Eighth exhibition of the project Artists in Collections – “Laugh until you cry*” by Marge Monko in Võru Museum

Marge Monko’s addition to the museum’s permanent exhibition deals with leisure time and entertainment in Võru in 1920s and 1930s. To offer an alternative to romantic nationalism narratives usually associated with this era, the artist has, somewhat speculatively, put Võru in the context of cosmopolitan trends of that period. The exhibition is divided into four sub-themes: fashion, entertainment, sports and cars; and you can see photos, objects from the museum’s fund, also materials from newspapers and magazines of the time. Above the entrance to the museum guests are greeted by a neon sign, in its design the artist has used elements of both Võru county coat of arms as well as art deco style.

The decades between the two world wars mark a big upheaval in the Western world – modernization. In the ‘roaring 20s’ more and more cars could be seen on the streets, the recent war atrocities could be forgotten with the help of movies, radio and jazz, and people were taken with dance styles like charleston and swing. Women’s social position improved, many battles fought in the name of gender equality bore fruit. In 1918 women in Estonia gained the right to vote and in 1920s there were 31 active women’s organizations in Estonia. The representation of women in politics was still scarce, for example there were only three women in the 2nd Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia) in 1923–1926.

In 1922 there were 5,077 habitants in Võru (the number at the end of the 19th century was almost half as many) and trends of world’s big cities reached there. Based on the newspaper Wõru Teataja (The Võru Gazette) it’s safe to say that in the 2nd half of 1920s and in the beginning of 1930s new coffee places and businesses were constantly opened in town. The main places to spend time at were Võru Kannel which was home to a theater company, a diner and the movie theater Mars that showed European and Hollywood movies. The numerous ads of hair salons, fashion companies and car dealers in the local newspaper give an idea of a wealthy urban bourgeoisie and an increased consumption. But at the same time new authoritarian forces were beginning to emerge in the political sphere...

* From the ad for the movie ‘For Women Only’ in the movie theater Kannel (Wõru Teataja, 27 October 1928)

Thank you: Helve Alla, Tiia Haug, Jana Huul, Artur Ruusmaa, Rainer Kuuba

Marge Monko (1976)

… studied Photography in the Estonian Academy of Arts and completed additional courses in University of Applied Arts Vienna. Her oeuvre is influenced by feminism, psychoanalysis and theory of visual culture, focusing on topics such as portrayal of women, corporeality, (consumer) desire and love in today’s society of market economy. Mediums used by Monko vary from documentary to theater, from photo to video and installation.

Marge Monko won the Henkel Art.Award. for Central and Eastern Europe in 2012, in 2013–2015 she participated in a studio program in HISK (Higher Institute for Contemporary Art) in Belgium, and in 2015 was in residency in ISCP (International Studio & Curatorial Program) in New York. She is one of the first artists to receive the artist’s salary, receiving it since 2016. Starting from 2017 she is the head of photography department in the Estonian Academy of Arts.


Vana-Võromaa Museum – Võru Museum

The museum’s information and material intensive permanent exhibition gives a thorough overview from the time Võru county was settled until the mid-20th century. The design of the exposition of archaeological finds and ethnographic objects is interesting; farmhouse, tailor’s and shoemaker’s working space, brothers Kriisa organ builders’ corner, manor suite and bushwhacker’s bunker. In the exhibition halls of the museum there are fund exhibitions as well as exhibitions of art, handicraft, photos and books.


Marge Monko’s museum residency took place 8–15 April 2018.
The artist’s residency was supported by Võrumaa Museum and we are also very grateful to Helve Alla for her help!