Ethnographic Museum – Russian Museum Complex
St. Petersburg, Russia
December 9 – 30, 1996
Polina Fedorova, WBB Curator
Tatiana Stepanova Ivanova, St. Petersburg A/YA Society
Katya Galitzine, Lynn Scarlett, Coordinators
Nina Vozobieva, Chief of Art Department/Ethnographic Museum, The Russian Museum
ST. PETERSBURG IN WINTER
Because of the inspiration of Lynn Scarlet in California, the WBB exhibition was introduced to artist/writer Katya Galitzine of St. Petersburg. Katya was visiting Santa Barbara to promote The Romanov Legacy, a book for which she wrote the introduction. Through Katya’s efforts, Polina Fedorova, who was working with the St. Petersburg A/YA Society became the coordinator of the WBB Exhibition in Russia.
When the “Boxes on the Train” exhibition from Austria arrived in St. Petersburg, it was unprecedented news. Through Polina’s efforts, the arrival and exhibition of WBB in Russia was televised throughout the entire Russian Federation. Her experiences regarding the exhibition became increasingly complex because the official documents for the exhibition were confiscated during a customs check on the train trip. Despite this, WBB exhibition was installed by Polina and friends with the help of the A/YA Society, in the magnificent Russian Ethnographic Museum.
The details of the departure of the trip from St. Petersburg to Nairobi, Kenya, are too numerous and complex to mention here. In the end, after thirty letters were sent to Russia Customs from US Senators, Russian dignitaries, US Cultural Organizations, Consul Generals etc, the only way to transport the exhibition out of Russia was for a Russian, in this case Polina Federova (WBB Curator), to personally accompany the exhibition to the National Museum of Kenya. Funds were raised in St. Petersburg and by WBB in California, in order to sponsor her trip to Kenya. Polina left Russia in below zero weather to arrive in the heat of Kenya in time to assist with the installation and opening of WBB. For this major effort, Wbb is grateful to Polina for her determination and perseverance.
“Everything started when the boxes were stopped by Russian customs on the train trip from Austria. The customs officials said that there were no documents and Russian laws do not allow anything unofficial to pass the border.
It took me and my friends two nights to replace all the labels on the boxes. Beside that, I had to argue with several customs officers to get a stamp on the documents: “No cultural value”. Only then I was able to cross the Russian border.
At Nairobi airport I was met by the curator of National Museum of Kenya, Contemporary Gallery. She was was very surprised to meet me carrying just a couple of bags (but the bags were pretty heavy). The exhibition when first shipped from Santa Barbara to Israel weighed almost 300 lbs., now I had the exhibition in suitcases.”
In Russia, women of all ages were deeply moved by the personal expressions viewed from around the world. Visitors expected images similar to the traditional painted boxes found in Russia, depicting fairy tales and troika rides. As viewers examined the boxes, they felt terror and awe at the intense and direct universal expressions, which ran the gamut from birth to death. Response to the exhibition is best described by young women viewers themselves from the All Girls Gymnasium N. 628 in St. Petersburg who visited the exhibition.
“When I was told about this exhibition, I thought that these boxes would be painted as simple boxes for jewelry, so when I saw the exhibition, I was surprised. Everything was strange & unusual to me. We tried to understand the inner world of some women artists according to their boxes. I felt pain, sorrow, tears, yet hope. I cannot remember all the works of all the women, but I want to tell them that they are very courageous.
When our teachers suggested us to think about our own boxes, I understood that it is very hard to show my own inner world. First, it is hard to get the better of fear. Next, I don’t know how to transfer my idea in life. If I could create my own box, it would be only for me . I’m afraid to share my own world with other people, because it may not be interesting or understood by the majority of them.
Maybe I’ll do my own box in order to show you my love of the earth & of the world. I want to show people that they are loved and that they are needed. Maybe it is one of the themes of the boxes…”
Maria Molchanova, 16 years old -St. Petersburg, Russia
“After seeing boxes from Vietnamese, Cuban and Israeli women, I felt such a big pain in my heart. I understand the cries, tears, and sorrows of the persecuted nations.
I want to tell more and more feelings which I had while looking at every box in this exhibition. ….I really enjoyed visiting such an original exhibition. I think we should have more exhibitions like this which give us the hope of being understood, of being able to break the chains our society has put upon us.
I want to thank you for idea of creating such boxes which open up the worlds, souls and hearts of women for others and helps us to find strength in our future fight with our destiny. “
Helen, 16 years old
“I am very impressed of this exhibition. I’ve never seen anything of that kind! I didn’t expect to find in a small hall that very colorful, vivid and unlimited collection of little boxes. Each of those boxes is enriched by the mood and inner world, the way of thinking of those women The boxes contain individuality and soul.
At first sight the boxes may seem pleasant, like unusual things that are very carefully and sincerely made. But a lot of work, imagination and women’s truth is put in them.Frankly speaking, those boxes which were close to my soul and my vision of the world ……I wished to have at home on my table. I think that the arguments and commentaries on the meaning of any of those boxes will never end.
Women doesn’t limit herself and doesn’t want her box to be evaluated strictly, I believe. I was mostly impressed by works of Cuba and Vietnamese women. I knew and understood a lot while viewing this exhibition in Russia, in a famous museum which I visited nearly everyday in my childhood and liked very much, and which I like now even more.”
Claire, 16 years old, St. Petersburg – Russia