Between the two classrooms at the Nasher Museum, in what museum staffers refer to as the “education gallery,” is a glimpse into the Soviet Union. Don’t walk too fast and miss the display of Soviet propaganda posters.
Drawn from Duke University Libraries and the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection, “Machine, Mother, Mannequin: The Good Woman in Soviet Propaganda” explores the role of women in Soviet propaganda from World War I and the famed 1917 revolutions through 1967, Leonid Brezhnev’s early years in power.
The exhibition was curated by Angela Linhardt, a Slavic and Eurasian Studies M.A. candidate, and Beth Holmgren, professor of Slavic and Eurasian studies.
The eight posters craft a tight and multifaceted history of propaganda, aesthetics and women during the earlier half of the Soviet Union. Propaganda posters were first popularized in Russia during 1914 as a call to action. After the October Revolution of 1917, poster production was funded by the government. These posters, especially the ones created prior to World War I, project ideological views of women as sturdy, able-bodied workers integral to the Soviet political agenda. These women are rendered as masculine and sexless, often as indistinguishable machinic bloc(k)s. The earlier socialist realism style makes a reappearance in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s massive population decline in World War II. The woman in “Голосуйте!” [“Vote!”] retains the strong body of a worker but also appears gentle and beautiful, ripe for reproduction.
Not only does socialist realism make a reappearance, but the posters convey the transition to and embrace of a rigidly geometric Constructivist style with its red and black colors. Best represented in “Women Workers and Peasant Women, Come Vote!” (pictured above), the distinctively Russian style reveals the conflation and interaction of political ideology with art and art presentation.
As propaganda, the agendas of each poster are clear to sort through. In this historical framing, the politics and rendering of female equality raise challenging questions about gender, politics and non-democratic forms of government that remain difficult to answer definitively.
The work will be on display in the education corridor through May 15.
IMAGE: “Работницы и Крестьянки все на выборы” (“Women Workers and Peasant Women, Come Vote!”) (detail), 1925. Rare Book, Manuscript & Special Collections Library at Duke University.