Women Designers. USSR

A research project
by Alyona and Natalia Sokolnikova

Despite worldwide recognition of the «Amazons of the avant-garde», further achievements of the Soviet women in art and design field are relatively poorly covered in professional and popular science literature.
Authors of the current research will consider a huge list of undeservedly forgotten names and undervalued design projects accomplished by Soviet women. For the first time, there would be carried out a detailed scientific analysis of the gender aspect impact on the Soviet design development and specifically on the formation of the professional identity by women designers in the USSR. A special focus will be placed on the multinational composition of the USSR and the contribution of the national republics to the history of Soviet design, presented from a de-colonial perspective.

The results of this study will not only demonstrate the features of professional contribution of Soviet women designers in the material and visual culture of the XX-XXI centuries, but also draw attention to a set of economic and socio-cultural reasons that hindered the professional self-realization of women designers, artists and architects in different periods of the USSR history. Many of the identified factors (including gender-specific boundaries and stereotypes within the design profession) still remain relevant in contemporary Russia.
The subject of gender issues in Soviet design history was addressed by Alena Sokolnikova in following talks:

• Lecture «Social values in Soviet design history» and participation in the panel discussion «Social design: European (Dutch) and Soviet perspectives» in the framework of the exhibition «Red Wealth: Soviet design 1950–1980», Rotterdam Kunsthall, Rotterdam, Nederland. 02. 2016
• Lecture «Beyond nostalgia. What can we learn from the experience of Soviet designers?» at the Russian design Day, The First London design biennale, Somerset house, London, UK. 09. 2016
• Presentation «A new wave of women: the formation of a professional identity of women designers in the USSR in the 1960—80’s» at the International interdisciplinary conference «THE BODY OF THINGS: Gender, Material Culture and Design in (Post)Soviet Russia» an interdisciplinary conference, Aarhus University, Denmark 08.03.2018;
• Presentation «The role of Women teachers at the VKHUTEMAS (A. Exter, L. Popova, N. Udaltsova) In the development of the propaedeutic Discipline «Colour» at the XXXI Alpatov Readings as part of the International Scientific Conference-Forum «Vkhutemas Space in the World Culture of the XX-XXI Centuries». The Russian Academy of Arts. 12.11.2020;
• Lecture «From the kitchen to the space! Women designers of the USSR» at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG Karlsruhe), 10.12.2021;
• Presentation "A comparative study of the history of design education at the Stieglitz school in Saint Petersburg and the Stroganov school in Moscow from the late 19th to early 20th century«at online conference «Pioneers of Design Education», organised by the Design Campus of the Kunstgewerbemuseum of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in cooperation with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, 19-20.05.2022;
• Presentation «Missing profile: a study of the professional role of women in the 1960-80s Soviet design» at the Design History Society Virtual Seminar Spring 2022 series «Hidden Histories: Gender in Design», 19.05.2022;
• Presentation «Women designers and the soviet DIY culture: between necessity and deliberate experimentation» at the symposium: exploratory workshop ‘Everyday Creativity in (Post)Socialism: Theoretical andMethodological Scoping’, University of Graz, Austria, 2-3.6.2022;
• Presentation «For him or for her? Design and gender of late Soviet consumer goods» at the workshop Politics of Soviet Materiality, Universität Zürich, Swissland, 1.-2.7.2022
The first draft of the book was made and sent to some major international publisher’s editorial offices in may 2018. In 2022, a contract was signed with the publisher New Literary Review (NLO). Currently, we are intensively preparing the material for publishing.
In June 2018, we formed a concept and a presentation of the «Women In Design. USSR» (work title) exhibition. Currently we are looking for partners and an exhibition venue for this project. The promotional presentation is available upon request.
Audio and video recordings of exclusive interviews for this project are carried on from May 2015 up to the present time. Here you will find links to all published interviews.
1. Svetlana Ysova (video interview): part 1, part 2, part 3.
At the moment, the authors of the study collected brief biographical information about more than 2,800 women who carried out projects in the field of graphic, industrial and environmental design, costume design and accessories, as well as certain types of arts and crafts in the period from 1917 to 1990. In the future, this time frame will be expanded.

If you, your relatives or friends were designers in Soviet times, and you are ready to share some information about the professional activities of women designers, please contact us! As the project progresses, we are planning to publish all collected materials in the form of an online database with a free access.
If you want to learn more about the project to become its partner or sponsor, or just share some information on the research topic, please contact us!

Alyona Sokolnikova
PhD in Deign Pedagogy, associate Professor, an independent curator, researcher and lecturer in design history, founder of “Design in Details”

Natalia Sokolnikova
PhD in Art Pedagogy, Professor, specialist in the theory and history of fine arts, design and art education

Design by Hint
Programming by Vlad
© 2019