Women in profession


The world has long ago gone beyond the limits of the duality of feminism and patriarchal conservatism.

In Moscow, the art manager and curator Yana Gaponenko worked in the gallery of Aidan Salakhova and studied in the Baza Institute and in the curators’ school of the V – A – C Foundation. In Vladivostok, she coordinated the first residence of the ZARYA Center for Contemporary Art, she did the projects of the Goethe-Institute in Novosibirsk and arranged exhibitions as an independent curator. In 2015, she established the Vladivostok School of Contemporary Art (VSMA), a laboratory of art organized by the subjects of the local art world.

Converter has talked to the co-founder of VSMA about the #MeToo action, transgenders and the contemporary art in Vladivostok.

 © Aksinya Sarycheva
I have been involved in art promotion in Vladivostok for already 10 years. I started my career in the Arka Gallery as an administrator. Now I am a trainee of the EUNIC exchange program for Russian curators in the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Netherlands. It seems to me that the position of a trainee does not have any gender coloring, but the position of a receptionist does, as it is believed to be the organization’s ‘face’. Recruiting young pretty girls for this position is related to stereotypes about the workers of culture. Technological, physical, and material work is meant for men, while immaterial work, like teaching at school or administrating in the area of culture, is the realm of women. All this relates to the geographical context and generally to the demographic situation in the country, in Russia in particular, where there are more men than women, according to statistics (granted it is correct).

In Witte de With, I am now observing the activities of the newly invited curator from Mexico Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy. She is an internally strong and independent person. By the way, in Witte de With, there is a technical department headed by a woman, Lynn, and she has a co-worker, Paul. Both have worked in the Center for Contemporary Art since 1990s, and both handle the technical issues equally well. They do not experience any internal conflicts in that. I will not invent a bicycle by saying that in the European society men and women are equal.

In the Russian gallery business, there are examples of strong women, due to whom certain conversion of the Russian art on the international market is possible. I worked in the Moscow Aidan gallery from 2011 to 2013, when it was transformed into the Aidan Studio. It was managed by artist Aidan Salakhova, who raises feminist and religious-feminist issues in her works, for example, the image of a woman in the Islamic society. Aidan gave me special experience related to the internal freedom of a woman and to her strength.

I feel calm about the actual feminist agenda, although I cooperate with feminist artists in the west and see this subject gaining weight in Europe. The #MeToo action became the recent discovery of what had always been there. Of course, this movement has the reverse side. Everybody knows that ardent protection of women’s rights has adversely affected the fates of some men.

Yet, I would not be sincere if I answered that I did not want to be associated with the ‘isms’ at all. I am carrying out my own project, the Vladivostok School for Contemporary Art. I communicate with potential men partners, who are business owners, and who are much older than me. Perhaps, I am not always treated seriously because of my age and because of the sensitive area I am working in.

Different institutions are friends with our school, for example, Garage Museum, Khlebozavod Center for Contemporary Culture, and Zarya Center for Contemporary Art. We do not have financial partners. In Vladivostok, business is not interested in the actual art practices: this is the city of cars and services. The examples of Khlebozavod (bakery) and Zarya are unique. The investor of Zarya lives in Moscow: he is an experienced gallery-goer and has a habit of collecting art. Khlebozavod is associated with the brand of the local bakery and its values, like popularizing science and technological progress, which is expressed in its specialization in the science-art.

Of course, business owners of Vladivostok do have money, but they buy commercial art works for the sake of interior decoration, and they almost never invest in the works of those who are critical of what is happening in the world. These ‘collectors’ are not critical themselves. Besides, they are influenced by the counterparts from China: there is a Union of Artists in China, and there is a Union of Artists here. A traditional view of art prevails: the ‘collectors’ know what it should be like. However, this is already the fourth time that we declare enrollment for the Vladivostok School of Contemporary Art: young people come to us who view things differently, including the subject of gender identity.

To be true, there are almost no openly acting representatives of the queer community, due to the attempts to intimidate them by the government, to say nothing of transgenders and androgynes. This is what should be declared, not feminism or patriarchal conservatism — the duality the world has already left behind. In the epoch of global tolerance, it is much more important to discuss the issues of copyright and the borderlines of our own identity, as well as tolerance itself.


Interviewed by Angelina Burliuk, especially for Converter

Yana Gaponenko


The founder of the Vladivostok School of Contemporary Art and the curator of exhibition projects. She collaborated with the Arka and Aidan Galereya galleries and with the ZARYA Center for Contemporary Art. She is the editor of the NEEEST online magazine.

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