From Tallinn to Tbilisi: Art across boundaries in the age of empire

Event series: January to July 2023

Through the long 19th century until the eventual collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, artists in territories under imperial control, such as Poland, Finland, Ukraine, the Baltics, the Caucasus, Central Asia and others, increasingly began to explore questions of national identity in response to hegemonic and Russo-centric narratives advanced by the tsarist regime.

In this seminar series, speakers examine art production in key centres of activity beyond St Petersburg and Moscow to present perspectives from across the Empire. Exploring a range of topics, such as art education, travel, national revivals, and women's advancement, they consider the ways in which artists negotiated ethnic and territorial identities, advanced their professional careers, and recalibrated their art-making in response to imperial rule.

  • Mondays
  • 5-6.30pm (GMT) / 6-7.30pm (CET) / 12 noon-1.30pm (EST)
  • Teams, Free
  • Recording available after each event

Organised by:

Lauren Warner-Treloar (Kingston University, Visual and Material Culture Research Centre)

Lauren Warner-Treloar is an AHRC Techne Doctoral Researcher at Kingston School of Art and her research project is entitled 'Sound Art and Visual Culture: The Anti-Book Experiment in the Romanov Empire and the USSR, 1881-1932'.

Dr Louise Hardiman (Independent Scholar)

Dr Louise Hardiman is an independent scholar specialising in Russian, Soviet and Ukrainian art and the history of British-Russian cultural exchange.

Read more about the organisers.

Hosted by: Kingston School of Arts Visual and Material Culture Research Centre

Image: Edvard Isto, Attack, 1899, oil on canvas, National Museum of Finland, Helsinki.

Edvard Isto, Attack, 1899, oil on canvas,  National Museum of Finland, Helsinki

Cherchez les femmes: Women artists from Ukraine in Paris (late 19th and early 20th centuries)

19th century painting of smartly-dressed ladies

Date: 20 February 2023

Speaker: Vita Susak, Independent Scholar, Basel

The question "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists", posed by Linda Nochlin in 1971, has received many answers in different countries over the course of five decades. In 2019, the book Why There Are Great Women Artists in Ukrainian Art?, edited by Kateryna Yakovlenko (Pinchuk Art Center), was published in Kyiv. It contains articles about outstanding Ukrainian representatives of the avant-garde, Soviet realism, and underground and naive art of the 20th century, mainly focusing on contemporary names.

In my lecture, I will present five women artists from Ukraine who played prominent roles in international art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

  • Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884)
  • Alexandra Exter (1882-1949)
  • Sonia Lewitska (1874-1937)
  • Sonia Delaunay (1885-1980)
  • Chana Orloff (1888-1968).

Highlighting their work's specificities and connections with Ukrainian natural and cultural landscapes, I will also touch upon their identity(-ies) and later identification. None of them were ethnically Russian, none of them studied at art schools in Moscow or St Petersburg, and yet all of them were appropriated by the Russian imperial discourse.

Attribution and appropriation of cultural heritage (not only of territories) are used by Russia to perpetuate its imperialist discourse. Today, Ukraine needs to reattribute and reappropriate many individuals and their legacies, to show to the world its own history, the history of art as well.

Ukraine is not Russia is the title of the book by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, published in Moscow in 2003 in Russian. In the West, few people noticed it. Only the war, the brutal, targeted destruction of Ukraine's cultural monuments, and the strong resistance of the Ukrainian people (which surprised the West) are slowly yielding the recognition that Ukraine is not Russia.

We are dealing with a war of concepts; in this sense, academic representations of the past will determine outcomes today and tomorrow. The deconstruction of Russian imperial narrative, and the recognition of Estonian, Ukrainian, Georgian or other contributions will determine our common European future.

Vita Susak, Ph.D. in Art History, is a Ukrainian independent researcher, curator, and expert for the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation at the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine; she is a member of the Swiss Academic Society for East European Studies. In 1992–2016, Susak headed the Department of Modern European Art at the Lviv National Art Gallery, where she curated 28 exhibitions. She taught at the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv (2011–2015). She received fellowships from: The Getty Foundation (USA); Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Bourse Diderot), France; Landis & Gyr Foundation, Switzerland; and the Fulbright Program (USA). She has authored numerous publications, including two monographs: Ukrainian Artists in Paris, 1900–1939 (2010) and Alexis Gritchenko: Dynamocolor (2017). Since 2016, Vita Susak has lived and worked in Switzerland. Her recently published articles include "Whose Malevich? Why Malevich?" in Divided Memories, Shared Memories, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Connexe 5 (2019), and "Memoire et monuments" in Histoire partagée, mémoires divisées. Ukraine, Russie, Pologne (2020).

Image: Alexandra Exter, Ladies with a Little Dog, 1910-11, oil on canvas, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv.

Incising the future in early colonial Alaska

Grass bag with Russian emblem on it

Date: 20 March 2023

Speaker: Bart Pushaw, University of Copenhagen

Booking available soon. 


Image: Once-known Alutiiq maker, Woven grass pouch, late 18th c., lyme grass, cotton thread, silk, MAЭ No. 2888-93, Kunstkamera, St Petersburg.

Nomadic art as cultural and political capital

Karol K?osowski

Date: 24 April 2023

Speaker: Petya Andreeva, Parsons School of Design, The New School

Booking available soon.


Image: Early Golden Horde, gold belt fitting with deer amid foliage, 13th c. Discovered in Gashun-Ust (near modern-day Stavropol, south Russia). 

Architecture and empire in the Grand Duchy of Finland under Alexander I and Nicholas II

Architectural drawing of palace

Date: 15 May 2023

Speaker: Markus Lähteenmäki, University College London (Jan 2023)

Booking available soon. 


Image: C.L. Engel, Design for the main building of the Imperial Alexander University (later University of Helsinki), 1828, National Archives of Finland, Helsinki.

Armenian painterly modernity and the Union of Armenian Artists (1916-21)

Constantinople Street at Midday

Date: 12 June 2023

Speaker: Sato Moughalian, City University of New York Graduate Center

Booking available soon.


Image: Martiros Sarian, Constantinople Street at Midday, 1910, oil on panel, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Beauty as a weapon of political resistance:

Karol Kłosowski and his studio at Silent Villa

paper cuttings

Date: 3 July 2023

Speaker: Julia Griffin, Art Historian, Curator and Author

Booking available soon.


Karol Kłosowski, selection of paper cuttings and lace designs, private collection. By descent from the artist and the Tatra Museum in Zakopane.

Without affiliation: Iliazd and avant-garde identity politics

Printed lecture poster from Ilia Zdanevich, New Schools of Russian Poetry, Paris 1921

Date: 23 January 2023

Speaker: Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

Born in Tiflis [Tbilisi], Georgia in 1894, while the area was part of the Russian Empire, poet Ilia Zdanevich ("Iliazd"), seems to have felt little identification with the region. If he spoke Georgian (his mother's native tongue), he gave no indication of this in his writings. After 1912, he moved into Russian avant-garde circles in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But he also "discovered" the self-taught Georgian painter, Nikos Pirosmani. He was passionate about ancient Armenian and Georgian church architecture. He loved the mountains of the Caucasus region. However, he did not express any affiliation as a "Georgian" or mention the politics of the region in his work, only noting that after the Revolution in October 1917 he was prevented from returning to Russia. His early experimental plays, composed between 1916-20, identify Tiflis as their publication site. But he never mentions the interlude from May 1918 through February 1921, when Georgia was briefly an independent republic before being annexed by the Soviet Union, or the name change of his birthplace to Tbilisi in 1936. Iliazd travelled to Paris in 1921 and spent the rest of his life there as a publisher and poet. Linked to international art circles, Iliazd's career raises interesting questions about the combination of local culture(s) (Georgian, Russian, Parisian) and national identity politics in the modern avant-garde.

Johanna Drucker is Distinguished Professor and Breslauer Professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. She is internationally known for her work in the history of graphic design, typography, experimental poetry, art, and digital humanities. Recent work includes Inventing the Alphabet (University of Chicago, 2022), Visualisation L'Interprétation modélisante (B42, 2020), and Iliazd: Meta-Biography of a Modernist (Johns Hopkins University Press 2020). Her artist's books are widely represented in museum and library collections. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. In 2021 she received the AIGA's Steven Heller Award for Cultural Criticism.


Image: Ilia Zdanevich, New Schools of Russian Poetry (Paris), 1921, poster, private collection.

Video available soon.

About the organisers

Lauren Warner-Treloar, AHRC Techne Doctoral Researcher, Kingston University

Lauren Warner-Treloar is a doctoral researcher at Kingston University and her PhD project is fully funded by a Techne AHRC DTP studentship. She has an MA in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art and an MA in Russian from Bryn Mawr College.

After graduating from the Courtauld, Lauren worked as a cataloguer in the Russian department at Sotheby's and served as the manager of The Malevich Society for more than five years. She has written articles and reviews for various platforms and publications including Russian Art + Culture and The Burlington Magazine. She was a contributor to the catalogue for the Royal Academy's exhibition ‘Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932' (11 February – 17 April 2017). She has presented her research at international conferences including most recently her paper ‘Intangibility and Materiality: Digital Collections of Futurist Anti-Books' at the 2022 Digital Research in Humanities and Art Conference: ‘Digital Sustainability: From Resilience to Transformation', hosted by Kingston School of Art.

Visit Lauren Warner-Treloar's profile on the Kingston University website.

Dr Louise Hardiman, MA PhD

Louise Hardiman is a historian specialising in Russian, Ukrainian, and Soviet art and the history of British-Russian cultural relations. Her current research concentrates on art of the late Imperial period with a particular focus on women, decorative art, modernism, and internationalism.

Recent book projects include: Modernism and the Spiritual in Russian Art: New Perspectives (2017, co-edited with Nicola Kozicharow), and two children's books: Why the Bear has no Tail and other Russian Folk Tales (2015) and The Story of Synko-Filipko and other Russian Folk Tales (2019). Her edited volume Courtly Gifts and Cultural Diplomacy: Art, Material Culture and British-Russian Relations is forthcoming with Brill Ferdinand Schöningh.

Dr Hardiman also takes on tutoring, lecturing, and consulting projects. In 2022-23, these include cataloguing porcelain at Dorich House Museum (funded by ArtFund), a series of lectures on Ukrainian art for the Guildford Institute, and tutoring in Art History for the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge.

Visit Louise Hardiman's webpage at the Institute of Continuing Education.