Sergey Tokarev: Art project SHE is SCIENCE tells about Ukrainian women scientists

In February, a large-scale art project SHE is SCIENCE started in Ukraine. Its information campaign aims at, with help of art, informing a wide audience about outstanding Ukrainian women scientists and their contribution to world science. In March, the campaign featured an exhibition of portraits of 12 women famous in physics, mathematics, biology, genetics, and other sciences. Businessman Sergey Tokarev, the project initiator and Reface investor, told us about how the illustrators can help popularize women in science and what other activities are planned within the framework of the art campaign SHE is SCIENCE.

The pre-premiere art exhibition took place in Unit.Verse conference hall. The twelve portraits, created by modern famous Ukrainian illustrators, were accompanied by information about the scientific career of each heroine, her scientific achievements and discoveries. According to the project coordinators, in order to make the event more impressive, they had to experiment with the format of the meeting.

‘The combination of such different spheres—art and science—predetermined an unusual combination of forms. We decided to choose an unusual format for the exhibition. The event included speeches by scientists—the heroines of the paintings—who told the audience about their career, an interview with the headliner of the creative group that created the paintings, Sergiy Maidukov, as well as a panel discussion “Generation Equality” about gender, age, and other kinds of parity. The event received wide media coverage, so I believe it achieved its goal—to acquaint as many people as possible with women scientists and to debunk the stereotype that science is exclusively a male sphere,’ said Sergey Tokarev.

The idea of the project did not arise out of thin air. As its initiator notes, he got the idea after observing for many years the gender inequality in IT, an industry he works with.

‘I noticed that men at interviews almost always overestimate their capabilities, their skills, and ask for bigger salaries. At the same time, girls, on the contrary, significantly underestimate their merits and they also ask for less money. I think this is unfair, and we decided to fight this injustice,’ said Tokarev.

While studying the topic, it turned out that gender inequality is present in other tech areas, as well as in the scientific field in general. Moreover, it is absolutely obvious.

‘Once we conducted a very interesting experiment: we asked people to name prominent Ukrainian scientists. Everyone quickly recalled Korolev, Vernadsky, Sikorsky, and many other men, and almost no one could name any women scientists. We thought that this was wrong and that this situation should be somehow corrected. This is how this project was born,’ said Sergey Tokarev.

Gender imbalance is a relevant problem for the whole world. SHE is SCIENCE project got the support of large international organizations: UN Women and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which funded advertising campaigns on billboards and citylights in Kyiv.

SHE is SCIENCE also has a literary component. As part of the art project, the project curators held an essay competition among girls aged 14-21 about the portrait’s heroines. Young authors were asked not only to write about the biographical data of the scientists but also to describe how their scientific contribution has influenced the development of science worldwide and to express their personal attitude towards their personalities. In total, the organizers have received 561 essays. At the moment, they are examined by an expert jury of professional editors, journalists, writers, bloggers and, of course, scientists.

‘There will be 12 winners in total—the best essay about each of the 12 women scientists. The Grand Prix of the competition—$4000 funding for any kind of education—will receive the best one of the 12 finalists,’ said Sergey Tokarev.

Apart from this amount, the prize pool will also be supplemented by funds collected during a charity auction at the end of May this year. The lots will be the 12 portraits and other valuable exhibits.

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