On the side of a Lithuanian barbecue joint, in the shadow of the Russia border, is a mural President-Elect Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, locked in a steamy embrace. It’s called Make Everything Great Again.
The first, obvious question is why exactly artists Dominykas Čečkauskas and Mindaugas Bonanu felt compelled to create this particular display on the side of barbecue restaurant called Keule Ruke in Lithuania.
The image actually has its roots in Donald Trump’s preferred architectural feature: a wall. That one you may of heard of in Berlin, to be exact. In 1990, fresh off the collapse of the Soviet Union, a young East Berliner named Dimitri Vrubel grabbed some paints and approached the hulking slab of concrete that previously divided the city’s American and Soviet sectors.
Vrubel’s artistic vandalism is known as My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love. The city actually had him come back in the 2000s to repaint his work to better preserve it for history.
The mural draws inspiration from a famous photo taken by Regis Bossu in 1979. It shows Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker engaged in the Soviet Kiss. This spit swap was the go to greeting for leaders of Soviets states and, so far as history knows, did not involve any tongue. Generally, the Soviet kiss was strictly cheek only, but in moments of particular celebration or intimacy, the strongmen of the communist brotherhood smacked lip to lip.
Like the Soviet Kiss, the Trump-Putin embrace suggests an certain political kinship. Rather than a desire to overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie in favor of the proletariat, the two men share a more general authoritarian style. Not to mention, a similarly sized ego. Trump has the Apprentice, Putin has his shirtless horse-riding calendar. It’s different shades of the same game.
My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love represents one of the greatest political protest works in modern art. Re-purposing the image is creative and powerful way to comment on today’s politics. It doesn’t stop at Putin and Trump either. British imitators have done a version with Trump and Boris Johnson. Over the next four years, I hope and suspect it won’t be the last.