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Fighting On All Fronts: Women at War, a review by Marina Tasca

European propaganda depicting women's role in society
  • Written byPost-Grad Community
  • Published date16 March 2022
European propaganda depicting women's role in society
Image: Marina Tasca

In another successful Post-Grad Community Mixer, students from across UAL gathered last Thursday (10th March), at AntikBar Gallery: a small gallery and auction house dedicated to the collection, selling and restoration of original vintage posters. The exhibition was Fighting On All Fronts: Women at War: a historical and artistic focus on the role of women during World War Two; specifically, posters issued by both Allies and Axis powers (Britain, USA, USSR and a selection of Nazi-occupied countries).

The exhibition is free and open from the International Women’s Day to Victory Day (8 March to 9 May), both virtually (kustmatrix and artsteps) and on site.

Arriving at the AntikBar Gallery, the Post-Grad Community was warmly welcomed by Chelsea alumni and exhibition curator, Anna Nesterenko, who introduced the exhibition’s thematic range. The role of women in society shifted dramatically in wartime, with countries and communities facing labour shortages on the home front. With men fighting in battle, women returned to work in factories, agriculture, nursing and other military and civilian industries - jobs that were typically male dominated. In this time of need, publicity played a big part, recruiting and encouraging women’s vital participation.

European propaganda depicting women's role in society
Image: Marina Tasca

Separating the posters mainly by countries and iconicity, the curation team filled AntikBar’s two main gallery walls with unique posters from UK and USA, to be reflected by posters from the USSR. By positioning the posters face to face, it became possible to differentiate each country’s public appeal. Needs were varied and depended on the war’s impact on each population. While in the United States people were mostly affected by rationing of food, gasoline and other basic supplies, the Soviet Union’s population was experiencing much more direct forms of violence and brutality. Rather than only working in factories or fields, women in the USSR were seen to take hold of guns and fight side by side with men – a call to arms in every sense.

students at the Women at War exhibition
Image: Marina Tasca

The pictures in the posters reflect these different life realities: while American posters show women in an often-glamorous fashion - with their manicure impeccably done and make up on - Soviet publicity is explicit in terms of violence, depicting women defending themselves and attacking their enemies. Other themes contemplated in the publicity campaigns were women spies, childcare, and pleas for the investment in military bonds.

The posters are all dated throughout the 1940’s and have no clear authorship. Instead they are typically signed to the publishing house. Lithographs or screen-prints can be seen all together, more or less chronologically, in the exhibition’s catalogue. All posters are for sale and the prices are varied between hundreds and thousands, depending on rarity, conservation, and uniqueness of design.

Anna Nesterenko talks to students
Image: Marina Tasca

Considering the abominable curse of events caused by Russia’s invasion and war in Ukraine, it is vital to talk about the everyday life experience of women on war – a point beautifully articulated by Anna Nesterenko. There are usually a lot of inequality in the way men and women are held as victims of war and spoken about. Women must cope not only with the many terrors of battle but often they are targets of sexual abuse and harassments. To better understand and give continuity to the discussion, the AntikBar will host a series of events to compliment the incredible work already done at the Women at War exhibition:

Wednesday 30 March 2022 – Hidden Stories of Women in WWII: Kate Clements, curator of the new Second World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum, will give a talk on untold stories using first-hand testimonies from veterans, eyewitnesses and survivors.

Wednesday 27 April 2022 – Wartime Women The Khaki Cabaret: The actress and singer Fiona-Jane Weston will present a performance that plays homage to the courageous women of wartime Britain, an affectionate tribute with song, poetry and personal accounts from real women of the time.

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