DISGUSTING GIRLMARE TRALLA
August 1995 was the date of the first Estonian feminist art exhibition. Called "Est.Fem" it was organised by Eha Komissarov, Reet Varblane and myself. 21 artists participated in that exhibition, not only by giving works for the show, but taking part in discussions before August and writing short contributions to the catalogue as well.
A woman became a hero in communist society, if she managed to have kids and take care of her husband, or she successfully made a career for herself. Estonians used to think then, and are still thinking now that a woman is behind everything. Even though a man is always on the scene, he is being led by a woman. This is a common misconception.|
To talk about women's liberation and feminism in Estonia is the same as making bad jokes. Hasso Krull has seen it as scandalous for intellectuals.(3) All women are happy! At least they appear to be like this and they are happy indeed because they got tampons along with independence.
In Estonian history women have played significant roles. Poet Lydia Koidula became the Estonian national hero. Madli Puhvel writes in her biography of Lydia Koidule: "Her patriotic poems were set to music already during her lifetime... These were the songs which stirred Estonians in their initial quest for national independence early this century, and which, during the latter half formed a primary expression of Estonian national identity in the face of fifty years of Soviet occupation." (4)
Women's movement could have started during the 1905 revolution in Tartu, when young female students, eager to take part in the revolutionary movement, became involved in a local political scandal and were accused of immorality. At the same time the Estonian nationalist politicians saw a woman's place at home - being a good mother. Ainiki Valjataga refers to those ideas in her text about women in 1905 revolution in Estonia by saying "Only an Estonian mother of a family would lead the nation into moral (ethical) existence (independence)."(5) Ainiki Valjataga concludes her text: "Something about the essence of women's movement was not understood and spoken out loud, a serious feminist dialogue was not started and, maybe because of that, some kind of strange and mystic, almost erotic, aura surrounds women's rights movement, but some space in political culture is "occupied" only by vacuum "(6)
Besides family politics in Soviet Union the attitude highlighted by Ainiki Valjataga could be another reason why women started to fight for the right to stay at home; be housekeepers; look after children; and their husband in the 1980s. The family became - for a short period of time - extremely important for Estonians. By 1988, it was established that a woman could stay at home until the youngest child is three years old. State subsidy was not sufficient for living. However, the right to stay at home was a victory. I guess this is not so easy to understand for Western people, who live in a society with high unemployment rate, how women felt in the Soviet Union after they got that right. I can speak about Estonia only and about the feelings here. What people felt was that there should be more children in Estonian families. A song, which has a chorus: "Our country must be filled with kids, and with kids, and with kids..." became popular before the Singing Revolution. During the Singing Revolution it was repeated thousands of times by tens of thousands of people. In the summer of 1988 the Estonians gathered under the national flag to sing about freedom - on many nights in Tallinn. The common feeling amongst all was a compassion for the people you met and shared nationality with. Even under Moscow's rule, there was the feeling of independence. Indeed, the future seemed brighter and this had an impact on everyone. 1988-89 were the years of baby-boom and the Singing Revolution was generally a political liberation movement - men and women fought together for independent Estonia. Creative people: artists and musicians, poets were those who played a significant role in the movement.
|Now Estonians are too involved in observing the glamour of capitalism and it is hard to believe in the idealism of the Singing Revolution ten years ago. All the society is oriented to male young and successful people. There are no forbidden ways to success - all progress is good. Even feminism as such is a good way as it may have some points of scandal in it and therefore be liked by the media. Some artists saw feminism merely as a fashion - a trend. "And the West they is waiting for the feminist art from post-soviet countries to emerge." That wasn't the reason why we organised "Est.Fem". We had in mind to start a dialogue in society which was critical about its new discriminative sides. Most of the artists in "Est.Fem" were very young. They were looking at gender and their personal stories, nothing too political or shocking, using different mediums - from painting to video-installation. Many artists used photography, which was relatively novel for the Estonian art-world in 1995. Something familiar and recognisable without explicit description was often searched for by artists. The search for personal identity and understanding - who we are and where we come from - was most important for artists in "Est.Fem". Social criticism was hidden inside, into a "third layer". However some voices were heard and a dialogue started - mostly in media. The Estonian State however continues to develop a capitalist society - "democratic" they say. The polarisation of rich and poor; male and female; Estonians and non-Estonians is more visible than in 1995. At the same time artists are more self-aware. Still I don't see the possibility for a powerful feminist movement, like it was in the west during the 60s and 70s. A small society like Estonia needs to become really unbearable, more than the Soviet Union was, in order to create a situation when individuals will start to sacrifice their own comfort. The erotic aura around feminism will still exist and at the same time the game with shocking and painfully honest ideas awaits its players.|
Mare Tralla |
Born in 1967 in Tallinn (Estonia). Studied at Tartu Art School, Estonian Academy of Arts and University of Westminster, London (MA in hypermedia). As an artist uses performance, installation, video, digital art, photography. Works also as a curator and contributor to many publications. Lives in Tallinn and London.