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The Modern Woman – New Identities (2017–2020)

The Modern Woman – New Identities is a research and exhibition project, a collaborative effort between the Kumu Art Museum and the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, and it focusses on the oeuvre and activities of female artists, as well as on the depiction of women in art from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.

The starting point of the project is the exhibition The Modern Woman of the Ateneum Museum, which will be travelling to the United States, Sweden, Finland and Japan in 2017–2019. The exhibition focusses on the novel ways of depicting women and on the oeuvre of a few outstanding female artists in the Finnish art of the first decades of the 20th century. The collaboration between Kumu and the Ateneum expands the temporal and geographical reach of The Modern Woman by examining the changes in the depiction of women, as well as the activities of female artists in Finland, Sweden and Estonia, from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. This framework allows us to compare the positions of women and female artists in various historical and political environments (in the case of Estonia, from the Baltic German cultural space to the beginning of the Soviet era). We also look at the activities of women from different social classes and ethnic backgrounds and how these women have been depicted in works of art.

One of the aims of the project is to study and compare the education, travel opportunities, social networks, written communication and other contacts of female artists with the cultural circles of other countries, so that, besides the physical and social environment, we also consider the intellectual environment in which female artists worked and which shaped them. We also examine the forms and conditions of the lives of female artists and how they positioned themselves in cultural circles and society at large. When dealing with a specific period or environment, we consider the interaction of art and social processes: how the changing position of women and their emerging self-consciousness were reflected in art or how art supported and directed such changes.

The core of the project is made up of female artists and depictions of women, but as no position or identity in art can change independently of the surroundings, we cannot ignore wider cultural processes and related forms of self-awareness, self-presentation and self-determination also in the case of male artists. The overall objective of the project is to examine the history of art in Estonia, Finland and Sweden in the 19th and 20th century from the viewpoint of gender and social relations.

As an outcome of the research project, an exhibition will open at the end of 2019 in the great hall of the Kumu Art Museum, which will be accompanied by a thorough book.

Main project team at the Kumu Art Museum:
Anu Allas
Kadi Polli
Liis Pählapuu
Mary-Ann Talvistu

Researchers involved by the Kumu Art Museum:
Tiina Abel (Institute of Art History and Visual Culture, Estonian Academy of Arts)
Bart Pushaw (University of Maryland)

Main project team at the Ateneum:
Susanna Pettersson
Anu Utriainen
Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff
Satu Itkonen

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