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Feminist Pencils (and Pens)

By Elke R. Steiner

I’ve just returned from participating in an exciting international exhibition of feminist art: the "Feminist Pencil—2" exhibition at ArtPlay Center in Moscow.  Curated and moderated by artist Victoria Lomasko of Moscow and Serpuchov, known for her book, Forbidden Art, and her graphic coverage of the Pussy Riot trial, and art historian Nadia Plungian of Moscow, the exhibition showcased feminist art and graphic works on social issues, with work by artists from Russia, France, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, and Sweden, and ran from October 23 through November 6.

The various forms on display included fan art, street art, autobiographical comics, and work in new genres, all with strong messages. Participants made clear personal and political statements  on feminism, the situation of women in Russia, family, gender roles, exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, and other topics, rejecting superficial approaches for more nuanced considerations.

Natalia Vasyutinas from Novosibirsk employed classic manga style to address gender roles, the attempts to modify them, and society‘s reaction. Tatiana Fashutdinoa from Izevsk described in calm and clear lines and surfaces the situation in rural regions. Understanding Anna Repina‘s simple, painful images of beaten, exhausted women, naked and eating from a trough, requires no language.

The exhibition spoke clearly about women's difficult situations and unbearable problems, and as might be expected, there were several attempted challenges and disruptions. On the packed opening night, a visitor startled me by commenting that all those problems are already solved. So why talk about them, he asked. We were standing in front of Victoria Lomasko‘s graphic reportage about sex workers. This visitor, though annoying, was relatively harmless, but others had more aggressive responses. The third day the exhibition space was plastered with crude felt-pen drawings of  penises.  The organizers and participants removed all but one, then framed it and added comments and stencils.  Sunday evening, our discussions were interrupted by a pack of men; the leader babbled at us, then, after being gently guided aside, started filming us with a midsize camera. (The intruders eventually left as the exasperated organizers were calling the police.) But these distractions could not stop the flow of exchange, information, and inspiration. Project manager Xenia Urmenic kindly translated for me, and I wouldn´t have wanted to miss a second of the roundtables and lectures with artists, human rights and other activists, art historians and critics of  social art, moderated unflaggingly and with aplomb by Lomasko and Plungian.

Oksana Bryukhovetskaya reported on her experiences as curator and artist for the 2012 exhibition "Ukrainian Body." Housed at the Kyiv-Mohyla-Academy, the exhibit was forcibly closed after three days by Sherhiy Kvit, the president of the Academy, who declared "This is not art, this is shit." Ina Smetanina described the circumstances under which she developed her series of portaits of psychiatric patients. Julia Resnikowa explained how she managed to draw her memories of living in a small room with her little daughter. Nika Dubrowsky told us about online publishing and new ways of spreading feminist material. Irina Solomatina (Minsk) presented her project, a "Gender Route" on which men and women can question their own roles in society. And much more.

Photo: Tanya Sushenkova

Practical workshops were also an important part of "The Feminist Pencil." Mika Ela of Moscow led a workshop in stencilmaking, completed by spraying the new art onto the walls of the exhibition space. From St. Petersburg’s Tanya Egorova we learned about feminist fanzines and how to make one. And I led a group of comics exercises in which participants wrote and illustrated a personal story in three panels.

The exhibit has closed, but the wonderful catalog, many inspired and connected people, and a definite impact remain.

For more information:

"Feminist Pencil—2" on Facebook (in Russian) 

Victoria Lomaskos's Blog

Work by Nadia Plungian

Published Nov 15, 2013   Copyright 2013 Elke R. Steiner

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