Superwoman @ GRAD

Russia is famous for a lot of things, feminism, in the UK at least, probably isn’t one of them. However, GRAD Gallery is changing that with its Superwoman exhibition, that presents all things woman during the Soviet era.

The show illustrates the presentation of the Soviet woman from 1917 to 1991. While women have long played second best to men in Western Europe, in Soviet Russia, in many ways, men and women were equal. Russia was the first superpower to allow women to vote in 1917. Moreover, abortion was legalised and maternity leave was also available.

Women were expected to join in with physical work, hence the subtitle for the exhibition ‘Work, Build and Don’t Whine’ – which was taken from a famous poster showing a woman throwing a discuss – definitely not the most graceful or feminine of sporting activities. The Soviet woman became ‘Superwoman’ because not only did she help create the new Soviet Union, but also ran the household and looked after the family.

One of the most note-worthy works in the show is a bronze model of Vera Mukhina’s monument Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, which originally topped the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Fair. The monument depicts a proletariat man wielding a hammer and a proletariat woman with a sickle standing side by side. Symbolically, this is a strong statement – how could you have a hammer without a sickle?!

Also on display are propaganda posters, showing women on building sites as well as documentary films. There are also items used in the home as well as collages and sketches of Russian women. On one wall there are a series of Matryoshka dolls, while opposite there are posters that read ‘Let’s liberate women from the kitchen slavery for the work in socialist industry.’

This is a fascinating look at the role of women during the Soviet age.

Superwoman: Work, Build and Don’t Whine is on display at GRAD until 15 October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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