Revolution Every Day: Early Soviet Posters and the Propagandizing of Women

Thursday, April 5, 2018
6:00pm - 8:00pm
Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, Barnard College

Please join us for a talk with Christina Kiaer (Art History, Northwestern University).

Most of us are sure that Russian revolutionary posters are propaganda, even those made by renowned artists of the Russian avant-garde in their attempt to bring “art into life.” At this retrospective moment of the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, in the midst of renewed struggles between (alt) right and left, this talk proposes that we need to question this certainty about the nature of the propaganda image by distinguishing between the aspirations that animate its production, and the operations of power that instrumentalize it.

Bringing together well-known avant-garde posters with unknown realist ones—like those by artist Maria Bri-Bein with her vividly drawn woman workers and aviators—Kiaer argues that the poster, as a particular kind of image, came to constitute its own visual and discursive field in Soviet art of the early 1930s, with its own institutional and critical apparatus. Previously unexamined publications of censors’ reports, and accounts of workers’ focus groups, reveal an enclosed world of constant self-assessment that challenges not only the familiar oppositions between avant-garde and Socialist Realism, art and propaganda, but also the masculine cast of revolutionary imagery—many poster artists were women, and their works often imagine a community of self-possessed women under socialism who transcend the burden of the everyday. Reassessing this particular field of the Soviet image can reclaim what is most aspirational about revolutionary art, and restore the agency of the actors within it, as they mobilize a ubiquitous, mass-produced art form to conjure a bit of revolution every day. 

Christina Kiaer was co-curator, with Robert Bird and Zach Cahill, of the exhibition Revolution Every Day at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, September 14, 2017-January 28, 2018, and co-author of the catalog Revolution Every Day: A Calendar (Mousse, 2017). She teaches modern art at Northwestern University, and is the author of Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism (MIT Press) and the forthcoming Collective Body: The Lyrical Prospects of Socialist Realism (University of Chicago Press), as well as the volume Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside (Indiana University Press), co-edited with Eric Naiman. She was a consulting curator, and contributed to the catalog, for the exhibition Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test at the Art Institute of Chicago in Fall 2017.

The Women in Revolution Lecture Series:

To mark the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its direct aftermath, the Barnard Slavic Department, along with the Harriman Institute, the Barnard Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the William E. Harkins Colloquium at the Columbia Slavic Department present an interdisciplinary lecture series, “Women in Revolution.” The series interrogates the role of gender and sexuality in Revolutionary and early-Soviet Russia. Leading scholars from the U.S. and Russia will investigate the fraught relationship between the revolutionary ideals of gender equality and the eventual entrenchment of a new Soviet power system. The series is free and open to the public, with talks intended to appeal to a broad, non-specialist audience. All events in the series will take place in the Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, on the Barnard College campus from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

January 31 - Elizabeth Wood (History, MIT)
“Mobilizing, Silencing, and Exploiting Women after the Russian Revolution: Ambivalence about Gender Difference”

March 8 - Elena Gapova (Sociology, University of Western Michigan)
“The Russian Revolution and Women's Liberation: Making the Soviet Gender Contract”

March 29 - Elena Zdravomyslova (Political Science, European University in St Petersburg)
“The Soviet Gender Contract and Sexual Politics: From Revolution to Soviet Patriarchy”

April 5 - Christina Kiaer (Art History, Northwestern University)
“Revolution Every Day: Early Soviet Posters and the Propagandizing of Women”

All events: 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, Barnard College

The series is organized by Irina Denischenko and Bradley Gorski with help from Erica Drennan and Milica Ilicic and is sponsored by the Harriman Institute, the Departments of Slavic and of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, and the William E. Harkins Colloquium at the Slavic Department at Columbia University.