Skip to main content

Happy Women’s Day!

Fideelia-Signe Roots

Fideelia-Signe Roots asks what it feels like to be a female hero. In order to explore this, she is bringing the harvester bunker of Elmina Otsman, Estonia’s first female harvester operator and Work Hero, to the City Gallery. And invites the viewers to travel through time with the help of videos, sound and texts and explore the acknowledged and expected female roles in society.

“The orange Niva stood near the workshop. A large number of people had gathered around it and the kolkhoz’s small orchestra was playing. When the instruments fell silent, Ivan Voitov, the deputy head designer at the Rostselmaši factory stepped forward and made a short speech. He congratulated all the women at the farm on the occasion of March 8th, and then he congratulated me on behalf of the entire collective at his large enterprise. The Niva was right there. There can be no better Women’s Day present.” Elmina Otsman (1924—2012) wrote in her diary when she was gifted a harvester bearing her name.


As the central image of the exhibition, Roots presents a subjective interpretation of the named harvester from the grain bunker, for which the narrative is created with videos and texts. The bunker is like a time machine, which takes us back to an era when the battle for grain was a matter of honour for one woman, when rocks were gathered from the field by hand, and the work heroes and cosmonauts had lofty life goals. An eloquent connection between the past and the present is comprised of the excerpts from Elmina’s diary, which are read by actress Tiina Tauraite, who has studied farming and rode a tractor throughout Estonia.


Fideelia-Signe Roots is doing creative research on the topic “Women as Heroes” for her PhD at the Estonian Academy of Arts. The focus of the research is the Soviet-era women who worked with farm equipment, and were recognised with the title of “Work Hero”. From the general image of a “hero woman”, she has now arrived at a micro-historical position, and is researching the case of Elmina Otsman, Estonia’s first female harvester operator and work hero. Generalised more broadly, she is examining how a hero is constructed and how she views herself; what is important to her and how is she affected by her biological and social gender and the environment. Historically, the role of hero has by default belonged to men. Women may not seem as believable in the same role and have been seen more as victims. Roots asks: Should a specific hero image be invented for women?


“The most surprising find of the research work to date is that the Soviet-era women who worked with farm equipment and are still alive organising annual national gatherings, but the general public has forgotten this social group,” says the artist. “Halbwachs who researches collective memory finds that the emphasis on past events changes as a result of great political upheavals, and some of the events are destined to be forgotten. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new discourse buried the old one, and also changed the female image. If previously, work heroines posed on the covers of magazines, now it was models and entertainers. The female image changed from active to passive. The topic deserves to be examined in order to make a contribution to the discourse on writings on female history as well as general history. E. Otsman’s diaries provide invaluable material for the researcher.”


The exhibition is part of LadyFest 2016.


Fideelia-Signe Roots (b. 1976) has graduated from Tartu University painting department in 1999 and Estonian Academy of Arts interdisciplinary arts MA in 2007. Since 2013 she has been studying there at the PhD level; research theme „Women as Heroes”. Roots has taken part of exhibitions since 1997 and received several awards for her films. Member of the Estonian Artists’ Association since 2007.


Artist thanks: Tiina Kirss, Katrin Kivimaa, Marko Mäetamm, Kalju ja Aivar Otsman, Tiina Tauraite, Kristel Sitz, Urmas Sepp, Kalle Pruuden, Aidateater, Jaanus Marrandi & Estonia OÜ.