia were depicted as flagships of socialist collaboration under the label of the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). Focussing on these two spectacular projects, she will scrutinise the joint Comecon effort, looking at several layers of the entanglements between Cuba, Ethiopia and the European socialist states and the German Federal Republic in particular. This is an attempt to provide a suitable framework for addressing issues like the policies of the Comecon in the building industry towards non-European countries and to identify actors playing a crucial role in the knowledge production and transfer across the Comecon in the context of architecture and urban planning. The materialised results of the Comecon joint ventures enable us to consider the broader question of industrial infrastructures within global socialisms. At the same time, the focus on contractors is an opportunity to rethink the role of the builders. This talk is based on the extensive archival research and oral history collection in Germany as well as on the results of the ongoing PhD project by Juliane Richter on the architectural circulations between the GDR and Cuba, of which she is co-supervisor.

Alessandro Iandolo (SSEES UCL) will speak on Damming West Africa: The Politics of Hydroelectric Energy in Ghana, Guinea, and Mali. Dams were the ultimate symbol of Cold War modernity. Since the early 1950s, most postcolonial states in Africa and Asia harbored the ambition of building new dams and establishing energy self-sufficiency through hydroelectric power. West Africa was no exception. In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah dreamed of making the Akosombo dam a pillar of economic modernization. Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea and Modibo Keïta in Mali hoped to revive dam projects from the colonial era to empower the economies of their anti-colonial states. In all cases, their ambitions needed to overcome numerous challenges – geographical, scientific, financial, and, above all, political. How to design, build, finance, and manage a dam presented a series of complex political choices, often forcing governments to choose between stark alternatives: collective or individual, state or market, industrial or commercial, ultimately socialism or liberalism. This paper explores these dilemmas, arguing that political preferences were at the heart of the push for economic modernization in West Africa.

Dubravka Sekulić (Royal College of Art) will present some of her extensive research into Energoprojekt, a construction enterprise from Belgrade which was one of the most successful Yugoslav construction companies on the international markets, whose portfolio of projects beside infrastructural included also architectural projects. The foundation of the Non-aligned Movement in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in September 1961 represented a new opening, not only for a joint political representation of the countries trying to challenge the bipolar division of the world and imperialism

during the Cold War, but also for the establishment of the direct economic relations. In the first decades of the movement, Yugoslavia was trying to match political with economic cooperation, an important part of which was involvement of the construction companies in the large infrastructural projects being constructed in countries gaining their independence.

Curator Eszter Szakács (University of Amsterdam) will speak about the Residues of State-Managed Solidarities, focusing in her presentation on the role of the state in Cold War solidarity projects in art and culture, examining its remnants from the perspective of the archive and surviving institutions. She contrasts state-managed forms of solidarity organizing during the Cold War with grassroots solidarity through the lens of Hungarian propaganda publications from the socialist era about the 'Arab World,’ as well as through the histories of state-initiated Pan-African Festivals and artistic campaigns in Latin America.

The Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA) is a visual arts led interdisciplinary research project that challenges the West-centric discourses of the Anthropocene by asserting the constitutive role of the environmental histories of Socialism in the formation of the new geological age. Led by Dr. Maja Fowkes at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, the project was selected for a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) and is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). www.sava.earth

About the Speakers

Monika Motylińska

Head of Research group at Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space

Monika Motylińska is head of the research group ‘Histories of the Built Environment’ at Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) in Erkner. She is interested in global cycles of architectural production in the long 20th century and investigating flows of capital, labour and ideas. Her current research is dedicated to overlooked actors such as construction companies (within the framework of the Freigeist Fellowship of the VolkswagenStiftung). As a Mellon Fellow for the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s Centring Africa project, her collaboration with Rachel Lee resulted in the publication Fugitive Archives: A Sourcebook for Centring Africa in Histories of Architecture (2023). Recently, she also co-edited the volume Between Solidarity and Economic Constraints (de Gruyter, 2023).

Alessandro Iandolo

Lecturer at School of Slavonic and East European Studies UCL

Alessandro Iandolo is a historian of the Soviet Union and the world, and lecturer in Soviet/Post-Soviet History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies UCL. His research interests cover the USSR’s economic, intellectual, and political interactions with external ideas, states, and people. His current project investigates intellectual exchanges between Soviet and Latin American economists on theorizing “backwardness” and “dependency.” His first book Arrested Development: The Soviet Union in Ghana, Guinea, and Mali, 1955-1968 (2022) explored the Soviet Union's economic partnership with three newly-independent countries in West Africa during the Nikita Khrushchev era.

Dubravka Sekulić

Senior Tutor at Royal Academy of Art

Dubravka Sekulić is an architect, theorist and educator and Senior Tutor at the Royal Academy of Art. Her research explores transformations of contemporary cities, at the nexus between the production of space, laws, and economy. She holds a PhD from gta the Institute for History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich (CH) on the relationship between the Yugoslav construction industry and the Non-aligned Movement. She is a researcher for the project Curatorial Design: A place between and as a co-editor of the relational digital publication Total Reconstruction. She is the author of several books including Glotzt Nicht So Romantisch! On Extralegal Space in Belgrade (Jan van Eyck Academie, 2012), and most recently she collaborated with artist and filmmaker Ana Hušman on Don't Trace, Draw! (2020), a film that explored spatial legacy of the Yugoslav pedagogical reform.