Victoria Lomasko in 2017

Victoria Lomasko in 2017

Conference reports Art, Gender and Protest

The participants in the round-table included artists and researchers performing and/or studying art-activism in Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Some of the participants also position themselves as feminist activists. The participants were invited to reflect in advance on several questions that were aimed to create a common ground and inspiration for the participants.

Published on balticworlds.com on September 28, 2021

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August 26, 2021, the roundtable“Art, Gender and Protest” was arranged by the authors as part of the series on USSR 30 years. The participants in the roundtable included artists and researchers performing and/or studying art-activism in Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Some of the participants also position themselves as feminist activists. The participants were invited to reflect in advance on several questions that were aimed to create a common ground and inspiration for the participants. In particular, the questions included those on the position of feminist and women-artists in the art community; the potential of art as anti-regime activity in authoritarian countries as well as the current state of the art practices inherited from the Soviet time (are they ignored, transformed, countered and rejected through the new artistic practices?).

The four participants were:

Viсtoria Lomasko, artist, author of the book “Other Russias” (2017) – a collection of graphic journalism illuminating the inequality and injustice at the heart of contemporary Russian society. She currently works on a new book on post-Soviet space.

Dr. Diana T. Kudaibergenova is a Lecturer in Political Sociology at the  Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. She’s the author of  Rewriting the Nation in Modern Kazakh Literature (Lexington, 2017) and
Toward Nationalizing Regimes (U of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) and currently
works on a forthcoming book on protest art and selfhood under the state/regime
paradigm.

Antonina Stebur, curator, researcher. Graduated from the European Humanities University, “Visual and Cultural Studies”, School of the involved art “What to do?” (St. Petersburg). One of the organizers of the art-activist initiative #дамаудобнаявбыту, aimed at researching and analyzing gender inequality in the post-Soviet space. One of the members of the international research group AGITATSIA/Агитация, which studies art activism and political art. One of the organizers of the art-activist research platform Spike.media.

Dr. Nadezda Petrusenko, post-doctoral researcher in contemporary history at Södertörn University (Sweden). Her project “Narratives of Revolutionary Struggle and Construction of Post-Soviet Identities in Russia (1991-2018)” financed by The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies deals with the place of Russian revolutionary heritage in the memory politics of post-Soviet Russia. She is the author of Creating the Revolutionary Heroines: The Case of Female Terrorists of the PSR (Russia, Beginning of the 20th Century) (Stockholm, 2017).

The discussions on the roundtable was dealing with the post-Soviet longue-durée from the perspective of gender, art and political activism. The fall of the Soviet usually is associated with the beginning of the transition to democracy as well as with opening space for new styles, names and techniques in art. Also, while the Soviet ideas on equality between men and women was challenged, the new perspective of research on “gender” invited exploration of the interpretations of “man” and “woman” as constructed categories. The NGOs became a most visible form of activism for “gender equality”. However, the fascination with the promises of transition and the boom of women’s NGOs and gender studies soon seem to give space to some skepticism about the future and to a criticism of the difficulties of application of “gender” to a post-Soviet reality. At the same time many Soviet objects, spaces and customs became not only subject for nostalgic feelings, but also an arena for the new activism and new constructions of gender and art. The growth of gender conservatism and the authoritarian control over the freedom of speech, artistic production and gendered selves not rarely contributed to a new(?) use of the strategies and forms of resistance that were propagated by the Soviet authorities.

The presenters touched upon many different aspects of the topics proposed for discussion and it is difficult to reflect upon all of them in this short description. One topic was generations in art – Victoria Lomasko suggested that those who started their artistic life in the last years of the Soviet period, probably, have less nostalgia for the Soviet era than those who are younger. Lomasko has called herself The Last Soviet Artist in her work. Diana Kudaibergenova pointed out the need to be careful not to simplify both artistic and social practices in the post-Soviet Central Asia and suggested to pay attention to connectivity and interdependencies. Thus, the issues connected to Eurocentrism of the artistic tradition and the need of a decolonial perspective to understand the contemporary artistic practices in Kazakhstan were discussed together with the discussion on the artistic practices challenging the official art in contemporary Kazakhstan. While artistic solidarity with women in Belarus started to be discussed already from the beginning, Antonina Stebur brought up an important question about complex relationships between political activism by women on the one hand and feminist artistic projects and gender/feminist agenda on the other. Finally, Nadezda Petrusenko in her presentation came back to the need of a better understanding of the role of Soviet symbols and ideas in the new artistic practices.

One general aspect of importance in the roundtable was the discrepancy between the social position of contemporary art in the post-Soviet countries in contrast to the West. Contemporary art in the post-Soviet countries was referred to as “poor art” but still with a strong sense of actual social and political relevance. Art is in that aspect an arena for activism and less commodified than the Western art scene. While an artist as Victoria Lomasko processes the explicit Soviet legacy in her art does the contemporary art community in Kazakhstan react to a recent situation in art activism. The legacy of the revolutionary Soviet art is evident in some cases while in others the reaction to a current political situation more resembles the form of a more contemporary conceptual art without an aesthetic reference to the Soviet era.

 

  • by Yulia Gradskova and Martin Englund

    Yulia Gradskova is Associate Professor at the Institute of Contemporary History, Södertörn University. Martin Englund is PhD-candidate in History at BEEGS, the Baltic and East European Graduate School at Södertörn University.

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