Editor’s Introduction:

A – Art, F – Feminism, A Topical Dictionary, Moscow 2015

E. Susanna Weygandt
This translation project grows organically out of some of the most socially-conscious aspects of contemporary Russian art and performance: specifically, a recent wave of feminist discours in literature and media. This dictionary, A for Art; F for Feminism / I – iskusstvo; F – feminizm (published in 2015 in Russian by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) defines gender terms for the general public accompanying them with images from an art exhibit to which East European and Russian feminist artists contributed.
Aleksandra Kollontai; gender, defining gender, sexism, post-Soviet Studies, feminism, visual art, contemporary Russian art, performance art.
Ilmira Bolotyan introduces the exhibition at ISSMAG Gallery on October 24, 2015 in Moscow. Photo c. Repa Elite Pop Art http://repa-art.ru/i-iskusstvo_f-feminism

The rise of protest art in post-Soviet Russia has given voice to social problems and inequalities through feminist discourse, as seen in the Pussy Riot movement and the I-iskusstvo; F-feminizm dictionary-catalogue. The lack of feminist theory published in Russian has led to a void in public discourse, making it difficult for people to express feminist values. The exhibition and dictionary-catalogue seek to fill this void by defining terms related to gender, LGBTQ, feminism, sexuality, and identity for the general public. The publication is accompanied by photographs from the visual art exhibition at Center Krasnyi (Tsentr Krasnyi) and then at ISSMAG Gallery, both in Moscow, in 2015-2016, which was also called I-iskusstvo; F-feminizm, (the exhibition was conceptualised together with the dictionary). The 2015 exhibition was also held at the former Research Institute of Long-Range Radio Communication (Nauchno-issledovatel’skii institut dal’nei radiosviazi) in Moscow.

The exhibition and dictionary-catalogue use traditional genres of visual art, social media, street performance, and activism to create bold and expansive projects. The artists involved in the exhibition and dictionary-catalogue are Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldavian women.These artists identify as feminists, and while some are non-Russian, they all share an understanding of Soviet memory, post-Soviet transition, and the fall-outs in gender equality, in particular in the final period of Soviet rule in Eastern and Central Europe and in the non-Russian Soviet republics. They aim to raise awareness of singularly female experiences in post-Soviet Russia, including child birth, sexuality, domestic violence, migration, and ageing, while also critiquing the current Russian regime as authoritarian, patriarchal, and imperialist.

The evolution of contemporary feminist art across post-Soviet space leading up to the 2015 exhibition is rooted in women’s roles in the Soviet Union, where normative femininity dominated for a long period. However, feminist perspectives were developed in the early Soviet period, particularly in Soviet avant-garde art, highlighting the need for social critique and the empowerment of women.

The rhetoric of early Soviet society was “progressive” in terms of gender equality, particularly when compared to the struggles that women faced in the US and Europe at the same time. Universal suffrage was part of the Bolshevik platform, and during the civil war that followed the revolution, women were encouraged to participate in all spheres.

Aleksandra Kollontai,1 a leading Russian feminist and the only woman in the Council of People’s Commissars, argued for policies to integrate women in the workforce. She hoped and called for the class revolution to lead to a gender revolution, emphasising it must be this way in her books, such as Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman (1926).In her writings, Kollontai described the role that the "New Soviet Woman" should play in the newly established socialist state and asserted that the struggle of women pertains not just to one particular class within society but to the female gender as a whole, envisioning a distinct "female consciousness”.

Many of the women artists of the early Soviet avant-garde identified with the movement known as Constructivism. Constructivists believed that art, design, and clothing should be utilitarian and comfortable, following the trends of lifestyle of the time. Constructivist clothing designers such as Varvara Stepanova designed sporty and comfortable women's clothes, assuming they would be worn by working women and women enjoying athletic pursuits outside of the home.2