This research was initially conducted for the exhibition ‘I Remember, Therefore I Am. Unwritten Stories: Women Artists’ Archives’ (2020–2021) at the Latvian National Museum of Art, and served as a launching point for artwork by Rasa Jansone, periodicals.lssr (periodika.lpsr), which engages the issues women artists have faced. We explore the ways in which women artists were represented in the print media of the Latvian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic), delineating possible reasons why women artists of the time tend to be forgotten today. We reviewed more than five thousand articles about women artists to investigate how their work and private lives in the Latvian SSR were framed differently from those of their male contemporaries. Applying qualitative discursive analysis, we identify common biases and linguistic modes of describing women’s artistic practice, and uncover several tentative answers to how and why women artists have partially been obscured in the historical memory of Soviet Latvian art. We argue that despite the nominal feminist ideas embedded in socialist ideology, women artists’ advancement in fine arts was systematically discouraged in popular discourse, by framing positions in art education, crafts, design, and fashion as most suitable for their gender. Their achievements in these roles have been obscured through the present discourse. Women painters and sculptors often worked in the traditionally ‘feminine’ genres of still life and landscape, often focusing on the domestic sphere and children. These genres also allowed them to partly escape or passively resist the ideological discourse; however, this work has been downplayed, not only in the past, but also in the present. Finally, despite the ideological claims of gender equality, the traditional gender roles, both in economic and domestic spheres, were present, inhibiting promising women artists’ development and reducing their opportunities for work and growth.
Ieva Melgalve is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in social and cultural anthropology, a master’s degree in art history and theory, currently studying in the doctoral programme at the Art Academy of Latvia. Her research interests are linked to feminism, queer studies, and post-humanistic thought, taking an in-depth look at the margins of social norms and viewing arts research as a space where an unconventional approach is always possible. Her personal hobby: to give an understandable shape to complex ideas.