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

Ilmira Bolotyan, E. Susanna Weygandt
Selections from the translated dictionary, I – iskusstvo; F – feminizm / A – Art, F – Feminism (published in 2015 in Russian by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) appearing here are dictionary terms accompanied by photographs excerpted from an art exhibition (at various venues in Moscow), also called I – iskusstvo; F – feminizm. It is a historical project in that one of the mediums in the exhibition, needlework, evokes a period earlier in history when the art that was most available to women was sewing and needlework, which was also their main area of labour. This is also a social project: the artists, who represent different nationalities of the region, intend to raise awareness of singularly female experiences in the Russian Federation, including domestic violence, migration, and ageing. The artist-scholar Ilmira Bolotyan assembled the dictionary, and most of the entries were written by feminist artists from Russia and Ukraine. Weygandt, together with students of her Russian Language & Contemporary Society university course, interviewed Bolotyan.  
Russia and East Europe, defining gender, feminism, visual art, contemporary performance art.

A Summary of Feminist Art in Russia

About the Dictionary

About the Exhibit

Selected Entries

А – Aдаптация (Adaptation)

В – Выбери женщину (Choose a Woman)

И – Исключение (Exclusion)

T – Труд женский (Women’s Labour)

Э – Ageism

Interview on November 18, 2019 with Ilmira Bolotyan 

Interview with Ilmira Bolotyan in 2023



Suggested Citation

A Summary of Feminist Art in Russia

Feminist art in Russia has its own particular features. Before addressing some specifics of the Russian art scene a few general remarks are warranted. To begin, what is the distinction between “art made by women” and “feminist art”, and what is the answer to the question “What kind of art is feminist?”

All women artists’ work can be studied from a feminist point of view; nevertheless, “art made by women” is treated, in the works of some researchers, as a concept possessing a categorical meaning1 bound to its own understanding of feminist theory.

In Russia in 2010 the large-scale project ŽEN D’ART. Gender Art in the Post-Soviet Space, 1989-2009 (Moscow Museum of Modern Art, curators Natal’ia Kamenetskaia and Oksana Sarkisyan) showcased a twenty-year-old experiment in Russian “gender art” as understood by the project’s creators. The curators’ plans also included the creation of a “museum of women’s art.” Both “feminist art” and “gender art” pertained to the concept of “art made by women.” It was noted that although many female artists who were also participants in this exhibit did not position themselves as feminists, nonetheless, together they made up a particular phenomenon in the art world.2

Feminist art (like art by female artists in general) does not consist of a single style or orientation; here, rather, one can talk about art of a certain socio-cultural or societal movement. However, in the Russian context, it is more accurate to talk about a number of styles and individual manners, and by doing so, the goal is to identify a change in the status quo in art (in art, so too as in society). The exact change that happens follows from feminist depictions of the world and the feminist system of values. Practical experience shows that even if an artist has inadequate knowledge of feminist theory, nevertheless, a person who calls him- or herself a feminist (or his or her work feminist) possesses certain ideas and convictions with regard to feminism and his/her/their work conveys precisely those ideas.

There is no precise definition of “feminist art”, just as there is no single feminism (there are feminisms). Nonetheless, it is possible to name some general characteristics of this phenomenon.

Above all, feminist art presupposes a combination of aesthetics and social activism.3 It is balanced between immersion in the “women’s world” and activism, it adapts essential forms in art and invents its own [forms], and it helps to realise the changes that are occurring in society – for example, changing gender standards and roles. Unlike other types of art, feminist art proposes to bring attention to the default, everyday practices of power and subordination dissolved in people’s communication.

Feminist strategies in art are strategies based on decisions that are often not connected with the goals of art. This is a uniting feature of all feminist works: they all have goals. These goals can be diverse, from the task of drawing attention to the problems of parents who have small children and live in a city/region of specific demographics, to a change in an art trend in an artistic community.

Russian art-feminism loudly announced itself amidst the wave of the 2011-2013 protest movement. From one side, this looks like the activist art of Pussy Riot; from the other, it looks like that of the “Feminist Pencil” exhibit (curators Nadia Plungian and Victoria Lomasko) and those waves of media and discussions that have accompanied this phenomenon.4 Between these are various feminist art practices, which are often connected with the Russian Left movement.5 Pussy Riot’s actions were confrontational and directed against the entwinement of the state and the Orthodox Church. “Feminist Pencil” included an educational program that distinguished itself by a clear institutional critique: by the creation of its own precedent and by public performances based on the theme of curators in the media space. Since 2015, the reading group “Feminism and Modern Art” has been taking place in the library of the contemporary art museum “Garage.” Within the framework of this project, participants read texts by Rita Felski, Suzanne Lacy, and Andrea Liss, amongst others.

Activist initiatives, in their turn, have placed emphasis on the openness of different expressions and horizontal relationships. In 2015, “Fem-Club,” an open discussion blog “for female and male feminists,” was started. The initiators of the project also created the International Festival of Activist Art “MediaUdar.” The project’s founders see its task as the uncovering of urgent feminist questions in society. The program was developed by an open horizontal moderators’ group that feminists from different cities can join. Members of “Fem-Club”, and also of the movement Left-Fem and other initiatives at the 2015 Festival of Feminist Initiatives, Fem Frontier in Nizhny Novgorod, organised an extensive educational/entertainment program: discussions, seminars, workshops, clinics, film screenings, and presentations about exhibits and performance art that had taken place in the recent past in various Russian and Belarusian cities.

Activist feminism (in its various forms; it consists of actions, body art, agitation, etc.) is valuable in that it gives quick results. Namely, it gives top priority to feminist questions often ignored in dominant cultural discourse. In contrast, educational initiatives that concentrate on art and its relations with feminism often work in long terms to develop cultural strategies. One can consider the project “Feminist Pencil” which was initiated by Victoria Lomasko, as an example of an event that placed emphasis on the development of an alternative in art: one of its intentions was precisely to make and demonstrate a different art not oriented towards the trends of the art community. The workshops (“Kukhnia / Kitchen” and the Lucy Lippard Feminist Workshops) concentrated on feminist education. To an extent, they encouraged the professional growth of their members and gave them support and opportunities for self-organisation without demanding purely activist work from them or assuming enforced regular participation or readiness for self-sacrifice. Here the opportunity appeared for artists to show and discuss their art in a situation that took into account their right to speak their minds on themes important to them. For some members of such workshops, this was possibly akin to art therapy; however, they could also receive theoretical knowledge, see the artistic process from the inside and, in their turn, become enlightened with the problem that is of interest to those who consider themselves professionals.6 One can assume that the given – educational – strategy will develop further as a result of conservative processes in society, but it meets a number of obstacles in its path.

There is no organised feminist movement in Russian art, although one could certainly grow out of the “Feminist Pencil” project. There are, at the present moment, neither alternative spaces nor journals exclusively for female artists (this is partially compensated for by Internet-journals, magazines, and other forms). Presently, it is also impossible to say that there are associations of female artists in Russia that appoint, as their main purpose, the defence and promotion of their art.

Thus, in answer to the question “What art is feminist?” – any statement by a woman can be interpreted as feminist if it is placed in a corresponding context. There are difficulties when we speak about painting and other traditional mediums. But the fact that in the exhibit “A is for Art, F is for Feminism” a fair amount of attention was devoted to women speaks to the fact that for artists, it is important to also conceptualise traditions through a feminist lens.

About the Dictionary

Discussions about feminism, which in Russia are presently conducted mainly on social media and only occasionally offline, give evidence about the desire (moreover, not just that of professionals) to outline the range of those phenomena that, regardless of the diversity of their interpretations, would permit us to more substantively and productively talk about the tendencies occurring at conjoining points of artistic and feminist viewpoints.

In spring 2015, an open call was issued, to which artists from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novorossiisk, Komarovo, Samara, Togliatti, Alma-Ata, Bishkek, Kyiv, Odesa, Chișinău, Minsk, and London responded. In all, slightly under 150 applications were received (some artists submitted several applications at once). Chances are that because the project to a large degree was presented as a research and educational initiative, female artists of the older generation and a few artists who were occupied with their own feminist initiatives and personal projects did not respond to the open call (in both cases there are exceptions). It is possible to distinguish two basic groups who sent in applications: artists and activists who, judging by their age and background, could be considered a new generation of creators working with feminist subjects.

The working group responsible for the development of the exhibit (and this is besides the author of this article and the artists Marina Vinnik and Mikaela, who acted as organisers) focused not only on the visual aspect, but also on the contents of the dictionary articles – in the choice of terms and their explanations. It was important that the participants consciously manifest the feminist content of their works. There was one participant who, after realising how important the feminist component was in this exhibit, withdrew her participation.

The full lexis of the dictionary is given at the end of this article. If one were to label the themes covered in the exhibit, they would be: gender stereotypes; binaries (male/female); the exclusion of women; motherhood; self-awareness; bodily identity; the media; power and resistance; emotional, physical, and reproductive violence; self-realisation; woman and feminism in cultural narratives; and the status of the woman artist, both within and outside of the art world.

Like any dictionary, this catalogue has parameters. Dictionary articles dedicated to the creative work of specific authors and collectives remained beyond the scope of this project. Aside from this, it was not possible to include in the catalogue all the applications we received in answer to the open call (work of that nature demands greater human and financial resources).

About the Exhibit

Any exhibit of feminist art begs the question: is an art object feminist because the artist who created it says that it is? So-called feminist criteria have not yet been worked out, and can hardly be worked out as a sort of official canon. Each of the works presented at the exhibit will be considered in this part of the article in the context of feminist strategies; however, this does not preclude other interpretations.

A certain section of the exhibit consisted of works directed against power as such, power that spills out into everyday practices and permeates society and all of its norms.

“Lestnitsa / Staircase”, a performance by Yana Smetanina (Moscow) presented at the exhibit as a video documentary, suggests the perception of the ascent of the stairs as a metaphor and the man standing in the woman’s way and pushing her off the staircase as a representation of a rough, inhuman power, intervening from above, impossible to resist. The unambiguity expressed by the participants’ costumes, as well as the musical accompaniment and the black-and-white film, all contribute to the aesthetic of silent film, of the characters’ certain puppet-like quality. The performance aspires to portray a core existential truth of women’s lives: the impossibility of breaking through a certain threshold established by those in power (here some ideas such as the “glass ceiling” and the “social elevator” enter), though, at the same time, a cliché is displayed, one often applied to women: the representation of female manliness. The representation is unproblematised, portraying suffering and not calling into question this cliché, but evoking empathy and a feeling of solidarity.

A different image but similar message is broadcasted by an artist wishing to call herself Agent Suceava (Odesa). In her video, she appears naked, but with her body hidden under a bulletproof vest, and on her head – a helmet. We see her beating a drum in a nursery with toys. The military equipment speaks to the fact that she is beating a war drum. The next camera shots – views of Stanytsia Luhanska taken from the window of an automobile – immediately show which war the piece is about. The rhythm of the drum quickens, superimposed over images of empty villages. The nursery at some point transforms into an almost completely demolished building, but eventually we return again to the nursery, where the woman in the bullet-proof vest is lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, and then starts to play the electric guitar. This captures the same condition of impotence; however, it is expressed not through suffering, but through a militarised image, albeit while remaining within the same framework of a child’s environment.

Ekaterina Nenasheva and Ksenia Sonnaia demonstrate a different strategy. Theirs is a type of partisaning, when artists represent societal Others. In the case of Ekaterina Nenasheva, the Other is a woman inmate. Over thirty days, the artist wore prison stripes in her everyday life. In the photographs, we see her on the subway, on walks, and in shopping-malls and other urban places (photographs by Viktor Novinkov). The final performance, “Osvobozhdenie / Liberation”, is also shown: on Red Square, participants took off Nenasheva’s uniform and shaved her hair – a famous moment of ritual that symbolises a new life. The photo, with the caption “Ne boisia / Don’t be afraid” on the back, should have been sent to the prisoners of one of the female labour camps; however, this gesture was not carried out – the labour camp’s administration forbade it. Therefore, these images, with the same slogan, were addressed to spectators of the exhibit. They not only draw attention to the problem of former female prisoners re-adjusting to freedom, but also raise the question of how visible these women generally are in society: according to Nenasheva’s research, only 20% of people polled had heard of this problem before.

The marginalisation and vulnerability of another social group – female migrants – are examined in the work of Ksenia Sonnaia (Moscow). Having felt from her own experience what it means to be excluded on a national/religious basis, she created simulations in which she herself performed the role of a female migrant and took performative photographs. In these documents, we see this woman’s alienation and invisibility to others, as well as her attempts at incidental, spontaneous interaction. The artist did not limit herself to just a series of photos, but also crossed over into activist work – she created a newspaper with published data from sociological studies (Sonnaia contacted the sociologists privately) and the recorded speech of migrants themselves. The newspaper was distributed at the opening of the exhibit.

In both works, it is important that the artists who make art about marginalised people do not transform someone else’s real life into entertainment or a metaphor.

In the indicated examples, the artists did not turn to didacticism, choosing instead the technique of documentation and including in their work a compulsory educational moment and the opportunity for viewers to join in their activities (Nenasheva distributed sheets with additional information about how to help imprisoned women; Sonnaia offered printed materials for those interested in the possibility of distributing them later; Bychenikov and Talaver’s zines presented collections of articles, discussions, practical information, and contacts, and also gave viewers the opportunity to support a concrete initiative).

The theme of motherhood is touched upon in one of the collages by Diana Ukhina (Bishkek), who used as her source copies of linocuts by the artist Lydia Ilina of the Kyrgyz Republic. If Ilina’s woman holds a child in her hands, then Ukhina’s lifts high above her head a book on feminism, gender, and queer sexuality. Instead of calling for peace, the women depicted in Ukhina’s art unite under the sign of the struggle against patriarchy. This is a very direct statement, “poster-y” in the very meaning of the word. This strategy, meant to cultivate awareness, exposes familiar stereotypes. At the same time, it was important to Ukhina to offer a new interpretation of the works of one famous Soviet artist who, in Ukhina’s opinion, was embedded in the logic of the dominant language. Ukhina replaces Ilina’s themes, which seem to her to be no longer relevant, with themes that are important to the younger generation of artists: emancipation, the subjectivity of women, equality, and independence from gender identity.

It is interesting that “mother/motherhood” and words relating to them seemed to be the most popular terms presented in the dictionary: “motherhood” as a social role and a cause for social pressure (Polina Drobina, Samara-Tol’iatti Feminist Group), “motherhood” as a duty (Mariana Mangiliova, Moscow), “motherly love” as an important value (video by Ales Kochevnik, Moscow). Even the exhibit’s only piece by a male artist is connected with the artist’s mother (“Mamochka” by Maksim Dereviankin, Moscow). There is also the painted portrait of a smiling elderly woman in a kerchief with a bare, muscular chest (the sex could be male or female) and with a rifle on her back, by Ales Kochevnik. This painting unintentionally refers to the cultural image of a Soviet woman (“Soviet person / chelovek”), armed, but above all gender marked only by the kerchief – a sign both of the woman’s age and of her subjugation.

The literary book Steaua Roșie / Red Star Factory by Tatiana Fiodorovna (Chișinău) is based on the memories of the artist’s mother about a textile factory where she worked for over twenty-five years. An important part of the book is its documentation of the experiences of women working in this place in our own time. The comparison shows that for women, labour conditions have changed little since Soviet times. Finally, the photographs of this factory’s products, taken against deserted landscapes, speak to the material expression of women’s work in culture (work as art) and evoke loneliness, invisibility, and emptiness.

The experience of generations of women living in the Soviet era appears to be important in understanding present female roles, including professional roles. Mikaela (Moscow) made on a cutting board a portrait of her grandmother, creating an image of a woman whose creative potential is realised in everyday life and remains unseen.

“Gipsovaia Pachka / Gypsum Tutu”, by Angelina Merenkova (Moscow), seems to be a kind of monument to unrealised potential, and, at the same time, a reminder that self-realisation is a difficult journey. Having in mind the life story of the ballerina Olga Spessivtseva, Merenkova makes that which is light (a ballerina’s tutu) too heavy to lift, creating an effective visual representation. Janna Gladko (Minsk) investigated the situation of women in the Belarusian art world: over the course of a week, she provided driving services to seven successful male artists. All the trips were connected with the artists’ professional affairs: studio work, purchasing materials, work meetings, etc. Dedicating her own working time to the service of others’ professional interests, the artist stood in the place of the marginalised – in this case, the invisible assistants of famous men. In particular, Gladko emphasised that for one reason or another the artists did not have their own cars, or they did not have drivers’ licences. The assistant here appears as a “grey cardinal”: she is invisible, but she steers, in the literal sense of the word.

A different question – from the audience’s point of view – is raised by Irina Kudrya (Kyiv). She presents two videos showing her work as a cleaner. The videos are identical except that under one video is a label reading “Cleaning the Societal Research Center”, and under the other is a typical exhibit label. How does the viewer’s perception of an exhibit of contemporary art change depending on whether he/she knows that what he/she is seeing is an art object, as opposed to a random recording? Is there a difference between an artist who cleans an office and an office cleaner? What changes if the cleaning process is called an artistic process and the cleaner an artist? Who is the artist? Where does art begin and end in the life of an artist? The answers to these questions are left up to the viewers.

Elena Polyshchenko (Novorossiisk) presents a dictionary article about the idea of “women’s art”. Her works feature subtle ironic drawings executed in a literary-artistic style using traditional mediums. They raise the question of why the word “women’s” sometimes frightens female artists: “Women’s art is similar to semen or fish eggs. Unrealized potential. Something as yet not developed”. In her article, she emphasises that the term “women’s” is not so easily filled with content.

Nevertheless, precisely this “women’s art” consciously shows societal constructions of “woman”, female roles and functions and criticism of these roles, as well as criticism of hierarchies in art. The most obvious and recognizable strategy in the last case is the use of techniques of handmade and applied art. Artists borrow methods characteristic of different schools of art, interweave them (at times literally) with handwork, and thereby demonstrate different, female identities. Anna Ivanova (Tashkent) places emphasis on this: “For me, women’s art is the possibility of the most improbable combinations of traditional techniques (drawing, painting) with that which has been pleasantly named ‘applied art’ – embroidery, weaving, bead weaving, patchwork, and so on. This opens up a new field for different experiments and gives development to new themes in art”. By way of a starting point for her collages, Ivanova uses decorative national fabrics with recognisable motifs and ornaments.

Olga Osipova (Moscow) ironically plays at once with two ideas – “modernist lattice” and “patchwork quilt in the gallery” – in the piece “Patchwork”. Figurative art is not important to her: she will take something figurative and use it to create something utilitarian. The lattice that she made from figurative art emphasises her resistance to mimesis. However, the cross-reference to patchwork undoes this resistance: the work does not succeed in remaining autonomous or closed-off. Feminist art pulls it into the realm of female handwork; the geometry of the lattice, which in another time was endowed with various symbolic meanings, here serves as something concrete: an imitation of a patchwork blanket.

Tatiana Dospekhova (Moscow) and Oksana Vasiakina (Moscow) used handwork as art therapy: they cut fabric scraps out of clothing connected to memories or people and braided them into different objects. The project attracted artists known to the creators, as well as others who were interested. Creating knitted items, the participants transformed their own emotions, feelings, and experiences into material objects.

The strategy of the inversion or reversal of traditional roles in art can be seen in the example of the works of Camilla Brizgalova, Alena Tereshko, and Tatiana Sushenkova.

Camilla Bryzgalova (Moscow) creates works jointly with her models, or, more accurately in this case, participants or co-artists. Usually these are girls and women, each one of whom chooses for herself a pose to hold for an extended period of exposure as a way of representing herself in a public space. The photograph in this case exists only to document the moment of candour; however, Bryzgalova also offers her participants the opportunity for a moment of reflection: each one of them answers, in handwriting, questions about their participation in the project. Before each exhibit, the artist asks the participants’ permission to display their photographs, and she displays only those of participants whose consent is received. Thus, models, who usually appear objectified, became full participants in the process and can have an influence over the presentation of the project as a whole.

Alena Tereshko (St. Petersburg) and Tatiana Sushenkova (Moscow) modelled for their own artwork. Tereshko sketched multiple “snapshots” of her body, using only those parts that she could see without the help of a mirror – that is, always “not entirely”, fragmentally. The animated video “Pole / Field” permits the viewer to see this process of examining oneself, recognizing one’s body, and documenting one’s view. The animation here is in conflict with academicism, excluding similar perspectives and offering an entirely new tradition of self-portraiture.

Tatiana Sushenkova, apart from the fact that she modelled for her own art, investigated questions of the perception of gender through the medium of photography. In addition to self-portraits in which she presented images in the spirit of gender trouble, the artist broke her portrait into several fragments, in each of which a razor is present. A facial razor is a reference to the male and a leg razor to the female gender – overall, a mixed-gender image that fluctuates between “masculine” and “feminine”.

The theme of gender, its ambiguousness and the set courses it creates is raised in the “mediaeval comics” of Susanna O'Riordan (St. Petersburg). Twins, a boy and a girl who are outwardly identical, receive entirely different commentaries about their participation in the same activities. This determines their subsequent positions in society: their social roles. The difference between society’s treatment of boys and of girls is demonstrated ironically.

These monologues transformed into various stories about different bodily experiences: about the body as conflict, about movement, about pauses, about that which is unspoken (each separate fragment is composed of interjections, akan’e,7 sounds used for the connection of speech). The montage of different speech fragments created different meanings; the viewer was free to enter and exit the installation at any moment.

The investigation of bodiliness and the body (its biological particularities, sexuality, etc.) is one of the important approaches present in feminist art from the very beginning. All the same, it cannot be said that this is the most popular theme amongst Russian feminist artists. In the context of Russian art, bodiliness (female, male, and transgender) has yet to be “translated” into the artistic language. Nonetheless, the iconography developed in the 1970s by Judy Chicago and other artists,8 and indeed the very theme of corporeality, even if it does work its way into the language of art, does so through feminist works.

Alisa Taёzhnaia (Moscow), who chose the word “awareness”, confronted her inability to complete the work she originally intended to create. At the outset, the artist had planned to have published self-corrections of her own sexist statements in the press; however, re-reading old articles, she felt that it was difficult for her, physically, to confront her own misogyny, even if it was far in the past. As a result, at the exhibit, Taёzhnaia presented documentation of this moment of realisation. The phrases “Shameful” and “I understand”, typed on basic office paper, worked in the context of the exhibit to create empathy and sympathy for the artist. They also served as a unique trigger, setting in motion the viewer’s own process of developing awareness.

Here, and in light of Pussy Riot’s manipulation of the media to bring attention to themselves and their message about political corruption, self-representation in the media and in one’s own past is brought to the foreground, and it is emphasised that their meanings are generated by society: “In the evolution of feminism, it seems to me, it is very important to understand that misogyny is not an intrinsic personal quality, but a system of views that can be corrected. It is also important to realise that self-criticism and constant development allow one to influence both like-minded people and opponents.”

On the first day of the exhibit, performances also took place in a separate space. Each one of them included a processual activity, which viewers could opt into at any moment, although they did not have the opportunity to interfere with or affect the proceedings of the event.

As exemplified by the described works, by extension, one can say that on a formal level feminist art offers the following strategies: the strategy of the embodiment of topical themes in abstract and/or traditional forms, and/or forms of professionally recognized art; the strategy of changing traditionalized symbols by the means of art (redefining); the strategy of searching for a specific female language, visual, plastic, auditory; the strategy of critiquing existing stereotypes of gendered and sexual behaviour; the strategy of the recovery, valorisation, and reinterpretation of traditional women’s tasks (beginning with handwork and ending with housekeeping); the strategy of introducing activist methods into the realm of art; and the problematisation of conventional frames of spectators’ perceptions of different formats and identities.

For all the movement’s strategies, we can consider the work to be about awareness of women’s status in society and opposition to “sterile” (Lippard) art, in which gender, sexual identity, and other essential characteristics are ignored. Feminist art is distinguished by, amongst other things, awareness of the fact that it is created by female artists or activists, or men, or people of another gender, who are in solidarity with feminist values and attitudes. Here the figure of the Artist with a capital letter does not dominate. In feminist art, it is emphasised (sometimes unwittingly) that a given work or object was created by a specific woman; for example, one living in Russia, one who is a single mother, or that the artwork was created by the alumna of an art college, taking on the courage to share her diploma with unknown artists.

When it comes to the politics of culture, the search for a balance between reality and its social problems and art itself will be of great significance for curators and organisers who work with feminist art. Political actions belong to the realm of politics; concrete actions within the boundaries of feminist art include a wide variety of methods and movements that undermine mainstream trends in art and the status quo in the art community. These are bridges through which art enters into society and through which societal problems and social criticism find their way into art.

It is clear that networked publications, publications in the news and media, etc., as opposed to art exhibits, are accessible to a large number of women, and thus are more effective. However, to abandon the format of the exhibit entirely, fearing accusations of elitism, would mean taking away the opportunity for artists and activists for whom the visual language is a fundamental one to make their statements. It is also important to remember that this project was carried out by artists of different artistic practices and that they also, in their own time, supported other feminist projects.

We hope that this catalogue-dictionary can serve as a platform for further feminist initiatives and discussions.

Ilmira Bolotyan, PhD
Artist, Curator

Translated by Rose Fitzpatrick
Edited by E. Susanna Weygandt

Selected Entries

А – Aдаптация (Adaptation)

The process of mutual interaction between one’s personality and the social sphere, including the assimilation of society’s norms and values in the process of socialisation.

Belonging to one of Russia’s most vulnerable social categories, women released from prisons, mental hospitals, orphanages, and rehabilitation centres have few opportunities to integrate into society. The patriarchal arrangement of society and the lack of tolerance, psychological and legal support, and workplaces, stigmatise such women, making integration virtually impossible. Because non-commercial organisations (NKO) have no large programs to address these problems, full research remains to be done.

The experimental, activist approach in “Do Not Be Afraid”, which required the artist to wear a prisoner’s uniform for 30 days in public spaces, persuasively demonstrated modern Russian society’s unwillingness to accept female ex-prisoners. During the campaign, more than 50% of people expressed clear contempt for, and aggression toward women in prisoner’s uniforms. Thirty percent of people do not know what a female prisoner in a Russian prison looks like, and only 20% listened to the problem or tried to understand the experiment.

The campaign lasted from May 25, 2015 until June 25, 2015. On May 25, Nenasheva posted a description on her Facebook page. “It’s unacceptable to talk about the challenges of post-internment. These people interest no one. In my personal mini-survey, 8 of 10 people never imagined that women experienced serious psychological difficulties after leaving the [penal] colony: besides hardships in finding work, they experience disorientation, communication constraints, and have little knowledge of the current social climate. They fear the new world, the next wave of condemnation, aggression, and even their own personalities. After prison, the state does not return their children. After prison, few find adequate work. Former social roles have been erased. Many have nowhere to live, nowhere to go; they think cautiously about their freedom. They fear everything, including you and me. And we fear them. “Do Not Be Afraid” supports women living in, and already released from penal colonies. For 30 days, I will live my usual life in a prisoner’s uniform. I will write exams, drive to work for meetings, go to the theatre, to the dentist, to exhibits, to the store. The result of the campaign will be 30 photographs in various public situations and places. I will send the photographs to one of the female colonies. On the reverse side of every photo, prisoners will find the simple, but important, phrase: “Do Not Be Afraid”.

“Don’t Be Afraid” (Ne boisia. Aktsiia v podderzhku zakliuchennykh zhenshchin) was a campaign in support of imprisoned women (pictured below). The description of the campaign was posted on Ekaterina Nenasheva’s Facebook page on May 25, 2015. The campaign lasted from May 25, 2015 until June 25, 2015. “It’s not acceptable to talk about the problems of post-internment. No one has ever been interested in this group of people. In my personal mini-survey, 8 of 10 people never thought that women experience great psychological difficulties leaving the [penal] colony: besides hardships in searching for work there is disorientation, gaps in communication, and lack of knowledge of the current social climate. It is the fear of a world that is new to them, the fear of realising their own personality, the fear of aggression, and the fear of the next wave of condemnation. After prison women’s children are not returned to them. After prison women do not find adequate work. Whatever social roles they once had are erased. Many (especially victims of “family” drug trafficking) simply have nowhere to live, nowhere to go – they think about their freedom with caution. They are afraid of everything, including you and me. And we are afraid of them. “Do Not Be Afraid” is a campaign in support of women located in penal colonies and also women who have already been released. For 30 days, I will live my usual life in a prisoner’s uniform. I will write exams, drive to work for meetings, go to the theatre, to the dentist, to exhibits, to the store. My goal is to cover as many public places as possible. The result of the campaign will be 30 photographs in different situations and places. I will send the photographs to one of the female prison colonies. On the back side of every photo will be the simple, but important, phrase: “Do Not Be Afraid”. If you want to support the campaign, write to me personally or in the comments – we can take a photograph together. The more people in the photo, the more strongly the statement will be heard. The boundaries of freedom and suppression today are very conditional. It is time to stop separating people by titles. If you want to participate in helping former inmates (correspondence, humanitarian aid, assistance in finding work), write to me at [...]”.