In this exhibition, artists Ashley Bigham (photographs) and Grace Mahoney (watercolors) investigate the visibility and social role of Ukraine’s older generation of women embodied in a figure both iconic and ubiquitous: the babusya. Seen in public transport, in the market, and on the street, each babusya has a story to tell. Each has something to say, something to gossip about, and something to complain about.
The current generation of Ukrainian grandmothers survived World War II and multiple repressions. The oldest were children during the famine-genocide of 1932-33 known as the Holodomor. They carry with them deep and complex memories that reflect the histories they have lived through. These experiences make them unexpected agents of protest and resistance to corruption, intimidation, and war.
Although civic activism is often thought to be the province of the young, many babusyas joined in the actions of Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Kyiv and similar protests that occurred throughout the country. Now they witness the war in their country. Viral photos and videos of babusyas carrying kalashnikovs in plastic shopping bags and handing sunflower seeds to enemy soldiers with a curse that something grow from their graves have become icons of resistance since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But they are also an extremely vulnerable population with little access to aid and technology. Many of them have lost their homes and some of them have lost their children and grandchildren. The generation called, “The Children of War” are now seniors of war.
In addition to their historic significance as a generation, these women are present in the spheres of daily life throughout the country. Often overlooked in society, these women are vibrant and active in the public spaces of contemporary Ukraine. Working in the open-air bazaars, resting on public park benches, or strolling through cemeteries, these women stake their claim on the urban space—blending, coalescing, disappearing. This exhibit endeavors bring visibility to these grannies. It’s an invitation to look closer, to see the stories which are written on their faces—they are old and tired, but not invisible.
Invisible Women: Portraits of Aging in Ukraine is hosted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
An exhibit for Fall Semester 2022 is currently being planned, which will focus on women and gender in the current war in Ukraine. The fall exhibit will be co-curated by Grace Mahoney, PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and IRWG Graduate Fellow for Exhibits, with Jessica Zychowicz, an alumna of the U-M Slavic Department and current director of Fulbright Ukraine. More information will be released in summer.
The Invisible Women exhibit is on display for public viewing weekdays from 8:00am – 4:00pm through August 18, 2022, in the main lobby of Lane Hall, located at 204 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. For more information on the current exhibit, visit IRWG’s website.