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"Gender Trouble in the Amazonian Kingdom: Turn-of-the-Century Representations of Women in Russia"
Amazons of the Avant-Garde
Published in 1999
19 pages, fully illustrated
This essay examines the way women were represented in late nineteenth–century and early twentieth–century Russia at a time when gender roles began to become ambiguous. Olga Matich relates these observations to the "Amazons," the women of the Russian avant-garde. Matich discusses the works of these talented women artists, but also the works of contemporary men. Analyzing not only paintings, but also caricatures and stage characters, this text provides a comprehensive investigation into the portrayal of Russian women through the male gaze as well as on their own terms.
The six avant-garde artists featured in this exhibition also treated the human figure in terms that blurred gender boundaries. But unlike their older sisters, they tended not to invest themselves personally in a gender-bending subjectivity; accordingly, references here will be almost exclusively to their artistic output, not to their public personas and personal lives. The connotations of gender ambiguity were quite different for the women of the avant-garde. Their goal was the representation of the new "man" (chelovek in Russian, a noun referring to both men and women), who was an androgyne of sorts. Instead of referring to gender trouble, the avant-garde androgyne was frequently modeled on the African mask, which had also inspired the representation of the human face in the European avant-garde. This unisex figure was stylized, not pathologized or sexualized, a condition that may well be associated with Natalia Goncharova's Neo-Primitivist works.