Seducing the Soviet Spectator: Dejneka's Communities of Women and the Horizons of Socialist Realism

Anne Eakin Moss, Stanford University

This paper examines images of women's community and female space in Soviet culture of the 1920s and 30s, focusing on paintings by Aleksandr Dejneka (1899-1969). Dejneka, father of Socialist Realism in the fine arts and official state propagandist (as poster consultant, art teacher, and model for emulation by other artists), created an authoritative image of the characters meant to inhabit Soviet space. These were ordinary people in communal situations, often either all men or all women, working together, playing sports, or at leisure. The actual inhabitants of Soviet public space were constantly confronted with Dejneka's fit, active and joyful ideal men and women in murals on Moscow city buildings, in his Majakovskij metro station mosaics, and in his illustrations for popular journals. His images functioned as instructive illustrations of the new and "emerging" Soviet space, Soviet citizens' relation to it, and their relation to each other. In particular, his all-female canvases, depicting groups of seductive Soviet "new women" harmoniously engaged in work or leisure, served to demonstrate a non-hierarchical relationship among the figures represented, and yet a submissive posture in relation to an authority outside the frame.

However, as a creative artist, and not simply a servant of the state, in certain works Dejneka also revealed the disjuncture between propaganda and reality and the tensions of real people forced to live in "utopian" space. He may have intended to fulfill the state's goals to attract and transform the viewer, but his art also reveals his own attitude toward the process of attraction and transformation. His individual paintings can be considered in dialogue with, not simply as a product of, the state's policy, propaganda, his audience, and the reality of their time. At the same time, his representation of women's community drew not only on the vocabulary of Soviet propaganda, but also on the accumulated imaginings of women in a variety of cultural texts--popular and high, Soviet and pre-Soviet, visual and literary. This paper attempts to locate Dejneka's depiction of women's community within this cultural tradition, and in so doing, explores the boundaries of Socialist Realism as a system, its relationship to pre-Soviet culture, and the role of the individual work of art in it.