Art, posters, ads shape the Soviet Woman

An exciting exhibition this summer sets out to explore the iconography of the ‘Soviet woman’. Superwoman: Work, Build and Don’t Whine charts the development of this superwoman concept conceived following the socialist revolution.


V. Stekolshikov, 8 March - International Women’s Day 1959 ©The City Museum, Saint Petersburg


Women had been instrumental in the building of the Soviet Union, and since a new Soviet man had been imagined – learned, healthy, muscular, less chauvinistic – it made sense to create a Soviet woman based on similar modern values. But of course the reality meant the Soviet woman not only had to be a perfect communist citizen and full-time worker, but also expected to be a wife and mother, a soldier, scientist, dancer.


M.Sokolov Woman Wearing a Hat 1937 Ink on paper ©Yuri Petukhov Collection


For the exhibition the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design (Grad) in London has gathered poster art, advertising, painting and drawing, sculpture, film, photography and ceramics dating from the 1917 revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And the result is an intriguing, if somewhat disparate collection of work, ranging from crude propaganda-style Soviet socialist realism to some brilliantly avant-garde collage work and abstract expressionism, and a few surprisingly conventional studies of seemingly bourgeois lives.


Piotr Galadshev, Female Tennis Player 1924, Paper collage ©Alex Lachmann Collection, London


Grad features work by leading proponents of socialist realism such as Aleksandr Deineka (below), and has managed to get hold of a bronze miniature version of Vera Mukhina’s monumental Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture created to present the ultimate Soviet woman to the world at the 1937 Paris World Fair.

Superwoman highlights the huge gap that existed between the perfect image captured in the propaganda poster art works and the much less sexy, at times dull, and often harsh reality for most Soviet women. It also shows the sheer power of image to construct realities.

Nargess Banks

Superwoman: Work, Build and Don’t Whine is on at Grad, London until 17 September.


Aleksandr Deineka, Work, Build and Don’t Whine 1930 ©The City Museum, Saint Petersburg
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