Home > All blog posts > A new exposition commemorating the Volga famine during 1921 & 1922…

An international exhibition dealing with the terrible, and rarely acknowledged, history of famine in Russia is now visible online; it was inspired by the personal story of a British Quaker, Violet Tillard. The exhibition’s curators, Marina Demchenko and Anna Melnikova, brought together two dozen artists from different countries, and, from among them, an invited jury of experts chose the recipients of a prize, which has now been established in Tillard’s memory.

Violet Tillard, a British Nurse, was a suffragette activist who fought for women’s rights in England and Australia. She was also one of those who supported imprisoned British conscientious objectors. As a Quaker volunteer, she helped sick and orphaned victims of the First World War. When the Russian famine began in 1921, Violet joined the Religious Society of Friends relief unit and was one of the first relief workers in the area affected by the famine in the town of Buzuluk, in the Volga basin region. She worked as a nurse and fed those dying from starvation. She herself contracted typhus at the beginning of 1922 and died in February of that year. On March 12, At the Ceremonial Meeting of the Moscow Soviet on the Anniversary of the February Revolution, Leon Trotsky read from a newspaper obituary “Violet Tillard; a delicate, frail creature, she worked here, at Buzuluk, under the most frightful conditions, fell at her post, and was buried there. When the Russian people become a little richer they will erect (we are profoundly sure of this) a great monument to these fallen heroes”. Violet Tillard’s grave was lost, the monument was never erected, and her name was almost forgotten. But the art project, “Hidden in a Cellar Lie Hundred-year-old Preserves,” pays tribute to her memory, and the winners of the award in her name received prizes and diplomas from the Society of Friends. Project curator Anna Melnikova says:

We initiated this project to commemorate the centenary of the 1921 – 1923 famine in the Volga region, but quite a few artists suggested expanding the timeline and marking famines of other years or in other regions of Russia and other countries. It turned out that many people have famine related stories in their families — a long journey to buy bread, or only one cracked bowl of porridge available for the whole family. Our project encouraged the authors to turn to the history of their families, region and country, and to widen the original theme.

The artists participating in the project created works in different genres and forms: sculpture, painting, graphics, video performance, objects. All of them were speaking delicately on a difficult topic, using the several languages of art. An online exhibition is a difficult format for artists, curators and viewers. Diving into the complexity of the past is not an easy task, but it is an important one.

The exhibition may be found here.