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Masha Bruskina

Nancy Spero (American, 1926-2009)

Masha Bruskina, 1995

  • Acrylic on linen
  • 122 1/4 x 146 1/2 in. (310.5 x 372.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Fine Arts Acquisitions Committee Fund, Blanche and Romie Shapiro Fund, Kristie A. Jayne Fund, Sara Schlesinger Bequest, and Miki Denhof Bequest, 2002-12a-c

Not on view

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Masha Bruskina

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Masha Bruskina

Masha Bruskina was a Jewish volunteer nurse and a leader of the resistance in Minsk, Belorussia. At age seventeen, she disguised herself as a non-Jew and went to work in a local hospital where she helped wounded Soviet prisoners escape. Even after she was arrested and tortured by the Nazis, Bruskina never revealed the names of her fellow resisters. Bruskina was publicly hanged on October 26, 1941. She and two of her male comrades were led through the streets of Minsk--with Bruskina wearing a large placard proclaiming that they were partisans. They were hanged one at a time, and their bodies were left hanging for several days as a grim reminder to others.

Masha Bruskina has appeared in many of Nancy Spero's works. Here, Spero intersperses images and texts from different periods and sources to tell Bruskina's story. Spero includes an October 26, 1941, newspaper article describing the hanging of an anonymous girl, a 1960s article that reveals the discovery of the woman's Jewish identity, and pictures of Bruskina's death march and execution. The work consists of three unstretched canvases affixed to the wall with pushpins. These materials give the piece a feeling of immediacy and are more suggestive of a political banner than a work of art.

In her work, Nancy Spero has paid homage to many strong female figures who have been overlooked historically. In her native Belorussia, Bruskina is still unrecognized; the woman in the photo is identified as "unknown." By publicizing Bruskina's name and identity, Spero reinvests her with a measure of dignity.