Women in profession

The behavioral model of a ‘strong woman’ is widespread in Kazan

Little is known in Russia about the contemporary art of Tatarstan — a strong artistic scene in the 1990s and the Smena Center of Contemporary Culture in the 2010s. Traditional museums demonstrate actual practices cautiously and irregularly, but the situation must change. The State Art Museum of RT is about to finish reconstruction of the former halls of the Union of Artists to house the Gallery of Contemporary Art. The curator duo of the new institution, Natalya Pankina and Luiza Nizamova, has shared their own experience of institutional construction with Converter and told us about their attitude to feminitives, ‘strong women’ and ageism.
 © Aksinya Sarycheva
Natalia Pankina

The State Art Museum of RT is the museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. The Gallery of Contemporary Art occupies one of its buildings. To make understanding simpler, we may call it a subdivision. The building was built in 1979; originally it belonged to the regional branch of the Union of Artists to form a single complex together with the artists’ workshops. As time passed, the building turned into some kind of the Moscow Central House of Artists and began to be less and less related to art, especially to contemporary art. The building began to be owned by the museum, and sometime later massive renovation started, which is still continuing. The new concept of the site presupposes exhibition of the contemporary and contemporary art of the XX and XXI centuries. Now I am finishing the planned projects for 2018 and the beginning of 2019 from Moscow. I no longer influence the general plan of activities.

A year and a half ago, when I came to the Gallery to occupy the position of the manager, the workers whose positions were formally lower, addressed me by my name and patronymic, which made me feel uncomfortable. In the professional environment, I got accustomed to being addressed by name. If I had been just a specialist, I would have been addressed by my name only.

I do not think the gender somehow affects my identity as a professional. I have never encountered any manifestations of sexism or that kind of discrimination in any art institution. As for the attitude to age in Kazan, it is not so simple. Originally, there was an ageist attitude towards the workers in the institution. We encountered a number of problems, but we succeeded in resolving the effects of them, as soon as we had the opportunity to manifest our professionalism.

Out of earshot, not only in Tatarstan but also in Russia there is no implicit respect for professional competencies, if you are a ‘young lady’. People often say, “Let your girls do that”, not in their presence but behind their backs, talking to their boss, say. These expressions are used by all – both men and women. I come across these ‘girls’; all the time, everywhere. I consider it unacceptable and, if I have the opportunity, I correct the person I am talking to.

At the same time, the behavioral model of a ‘strong woman’ is widespread in Kazan, but I do not think it is associated with the feminist program. There are certain strong women leaders, and they are very tough people. I think partly this may be explained by the fact that these women have paid a high price for achieving their professional success.
 © Aksinya Sarycheva
Luiza Nizamova

My position is formally called ‘senior researcher’. However, I spend most of my time dealing with educational programs, their organization and coordination. Now I also act as a curator and do research work related to exhibitions.

When they speak about the contemporary art of Kazan, they mean its blossom in the 1990s, especially independent initiatives, like associations of artists who established their own galleries. The generation which made their names then is continuing to be exhibited in Russia and abroad, and these artists are approaching 60 now. There are few artists in Kazan younger than 35.

There is no school of contemporary art in the city; therefore, we decided to provide the young generation with the basics ourselves. Besides, so far, the Gallery does not have its own building yet, nor has there been any PR work done regarding the institution, although we plan to declare the oncoming opening of the institution before opening. The annual educational program conducted on partners’ sites turned out to be a good way out. We invited lecturers and spoke as lecturers ourselves, holding a special course of lectures on the history of contemporary art in the art school.

I want to share my observation: in the area of contemporary art and art in general, there are more women among curators, museum and gallery directors. In the museums of Kazan where I worked, there are more women among the coordinators and organizers of exhibitions. However, there are more men artists.

I cannot say I am familiar with many texts about feminism. Yet, I believe that all the women who have a job, who wish to earn their own living and be independent are feminists, even though they might not like this definition. It is difficult not to realize that we are now using the rights for which our predecessors fought. Therefore, when I am asked whether I am a feminist, I reply: yes, I am. I do not see the reason to be ashamed of it.

I use feminitives in my speech. First they seemed uncomfortable to me but later, as I read literature about it, I started to use them naturally. I use feminitives perhaps to indicate I am a feminist.

There is a problem in Russia that in some communities such a declaration is perceived inadequately. So, the more often the words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ are used in common speech, the sooner people will stop reacting to them negatively. Yet, it is impossible to be a feminist in everything I do.

In the museum, I most often communicate with rather adult colleagues, people over 45, who are interested not in philosophical issues but only in the matter-of-fact work. Some colleagues still have the ageist attitude to me. People often tell me I look younger than my age, and perhaps, this adds reasons for jokes. People usually address me by my name, without a patronymic, and those who love me usually call me ‘Bunny’. This is banal, but everything depends on the organization. For example, in the administration of the President of Tatarstan, the attitude to women colleagues is more condescending. They can call a colleague a ‘girl’, and generally, things are more complicated there with respect and personal boundaries. The situation in the State Art Museum of RT and in the Gallery is different, and no one calls me and Natasha ‘girls’.

The difficulties in the work, if any, are mostly connected with the need to convince the administrations: in the State Art Museum of RT, the personnel is accustomed to dealing with traditional and academic forms, while contemporary art is alien for them. However, these issues are not related to the gender aspect.

I do not use the word ‘feminism’ to explain my actions and decisions in the museum: we do not touch upon this subject, just as the other abstract notions. Yet, I think my colleagues understand everything. Recently, we discussed an exhibition with the director of the State Art Museum Rozalia Nurgaleeva, and she suddenly said to me, “Well, we are feminists, you and me”.

Interviewed by Angelina Burliuk, especially for Converter

Natalia Pankina

The former manager of the Gallery of Contemporary Art of the State Art Museum of RT

Luiza Nizamova

Senior researcher of the Gallery of Contemporary Art of the State Art Museum of RT





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