There are several stereotypes and unpleasant opinions in society today when it comes to pregnancies that deviate from the norm, which is young and married women. A particularly distasteful one is the attribution of a stigmatized social identity to older expectant mothers.
This mindset is obvious in traditional Russian society where an unspoken gender and fertility rule is early childbearing, although it is also seen in other parts of the world. However, more people are challenging these opinions and fighting to open the doors of equality for all, through various means, from art and photography to music and film.
One artist, in particular, Anna Radchenko, has used her platform and voice to address the issues of ageism.
The “GRANDmothers” Project
“GRANDmothers” is the latest visual commentary created by Anna Radchenko, an award-winning multidisciplinary artist who hails from Moscow, Russia.
“GRANDmothers” is a humorous combination of short film and photography. It explores the expectations placed on women with regard to having children by a certain age. It also challenges the ways in which older women are valued differently than older men.
The project features a variety of older models, including Galina Sokolskaya, Natalia Balahnina, Antonina Medvedeva, and Ludmila Zhirnova. All of these women play interesting, creative, well-rounded, and dynamic pregnant characters who just happen to also be elderly.
“GRANDmothers” does an incredible job of challenging viewers’ expectations and assumptions about what a pregnant woman should be and look like.
One way that Radcheno does this is with the way in which her models are dressed. Pieces from several designers, both those who are up-and-coming and those who are established in their industry, are featured in the project.
The location choice also makes a strong statement. The project was shot in one of Russia’s oldest hospitals, which used to be one of the country’s former leading gynecological hospitals (and has not been used since 2013).
The walls of the hospital are emblazoned with posters of pop bands, coupled with old Russian propaganda prints. This combination creates a surprising and intriguing mishmash of images that will surely keep viewers engaged.
About Anna Radchenko
The London-based artist who has garnered awards and distinctions around the world specializes in music videos, commercials, mixed media editorial projects, and art installations. She is especially talented in projects that require stepping outside the box to create meaningful yet alluring content.
Her work on the short film “GRANDmothers” is meant to push people to ask themselves questions that matter. At front of mind is asking, “What if?” regarding the current state and future possibilities of ageism and pregnancy.
When asked about the film, Radchenko recalled becoming a mother at age 30. She explained that her experience caused her to think about how she would have been known as an “Old Mother” in the USSR.
She went on to say that women who are in the 40s, 50s, or older are often seen as “purposeless” when they do not have children. In contrast, men are generally seen as getting better as they age.
For Radchenko, “GRANDmothers” is meant to be critical of this particular viewpoint. In creating the project, she also aims to illustrate just how far people have come with regard to their mindsets around women and aging.
Interview With Anna Radchenko
“GRANDmothers” is the latest art project you have worked on as a creative director and photographer. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
My work looks to answer the question: “What if?” I’d like to play with our perceptions and expectations and remind us that there is more than one way to see the world. Generally, I’m inspired by philosophy and psychology. I look for what’s hidden inside of me and try and bring it out, which isn’t always easy.
“GRANDmothers” is a humorous commentary on ageism through a succession of optically arresting visuals. How do you think the cast, styling and production design, make-up and hair, and shooting location contributed to the project’s aesthetic and mood?
The most important thing for me was to have the viewer question the photos. Are they real? If so, how is it possible? Are they just meant to look older? The styling, make-up, and hair, for example, is something you would see on a teen, not on an older woman. The location is an old unused hospital, but then you find pop band posters hanging on the wall. Who’s to say how women should dress and live once we reach a certain age?
Why is there such a strong fashion element in the project?
Most of my work presents a strong fashion element. I pay a lot of attention to the aesthetic of my pieces, and fashion to me is also just another way in which I communicate and put my point across.
Is there a specific idea or message that you want people to perceive with the “GRANDmothers” project?
I would like us to challenge our own preconceptions. Why do we find these images odd? Do they bother us? If so, why? I would like for people to walk away, wondering over their reactions.
Is this the first project in which you have addressed the issue of ageism in contemporary culture?
It isn’t. I started in 2017 with my fashion film “Silver Goddesses.” It’s an important topic, initially inspired by my mother and the conversations I had with her about being an older woman in Russia. And now, as a mother myself, I’ve wanted to return to this and explore it further.
You started your career as a fashion photographer. What prompted you to transition to music videos, commercials, mixed media editorial projects, and art installations?
I consider myself to be a multidisciplinary artist. I enjoy working across several mediums, so photography was simply a starting point for me. Depending on what I want to put across, how I do it may change. Every medium has a different strength, so it’s important to assess what is the best way to present a project.
You are a Russian artist working in London. How did your cultural background influence your project?
I’m still very much engaged with contemporary Russian society. I still feel like I live in that reality. I’m definitely influenced by what’s going on, for example, how people perceive aging women. I feel very emotionally involved – a lot of who I am is still rooted there. You can see this in my projects in all the details; for example, with “GRANDmothers,” the location is filled with plenty of clues.
If you could describe the overall style of your work, what would that description be?
I think the best way to describe it is Feminist Surrealism.