Just as Russia is taking center stage in American politics, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is exploring issues at the heart of contemporary Russian society – including fashion, marriage, and homophobia.
The museum’s Viceland series, featuring programs filmed around the world for Brooklyn-based media company Vice's television channel, has given locals a chance to learn about controversies plaguing various countries. Next up, the focus will be on Russia – and the United States.
"We want to help bring awareness of global issues, especially in this very uncertain time," says Julie Ganas, the museum's curatorial coordinator.
SMoCA is screening two Viceland episodes at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 12. One, which explores the impact of incarcerated mothers on American society, is part of Gloria Steinem’s Woman series. The other, which focuses on Russia, is from a show called States of Undress.
"It would be unfair to do a series and point to problems in other countries but not put a spotlight on the United States," Ganas says of the museum's decision to air these particular episodes. Earlier screenings addressed challenges facing Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Don’t expect traditional reporting that delivers sterile objectivity, says Nomi Ernst Leidner, an executive producer for Viceland, who adds that these series present distinct points of view. And don’t assume their subject matter is only relevant for women. “These shows aren’t about women’s issues, they’re about human-rights issues,” she says. "We hope men as well as women will attend this screening."
Basically, Viceland is assembling information about unwieldy topics, providing what Ernst Leidner calls “the ins and outs of specific issues” in short episodes. But beyond providing facts, she says, the episodes share personal stories and shed light on people and organizations having a real impact.
Although these shows address tough situations faced by women in various countries, they don’t focus on women as victims. Instead, Ernst Leidner says, they work to “wake everybody up to claim their power.”
For Ernst Leidner, museums are one of many platforms people use to share information and make connections, making SMoCA a logical place to show these works. “I do think of these as art,” she says of both episodes the museum is screening.
Ganas hopes those who attend the screening, which is $7 and includes museum admission, will also explore the museum’s “Push Comes to Shove” exhibition, which presents works by Arizona-based artists looking at issues of women and power.
Those who attend the museum screenings can stay after to discuss the films, and hear locals Laurie Stoff and Shontell Di Nello Lege’ discuss both women in Russian society and helping incarcerated women and youth transition back into their communities.
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Stoff is a faculty affiliate for ASU’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, and she's well versed in the ways Russian feminism has differed historically from American feminism. Stoff hopes to help viewers understand the cultural and historical context of modern Russian life. “The struggle for feminism doesn’t look the same everywhere,” Stoff says. "The American model isn't a perfect one."
Lege’ serves as project coordinator for AZ Common Ground. Her expertise lies in the ways incarcerating mothers impacts families, and how local citizens can support former prisoners reentering society.
Bottom line: Attending the Viceland screening is a way to encounter stories focused on social justice, to consider the implications on both a local and global scale, and to connect with others who share similar concerns.
“Viceland at SMoCA: Russia and U.S.A.” starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Find details and ticket information on the SMoCA website.