Obviously, this installation would have not been possible in the Soviet times, when Irina Nakhova was focused on gender-neutral art. All works decoding her personal relationship to being a woman were created only after the collapse of the USSR.
Despite early sprouts of feminism, it could not spread in Russia before perestroika. In 1990-ies the movement experienced burst of activity; numerous art communities, feminist circles, political groups, female writers’ or scientists’ unions emerged independently and almost simultaneously, which obviously spurred development of feminist art. The opening of the borders resulted in vast flow of information from the West and even some funding from the foreign foundations.
What is more, the process was supported by the largest state-funded museums, which seems incredible now. In 2002 the Tretyakov Gallery held an exhibition Femme Art
that showcased a large number of feminist and female-made works and was opened by a greeting letter from Hillary Clinton, who confessed her adoration of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
This short 20-year period of proliferating feminist art is best illustrated by ŽEN d’Art exhibition
at Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010, focused on the emergence of gender-oriented art in the post-Soviet era. The show was curated by Oksana Sarkisyan
(feminist artist and curator) and Natalia Kamenetskaya
(who was at the forefront of gender studies in Russia and in 1989 co-founded research feminist group Idioma
). The idea was to present most fully and vividly all the diversity of female artists: Žen d’Art
exhibited both ‘feminist art’ and ‘art made by women’, as many participating female artists did not claim themselves as gender-conscious but did cover similar topics. For example, Irina Nakhova has never called herself a feminist, however her works of that period clearly represented feminist ideas. This exhibition presented her work with irons and ironing boards depicting nude male back, which apparently flipped over the male gaze.
The show illustrated that numerous authors called for ‘corporeal turn’ through their interest to female embodiment. In her Girl’s toy, Anna Alchuk
explored the male gaze by reversing the situation and granting viewing pleasure to women. Her installation represented a female head (so that there is no objectification of the body) looking at photographs of ‘antique’ male torsos, beheaded and evidently objectified. The similar shift of the gazing stereotype was made by Tatiana Antoshina
. Her Woman’s museum
photographic series ironically remade classical paintings: Olympus (a young man in the setting of Manet’s Olympia), Boy on the Ball (half-naked boy instead of Picasso’s girl), Are You Jealous? (two nude men on a beach, after Gaughuin), etc. This inversion of gender roles reduced men to passive objects of desire, addressing the issues of body acceptance and reflecting on perception of women in art – patient, accessible, introvert and often naked.ŽEN d’Art became the largest archive of feminist exhibitions of 1990-2009, representing such groups as 4th Hight, Cyberfemin Club, Factory of found clothes and VMS as well as artists of all generations starting from the Moscow conceptualism.
It should be noted however that feminist activity predominantly gravitated towards Moscow and Leningrad/St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, the most influential group was Cyberfemin Club. Cyberfeminism, or feminism activist in the Internet, fights representation of women as technophobic as well as encourages women to take more power in the IT segment and take part in defining policy of the net, creating content and guidelines, as nowadays information is predominantly delivered via Internet. In Russia, this movement was represented by Cyberfemin Club that emerged in 1994 when Irina Aktuganova and Alla Mitrofanova invited a German ship Stubnitz to St. Petersburg. This vessel carried an exhibition of new media, which raised enormous interest among local artists. Notably, most of these artists were women, so they set up a club supporting new media art and feminism through extremely diverse spectrum of activities: exhibitions, philosophy café, conferences, Media Art Fest, etc.