University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Oct 11, 2013: Red Venus. Discussion on Women in Soviet Art Exhibition

Available for download as audio or video.


Available for download as audio or video.

Red Venus: From Alexandra Kollontai to Pussy Riot
Panel Discussion on TMORA’s “Women in Soviet Art” Exhibition

The Museum of Russian Art

A panel discussion in conjunction with the current exhibit, “Women in Soviet Art,” at the Museum of Russian Art. Panelists will address the complex issues raised by the show–concerning the position and iconography of women in the Soviet Union and Russia over 75 years, feminist responses from Alexandra Kollontai to Pussy Riot, folklore and everyday life. Panelists include a founding member of the group that published samizdat feminist journals in the 1970s and 1980s, Natalya Malachowskaja (Salzburg), as well as Soviet and Eastern European dress scholar Katalin Medvedev, TMORA curator Maria Zavialova, Slavic studies professor Helena Goscilo, and history professor Elizabeth Jones Hemenway. Moderated by Professor of English Paula Rabinowitz. The panel participants will also conduct a walk-through of the exhibition on Saturday, October 12.

  • Helena Goscilo, Ohio State University
  • Maria Zavialova, Curator, The Museum of Russian Art
  • Natalia Malachowskaja an original member of the Leningrad feminists
  • Elizabeth Jones Hemenway, Loyola University, Chicago
  • Katalin Medvedev, University of Georgia

Convener: Paula Rabinowitz.

Prof. Goscilo also was interviewed for the Bat of Minerva.

This discussion occurred from 2:30 to 5:30pm on Friday, October 11, 2013, in 125 Nolte Center For Continuing Education.



Representing Women in Official Soviet Art, 1950s- 1980s (Maria Zavialova) The Museum of Russian Art

This talk focuses on the representations of female subjects in post-war Soviet painting, produced by members of the Soviet Artists Union and hence known as official art. Paintings by Union members both responded to the demands of censorship and entered a dialogue with the official ideology in an attempt to renegotiate some of the terms of Soviet citizenship. The material for the talk will be drawn from the exhibition Women in Soviet Art currently on display in The Museum of Russian Art.

A Week Like Any Other: The “Emancipation” of Soviet Women (Betsy Jones Hemenway) Loyola University Chicago

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 promised to free Russian women from the legal restrictions and obligations that had tied them to the family and limited their activities in society for centuries. Women received the right to vote in 1917; the 1918 Family Code re-wrote the legal relationships between family members; activists promoted new living facilities where housework and childcare would be communally shared; throughout the 1920s and 1930s millions of women gained an education and employment outside the home. Despite these initiatives by the Soviet regime, its legal structures and symbolic language combined to create a vision of society in which men took on leadership roles and women served as subordinates. At home, traditional gender roles persisted, in addition to women’s added responsibilities on the job, an exhausting “double shift” vividly portrayed in a well-known novella published in the 1960s. Rather than transforming gender relationships, therefore, the Soviet regime reinforced traditional ones, modifying them to include women in the building of socialism.

Graphically Female: Scripted Roles of Soviet Womanhood (Helena Goscilo) The Ohio State University

In their depictions of women, Soviet posters worked hand in hand with the Soviet state, especially after 1931 when they came under Party control, and ultimately censorship, to promulgate prescribed images of Soviet womanhood. Helena Goscilo’s talk will present these graphic images and provide insight into the changing official notions of what Soviet women should embody and represent.

Early Soviet Dress:  Ideology and Practice (Katalin Medvedev) University of Georgia

This talk describes various attempts to create a new socialist dress in the Soviet Union that was devoid of the commercial and cultural traits of Western bourgeois dress.  After 1917, the work of constructivist designers aimed to express the Bolshevik values of rationality, gender-neutrality, classlessness, functionality and comfort through innovative geometric cuts and design motifs. However, after Stalin came to power, radical and modernist design ideas were replaced by the idealization of a conservative, overdecorated, flowery aesthetics that suggested a return to the concept of traditional femininity, glamour and luxury in female dress. Stalinist socialist dress was no longer meant to serve the masses, but construct and embellish a timeless, mythical socialist reality, unaffected by contemporary Western sartorial changes. The return to conservative dress styles by the 1930s made obvious the inability of the regime to create a genuine socialist fashion.  After Stalin’s death, Western fashion gradually penetrated the socialist bloc and women began to find ways to express a measure of individuality in their appearance through unofficial channels and DIY methods, which, in turn, prompted the regime to stop ignoring its subjects’ sartorial needs and the forces of the market.

The Goddess of Love in the Country of Victorious Socialism (Natalia Malachowskaja) Salzburg, Austria

Natalia Malachowskaja’s talk focuses on her writing career in the early years of the Brezhnev era as well as her participation in the first post-war feminist Samizdat publication, Women and Russia, and Maria at a later date, when the Brezhnev epoch was coming to an end. In Natalia’s talk, the historical account is interspersed with musings on the issues of feminism prompted by her active participation in the revival of feminist discourse in the late Soviet period whose rise she contends was a reaction to the Soviet system’s negative attitudes towards female reproductive powers rather than gender inequality.

Sponsored by: English, College of Liberal Arts, Institute for Advanced Study, Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, History, Art History, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, Slavic Languages & Literatures, German, Scandinavian & Dutch, Global Studies
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For more information, contact Terri Sutton,, 612-626-1528.

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