Travel to Soviet-era Tajikistan with the archive celebrating women

Travel to Soviet-era Tajikistan with the archive celebrating women

16 June 2021

@backintime.tj has everything you might expect from a Soviet-era archive: photos of men and women at work or relaxing alongside images of Soviet high rises, mosaics, and Dushanbe’s big boulevards. Only this is no ordinary time machine: @backintime.tj sees citizens sunning themselves by lakes, female athletes standing proud at military parades, hula hoop photoshoots, and harp lessons.

Curated by 26-year-old Farzona Saidzoda from images found on the internet, this Instagram account is her way of sharing her love for recent history. “I’ve found it easier and more enjoyable to learn history through visuals — photos have a more immediate effect,” she told The Calvert Journal.

But the project is also a political statement for the Kuwait-based Saidzoda, who decided to set up @backintime.tj after coming across @vintage.aw.beauty — a similar account showcasing the historical lives of women in the Arab world. The curator wanted to highlight women’s rights in Tajikistan under Soviet rule, when women were encouraged to get an education, to work, and be involved in all aspects of public life. By comparison, today’s conservative gender norms mean that Tajik women are primarily seen as wives, mothers, and homemakers.

@backintime.tj features a number of photos showing Tajiks bonding on beaches. Saidzoda was fascinated by the retro swimming costumes she found in these images. “[During the late Soviet era], there wasn’t as much pressure on women to dress ‘modestly’ as there is now. Women didn’t get slut-shamed or harassed for wearing short skirts,” she says. “It was perfectly normal to wear a swimsuit when you went swimming in Komsomolskoye Lake with your friends (both men and women) like in any civilised society. My older family members say the beach was always crowded during the weekends and no one even thought to stare at, or harass, women. It’s difficult to imagine that now — as a woman, you either swim in clothing, a burkini (if you’re bold enough), or don’t swim with men at all.”

Of all the treasures in Soviet material history, Saidzoda says she would love to see the return of satire magazines and art posters. Yet, although she wants to spotlight aspects of Tajik history, she says she’s not nostalgic after the Soviet past. “I don’t think we should idealise our Soviet past — it wasn’t perfect. But there was definitely a lot of progress back then which we take for granted now,” she says.

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