From August 22 through September 30, Grace Mahoney, a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Ashley Bigham, a lecturer and the 2015-2016 Walter B. Sanders Fellow at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, displayed watercolors and photographs in an exhibition titled, Invisible Women: Portraits of Aging in Ukraine. U-M’s International Institute hosted the exhibit, which was sponsored by the Slavic department, the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Department of Women’s Studies.
In this exhibition, artists Bigham and Mahoney investigated 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, the Holodomor, and multiple repressions. They are also active in the present—although civic activism is often thought to be the province of the young, many babusya joined in the actions of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity in Kyiv and throughout the country. Now they witness the war in Eastern Ukraine. Many of them have lost their homes and some of them have lost their children or 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. Possibly 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 endeavored to tell the stories of these grannies. It was an invitation to look closer, to see the stories which are written on their faces – they are old and tired, but not invisible.
“It was a wonderful experience to have our exhibit at the International Institute at U-M. This topic resonates in different ways with many people, and I enjoyed sharing stories with many of our visitors.”
-Grace Mahoney, SLL PhD student