“Art belongs to the people,” Vladimir Lenin famously pronounced at the outset of the Soviet period. For generations, Soviet leaders and their constituents alike had a deft sense of art in the service of state power, including the placement of spectacular architectural monuments among its fast-urbanizing populations. In the post-Soviet age, nationalizing leaders have been equally quick to embrace the ready spectacle of dazzling architecture as the face of reform. This essay explores the recent and often stunning changes afoot in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to consider how enduring socialist legacies of art, sovereignty, and reading between the lines of state power come into play in new urban settings.

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