Sanja Iveković

“General Alert—Works, 1974–2007,” the traveling retrospective of the work of Sanja Iveković (curated by Nataša Ilić and Kathrin Romberg), served to open one’s eyes to the recent history of the former Yugoslavia. Iveković was a rare bird in the art scene of Zagreb, where she was born in 1949 and where she studied. Geometrical abstraction and conventional painting predominated, but she has always worked primarily in photomontage and, sometimes, video, and her art addresses a wide range of social, political, and cultural issues.

Since the ’70s, Iveković has focused on questions of gender and the violence implicit in the mass media’s portrayal of women. Her most famous work, Dvostruki zivot (Double Life), 1975, is composed of sixty-six pairs of photographs, juxtaposing cutouts from fashion magazines and personal photographs of the artist at different ages. In these photos, Iveković seems to simulate the poses or otherwise imitate the situations shown in the ads—in fact, however, the photos were taken independently. In Tragedija jedne Venere (Tragedy of a Venus), the artist comments on the media’s sadistic treatment of Marilyn Monroe; twenty photographs of Monroe are paired with photos of the Croatian artist.

Iveković’s daily life was deeply affected by the Tito regime. During the Yugoslavian president’s visit to Zagreb in 1979, the artist performed the following action, which is documented in photographs and text: While reading a book on her apartment balcony, she simulated masturbation. Although she could not be seen from the street below, where a policeman was stationed, she was in view of someone on the roof of a building across the way; she assumes that this person, armed with binoculars and a walkie-talkie, communicated with the policeman—who soon rang her doorbell and ordered that the “persons and objects are to be removed from the balcony.” The title of the work, Trokut (Triangle)—which was also exhibited at Documenta 12—refers to the three people implicated here, in a situation that makes clear the totalitarian government’s obsession with controlling both public and private space.

With the passage of time, and with Eastern Europe’s move from communism to capitalism, Iveković’s artistic investigation has grown more diverse. A new interest is how the symbols of an earlier era—antifascist heroines, including her own mother, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz—have been forgotten in her country’s rush to embrace capitalism. For Rohrbach Living Memorial, 2005, she invited the citizens of Rohrbach, Austria, to re-create a documentary image of a group of Roma and Sinti awaiting deportation at the hands of the Nazis. Through a subtle artistic practice, Iveković reopens old wounds.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.