Saturday, November 11, 2017
Revolution Every Day
Today, while watching my children play basketball in Hyde Park, I realized that the Smart Museum, only two blocks away from the baseball courts, was hosting an exhibition on Soviet art. That said, I had no other choice than to quickly duck into the exhibit. The exhibit was well worth my trip of two blocks, but is also probably worth a visit from any quarter of the city of Chicago or its environs. Taking its queue from Sheila Fitzpatrick's phrase, "everyday Stalinism," the exhibit focuses on how the Soviet revolutionary project, especially as that project related to femininity. Focusing almost exclusively on state-sponsored poster art, the exhibit demonstrates that the state was acutely concerned with the role of women in the society it hoped to build. Perhaps it would even be fair to say that the state was anxious about that role. If the artists' work was any guide, the Soviet Union was deeply interested in ensuring that Soviet women were fully incorporated into its economy. Soviet propaganda sought to demonstrate to women that they could fulfill almost any technical role available to Soviet citizens, including welding, tractor driving, and pilots. Soviet women also needed to parents, and happy ones at that. Thus, women in Soviet posters are sometimes depicted as mechanics, but also sometimes portrayed as idealized mothers. The overall effect of the exhibition is to demonstrated the extent to which Soviet art mobilized avant-garde aesthetics to introduce or reinforce a specific ideology of gender.