In the late 1920s, the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich embarked on a new direction in art that eighty years later continues to perplex the art historical establishment: the artist formerly known for the radical abstraction of The Black Square returned to figuration. My analysis attempts to unpack this about-face and address the many questions that surround it. How does Malevich's late work relate to the regime of Socialist Realism? Was his return to figuration a conversion, an aesthetic rethinking, or a calculated move? I argue that this return was designed to navigate the restrictions of the new aesthetic episteme and carve out a third way, ostensibly compliant but in fact containing kernels of subversiveness. This third way, I suggest, consisted of a peculiar painterly poetics of estrangement and Aesopian language. While scholarship has offered insights into the literary aspect of these phenomena, very little has been written on their pictorial incarnation. Focusing on Malevich's late paintings of Russian peasants and his 1933 Self-Portrait, I try to trace the complex art historical moment of the late 1920s and early 1930s and map out the representational possibilities of the two literary concepts.

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