In the spirit of International Women’s Day – a holiday allegedly dedicated to inspiring women to rise above their status as secondary citizens by commemorating that very status – institutions around the world are making token gestures and sending flowers.
And so, once more, our (wo)man in Russia Artguide has alerted us to one of those gestures. It seems that several drawings by artist Victoria Lomasko – long a fixture of the Moscow scene, but really hit her stride as the foremost chronicler of the Pussy Riot trials – have been removed from the exhibition “International Women’s Day: Feminism, From the Avant-Garde to the Present,” which opened last night in the museum space of Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolhoznitza. Curated by a power team of Manezh director Marina Loshak, the State Russian Museum’s Olesya Turkina, and Natalia Kamenetskaya, the exhibition set out to survey the changing attitudes towards women throughout the Soviet era through now. With a dynamite track record and so much material to work with, how could this go wrong…?
In short, self-censorship. Just days before the opening, Lomasko was informed that her four works – which contained references to Pussy Riot and protests, including one pensioneer-activist in particular – were to be removed from the exhibition. According to a post on the artist’s Facebook page, since re-quoted on Artguide:
The curators explained that any mention of Pussy Riot today is dangerous. As for the fourth, seemingly innocent drawing of the Communist Kapitalina Ivanova, “International Women’s Day” curator Natalya Kamenetskaya explained: “This drawing is of very low quality. It is a work suited for the Feministski Karandash [Ed: “The Feminist Pencil,” an exhibition organized by Lomasko last fall], but not for this exhibition.” Curator Olesya Turkina added, “We’ve got an exhibition here, not a boudoir.”
Of course, if the curators were concerned about detracting from the other works in the show (such as the charming 1934 ceramic piece by Natalia Danko, or the not-unproblematic inclusion of Vladimir Alexandrovich Serov‘s 1964 portrait of a female construction worker), they did not succeed. If they learned anything during the Pussy Riot ordeal, the Feminist Pencil crew can organize. No sooner had word gone out on the social networks (Lomasko posted screenshots of email correspondence, catalogue pages, and exhibition contracts), than the censored works were printed on postcards, which were brought to the opening and passed around. Artist and curator Oleg Kulik (whom we just wrote about in connection with Regina Gallery!) even wore a t-shirt printed with the work of Umnaya Masha (“Smartypants Masha”), another of the Feminist Pencil artists who also had work removed from the “International Woman’s Day” exhibition.
Granted, we recognize that the curators may have been acting in the best interests of the exhibition (After all, just last week an interactive play revisiting the trials of “Forbidden Art” and Pussy Riot was shut down by the Moscow police before it could begin.) Still, we can’t help but think: what more eloquent statement about the conditions of contemporary Feminism in Russia?