Siim Preiman

Curator's foreword

Like the rest of the world, the Estonian population has gradually yet steadily aged over the past 150 years. The main reasons for this are lower birth rates and longer life expectancy. At the same time, the number of years people live in good health, or at the peak of their abilities, is increasing. In many countries, it is already between 65 and 70 years[1]. The majority of the older population is women. However, a large number of these women live invisibly. “The lived reality for women is once the perimenopause starts and the physical and psychological changes begin to become manifest, the brutal awareness kicks in of how mainstream media and the language of advertising misrepresents, or even worse, just ignores older women,” artist Rosy Martin writes.[2]

One reason for this invisibility is economic: age just doesn’t sell! It is most profitable to offer culture to people up to the age of 35, who are more impulsive as consumers.[3] The average film director, however, is still a middle-aged man. And so we see retouched 18-year-old models instead of women in their golden years in cosmetic commercials, and young women on the arm of a 55-year-old James Bond in films, who are treated as means of entertainment by him, rather than living beings.

Before becoming invisible, women have to cope with societal pressures in the first half of their lives, which were encapsulated by Martin Helme, the current Chairman of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), when he said that a 27-year-old unmarried woman without children is a “harmful element in society”. In the same interview, he accused the reporter: “You are part of our fertility problem.”[4] Consequently, the body of a young woman does not belong to herself, but to the general public singing the popular Estonian tune, “The earth must be filled with children / and filled with children’s children / and children’s children’s children!”

Many of us know from personal experience how the feeling that your purpose in life is decided for you affects your self-esteem. Gender-related traditions are often considered inevitable like the laws of nature, rather that seen as the co-creation of society. This is exactly why they are so persistent. The compartmentalisation of boys and girls according to their skills and character traits begins from childhood. Estonia is no exception. 70 per cent of the respondents to a survey among teachers in 2011 believed that society’s expectations for women and men cannot be changed.[5]

We have taken several long steps since 1994, when Eha Komissarov wrote in the catalogue of Estonia’s first feminist exhibition, “Est.Fem”: “In ordinary perception, the firmly established image of a feminist is that of a quarrelsome woman who insults men who have remained inaccessible to her.”[6] However, “feminism” still seems to be a taboo term that even women fighting for women’s rights are afraid to use.[7] Although Maria Kapajeva uses the perspective of the female experience to call societal expectations into question in her exhibition, everyone benefits from a society free of gender stereotypes. For example, it is doubtful that all men feel strong and are tech-savvy, interested in war and willing to take risks.

In a scene from the Soviet science fiction film “Per Aspera Ad Astra” (directed by R. Viktorov, 1981), a middle-aged female scientist is told that her main problem is childlessness. She replies: “My life function does not include motherhood.” At the time, this sentence was bound to confirm the ideological conception of an emancipated Soviet woman and may sound like a negation of motherhood. However, it should be understood as an attempt to define oneself freely. As an artist, Maria Kapajeva has consistently addressed women’s role in society, and the next stage of this research is now presented to you. Her work has always been driven by her personal experience: initially as a young woman, but now approaching her golden years. Kapajeva questions the tacit norms of our society, makes heard the stories of people who have opposed these and wishes to provide a free space with her exhibition where everyone would have the right to formulate the function of their own life.

  • [1] Kai Saks. Inimene ja tema vanus. Sirp, 11.11.2016.
  • [2] Rosy Martin. Outrageous ageing as activism. Feminist art activisms and artivisms, Ed. Katy Deepwell. Amsterdam: Valiz, p. 271.
  • [3] Encyclopedia of Aging, Vol. 2. Paul Kleyman, Images of Aging, p. 679.
  • [4] Laura Mallene. Martin Helme: Istanbuli konventsiooni ainus efekt on see, et lasteaias õpetatakse poisse kleiti kandma. Eesti Päevaleht, 17.05.2016.
  • [5] Elo-Maria Roots. Soostereotüübid soodustavad vägivalda. Õpetajate Leht, 13.05.2016.
  • [6] Est.Fem: eesti feministliku kunsti näitus. Kuraatorid Eha Komissarov, Mare Tralla, Reet Varblane. Tallinnas galeriis Vaal, Linnagaleriis ja Mustpeade galeriis 18.08–2.09.1995.
  • [7] Evelin Tamm, Miks ta kannab jänesemaski ehk kui radikaalne on eesti feminist? – Müürileht, 11.03.2016.