Odesa Fine Arts Museum team took first place in a T-shirt Design Contest ‘Don’t put a label!’. They received 100 thousand hryvnias grant. As a result, they came up with a collection of T-shirts with feminist slogans on them. Who is after this project, what stereotypes they are fighting against and more – in material from Opinion.
I’m my own Oligarchness,
My body is not a background for your commercial,
My beauty is not on the surface,
My place is where I want it to be,
Ask me when I’m getting married.
These lines look like a free verse hymn of a modern woman. Separately they are the messages from a T-shirt collection, created by Odesa Fine Arts Museum team. Please, meet them – Inna Bilous, Yulia Berdiyarova, Daria Filippova, and Maria Tseloyeva.
This all began with a late-night message of a museum’s worker. It was a link to ‘Don’t put a label!’ contest by “Vsi. Svoi” and Olena Pinchuk Foundation and a suggestion to participate. Everyone liked the idea so the work started shortly after that. They confess they didn’t expect such attention to their project. Hype, they say, had started not even with an announcement of winners, but with a… Facebook post before. Social media attention was the reason other nationwide media started to talk about them. It’s funny, they didn’t even have T-shirts at that moment – just a visualization. Despite that, there were a lot of people willing to buy clothes with feminist slogans.
“We had a post on Facebook, telling that we’ve applied for the contest and showed some of the work. It was too early to tell, but we couldn’t stand it. We thought we’re sharing it with our friends. Then reposts started. Not only by our friends but by the media as well. It’s funny when you put too much effort into something and don’t succeed anyway. We made announcements, press-releases, we communicate with the press – nothing. And here – we didn’t make anything special. But it was a good date – March 8,” Inna says.
There’s a woman pictured on each piece with a text message, related to a gender stereotype. The team chose such paintings to work with: the study for a panel ‘Lady and a bird’ by Zinaida Serebryakova, ‘Revolutioner’ by Yuliy Bershadskii, ‘Portrait of T.M. Braikevich’ by Konstiantyn Somov, ‘Swimmer’ by Timoleon Carl Neff and ‘Swimmers’ by Amshei Nurenberg.
“As long as there are few works of famous artist Zinaida Serebryakova in Museum’s funds it was impossible not to show one of them in the team’s project. One of the T-shirts contains the image of ‘Lady and a bird’, made by Serebryakova in 1916. Zinaida herself was one of the first women becoming a member of the ‘World of Art’ organization. By the way, Serebryakova was happy in her marriage with 4 children,” Maria tells.
Daria, designer of the collection, tells us about the troublesome process of choosing images to use, “Yulia had prepared messages first. After that, we’d been analyzing artworks to figure out which one would suit a particular phrase. For instance, we saw Somov’s picture with an exhausted girl on it, a daughter of Braikevich. She’s kind of telling us that she’s tired of a question about getting married. We’ve realized that she was made to tell this story”.
First, the team had chosen all the paintings either with women on, or painted by women. There were around 20 favorites from which only 5 have been selected for the contest. All the artworks were analyzed by Daria from an aesthetic and design point of view. Some of the images might have just merged into the background.
“Some of the artworks were quite etude and abstract. It was hard to cut off the silhouette and place it nicely on a shirt. I was against the ‘superdesigning’ of T-shirts. I was sure it just had to be a message and an element of artwork in order for a concept to be read easily and without distraction,” Daria adds.
Authors say they had been facing stereotypes from their T-shirts many times during their lives. Even now, in 2019 they often hear that they need to get married to a rich man sooner because ‘a woman can’t make enough money for herself’.
“This question ‘When am I getting married?’ was topical to each of us but Inna. We’ve even had jokes that we should wear these T-shirts for all the family meetings,” Yulia laughs.
Daria also faced such a stereotype, “My family used to tell me that I badly need a rich husband when I grew up. It wasn’t an order, but a wish for me and my family to have a happier future. They believed I’m not able to do it on my own.”
Maria is sure lots of women are familiar with these messages because they were created by women. She has her own story. “I prefer black when it comes to outfitting. My favorite T-shirt is the one with a portrait of a revolutioner by Bershadskii, saying ‘My beauty is not on the surface’. I’ve always been asked at my university if someone died and why I was mourning. But the time passed and I’m still with my style and no one is surprised by my color preferences anymore. Tolerance tendency in our society makes me happy too.”
There is a T-shirt with the message ‘My place is where I want it to be’. This phrase is close to Inna. “I’ve been told of my place ever since university. I gave birth to my first child at 17. When I was pregnant doctors used to give me advice about not giving birth. It was something like: Girl, you’re just 17, you’re pretty, not married. Why do you need this? Here, take this abortion prescription, I have a very good doctor.” This phrase – ‘My place is where I want it to be’ – is about everything. It’s about a car, about a job, about maternity and marriage.
The idea of a T-shirt ‘I’m my own Oligarchness’ came with Daria’s joke. “I remember saying once – I’m my own sponsor – and then thinking – it’s a good idea for a T-shirt! The word ‘oligarchness’ came into my mind. I googled it and found out that this word doesn’t even exist.”
Girls say their main goal was to make T-shirts for their personal use. They had a deal at the beginning of a project – clothes should be comfortable in first place. T-shirts aren’t tailored for women only, the team says. Men can also wear them if they share the idea of fighting stereotypes. Maria says, “First, we were going to make free cut T-shirts and were probably thinking of them as of female clothes. But now men are interested in these T-shirts too, so they will suit anyone – either men or women. By the way, men in our society are more feminist than women. Especially than elder women,” Inna adds.
Yulia tells that the team will probably create a men’s version of the collection, “‘My place is where I want it to be’ could fit men too – there are a lot of stereotypes for men in our society. There were suggestions for making men’s collection. That would be interesting, I think. They are also suffering from such things as ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘you must be strong’, ‘you must earn more than a woman’, ‘you must be a breadwinner’, etc. Everyone has a right to do what they want to do.”
Authors have a deal of not reacting to haters who don’t share their values. “We even saw proof of existing of those stereotypes in our comment section on Facebook. When I posted a photo of me in a T-shirt I had such haters on my page, because ‘I’m a mother’. I supposed to be cooking and have traditional values, instead, I have naked women and ‘My place is where I want it to be’. We realize we have to communicate since we are taking on such a topic and undergoing these stereotypes in person… It’s cool that we have a chance to send a message through this poster, which a T-shirt is in some way.”
Every T-shirt will have an explanation label near the price tag. It will explain why this particular message is here. Yulia who made all the explanations says, “It was a try to tell what is the deep essence of each problem. It was important to do this because people sometimes write in comments that they failed to understand what we mean. People who exercise these ideas every day will understand the message. And those who don’t – they will fail to do so. Stereotype comes with a system of stereotypes. For example a question ‘When are you getting married?’ can be seen as simply not tactful or from another perspective. It relates to your personality at first and then it depreciates your experience and achievements. This depreciation comes into every aspect of our life. This little text on a label is what usually museums do when they give an explication which helps to understand an exhibition.
Girls are sure that our society inherited those stereotypes from the Soviet period. Yulia says, “Ukrainian community used to be a feminist long time ago. Men and women used to have equal rights. A woman could have a house, a land, educate her children. Russian empire changed it and after that, the Soviet Union did its bit.
Soviet equality was labor equality. But stereotypes considering woman’s place were very clear. That’s why we have a lot of things to work on,” Inna adds.
Maria also shares her thoughts about the feminist movement, “I always see a perverted image of feminism as a trend, brought from the West. As if it makes women refuse marriage, wear short hair and have manly manners. In fact, the feminist tradition in Ukraine has its roots in Halychyna at the beginning of the 20th century. Olha Kobylanska was a feminist in a modern sense for me. She used to talk about equality and put an ‘ability of a non-married middle-class woman to earn her living’ sense in it. That means being self-sufficient, independent, reaching her own goals, coming to marriage as to her own deliberate decision. I am close to her words – a woman should be the goal of her own. ‘I’m my own Oligarchness’ message is a remake of Olha Kobylanskaya’s phrase.”
Girls will get 100 thousand hryvnias for education and developing of a brand. They made a decision to develop a museum’s merchandise with that money. “We’ve looked through the courses, available in Ukraine, but were unable to find something interesting for us. That’s why we are thinking of taking this money to make prototypes of souvenirs for the museum. But we realize this money are not enough to even print the first edition of T-shirts or eco-bags.”
Odesa Fine Arts Museum team has got a lot of plans for the future and talks about working direction ”Our future projects will relate to other social problems as well as to the museum’s collection. But first, we need to distribute the T-shirts. We hope that this idea will become popular and we are ready to put enough effort into it. We are now having an amazing collaboration with Ukrainian clothing brand Duck Side. They produce T-shirts, make prints, and pack them.
T-shirts will be available for sale from April 20 at the ‘Vsi. Svoi’ chain stores and at Odesa Fine Arts Museum.
Text by Anastasia Boichenko
Photo by Sasha Naselenko
In the photoshoot, the authors of the idea used the prototypes of the T-shirts