Memorial to all Women Edited out of History by Viktorija Rusinaite

Image: Maria Kapajeva

Memorial to all Women Edited out of History

A staggering story is enfolding in Lithuania.

In 1965 Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre visited Nida, USSR. The main motive for the visit is said to be J. P. Sartre’s affair with Lenina Zonina* who was his translator and official interpreter during his numerous visits to USSR.

Writers Mykolas Sluckis, Eduardas Mieželaitis and an emerging photographer in his 20’s, Antanas Sutkus, accompanied de Beauvoir, Sartre and Zonina. It was on the dunes of Nida, where Sutkus took his most celebrated image, a legendary photo depicting Sartre walking against the wind.

What the official story, about this photograph, tells is that Sutkus edited out Simone de Beauvoir (a notable feminist and the author of The Second Sex) and translator Lenina Zonina in order to frame an image of Sartre alone.

On 21st of June, 2018 in Nida, Lithuania the memorial statue based on the edited photograph and depicting (the sole) J.P. Sartre was erected. Nida’s authorities claim that this is a memorial of Sartre visiting Nida, but I believe it may as well be the Memorial to All Women Edited out of History.

For some, eliminations such as this, of women, are justifiable, because they are so to speak ‘unintentional’. Sutkus, for example, cut de Beauvoir out for the sake of composition. History is sometimes superfluous: in the photo he is iconically embodying existentialism, and she – her shadow. The shadow, visible in the photograph, is absent in both statues, the one erected in the yard of National Library in Paris in 1987 and the most recent one, on the dunes in Nida.

Could we say that ideology functions so precisely through such Freudian slips? And if it does, what is it’s message to us? If it is possible to cut out Simone de Beauvoir, a women so influential that she inspired a whole generation of feminists and intellectuals, what awaits us, the other women? And what are we to do, in these actual places (around the sculptures that exist today) with the physical void that opened up in the absence of Simone de Beauvoir?

Viktorija Rusinaite, PhD, researcher and co-founder of Balticada (