Sanja Iveković

The biography of Croatian artist Sanja Iveković, who was born in 1949, is characterized by enormous leaps. The Balkan wars turned her work on feminist themes into a work of mourning: At Documenta 11, one could see the installation Searching for my mother’s number, 2002–, in which the life of her mother, Nera Safarić, was told through slides and archival materials, becoming an image of resistance against the Nazi occupation (for which Safarić was deported to Auschwitz in 1942) and a symbol of the collective amnesia that has prevailed since Tito’s time.

In Iveković’s early videos, photographs, and collages, ’70s Yugoslavia seems to function mostly as a background for a luxuriant pop culture. The search for perfection in the feminine self-image becomes a question of iconography. In Tragedy of a Venus, 1975–78, newspaper photographs of Marilyn Monroe are paired with photographs from the artist’s own albums to create quaint parallels. The video Make Up—Make Down, 1976, tests out the promises of the cosmetics industry on the artist’s own body. The monitor shows the upper body of a woman who keeps opening a new lipstick or powder jar, fussing with mascara, revealing the application of makeup as an intimate ritual. Her face is not shown, so her hand movements are the sole focus of the camera. They are shown in slow motion: The feminine hands turn a lipstick lasciviously out of its case; run lovingly over the tip of an eyeliner pencil, like a displaced striptease.

Now such approaches to the matters of subjective experience and difference evoke a faraway time. But the retrospective is not intended to elaborate on a specific period of Yugoslavian feminism, but rather to pose a broader question: What was the image of woman under Socialism? And with what image did the artist counter it? So the cosmetics escapades lead to the performance piece Triangle, 1979, represented in the exhibition by four photographs. They show Iveković on the balcony of a housing block as Tito’s state limousine pulls by on the occasion of a parade; at some point, in order to provoke the secret service posted on a nearby rooftop, Iveković made motions as if masturbating. A policeman on the building reacted quickly: In no time at all, one of his colleagues was at her door with the order “Persons and objects are to be removed from the balcony.” The troubling thing is not the voyeurism of the surveillance, but rather the way the relationship between the public and private sphere is upset here. Thus Bojana Pegić writes in the catalogue that the security personnel were ensuring “the visual order”—even though Tito would never have been able to see the woman up above on her balcony.

After Yugoslavia fell apart, Iveković’s works became even more pointed. The series “Gen XX,” 1997–2001, shows posters based on motifs from fashion journals whose accompanying copy contains the biographies of women who became anti-Fascist resistance fighters during Nazi occupation—the fashion model as war memorial in the once Hitler-friendly country of Croatia. But if the aesthetics of advertising there now follows the market forces of the West, it will always be a catalyst for remembrance of the past in Iveković’s rhetoric. We have to allow for at least this much deconstructionism and idiosyncrasy, even in the ascendancy of consumerism after perestroika.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.