Croatian Sculptor, Performance, Collage, Video, and Conceptual Artist
Summary of Sanja Iveković
Sanja Iveković bravely tackled women's rights and issues of gender identity whilst living under the rule of a repressive and dangerous communist dictatorship. Coming of age during the radical decades of the 1960s and 70s, like her American counterparts, Iveković has worked extensively as a Performance and Body artist. Always seeking ways to disseminate her message more widely however, she additionally uses basic photomontage and poster techniques, as well as creating and re-envisioning different forms of the traditional monument. Within all of these different media, the artist's main focus is to recover the 'real' woman hidden beneath a glossy and idealized version. Once the façade has been stripped away, beautiful women are imbued with complexity, presented also as abused, pregnant, and politically active, and as such as multi-faceted and strong human beings.
Aside from prolific art making, Iveković is the founding member of a number of women's organizations, including Elektra - a Women's Art Centre, B.a.B.e - the Women's Human Rights group, ATTACK! - an Autonomous Cultural Center, the Center for Women War Victims, and the Association of Feminists, all in the country that is now Croatia. She is devoted to the protection and aggrandizement of women in all aspects.
- Iveković makes art that is explicit, radical, and political. She intends her work to exhibit absolute challenge to authority and prescribed ideas. No boundaries or restraint are adhered to; for example in a famous work she simulates masturbation. Like the more daring of the American feminists, including Valie Export and Hannah Wilke, Iveković asserts that women have active sexual libidos and are by no means passive objects designed to satisfy male gratification. Iveković thus completely disbands and deconstructs centuries of patriarchal hierarchy and dominance over the female body.
- She is part of a historical wave of intensely corporeal artists including Marina Abramović and ORLAN who pushed notions of what was, and what was not, a socially constructed view of the female body. Iveković, however, is set apart from her international contemporaries in that she remained in her country of origin, and as such was the first artist in Yugoslavia to actively engage in gender debates in this way. She sought to establish an open dialogue in a closed environment of censorship.
- Iveković was one of only a few women to be part of the New Art Practice (NAP), an art movement established in former Yugoslavia. Like fellow members, Iveković sought to break away from institutional infrastructures and to make her work more public. As an act of resistance to earlier and elitist art forms, this group used newly available technologies including photography, Polaroids, photocopies, film, video, and graphic design. In 1978 Iveković co-founded the Podroom Gallery with fellow artist Dalibor Martinis and this became the hub for Croatian artists until 1980.
Progression of Art
Sanja Iveković's, early video works from the 1970s expose the pressures on women to conform to existing ideas of beauty and singular notions of self image. In Instructions No. 1 Iveković makes herself the subject and the lens of the camera is used as though it were a mirror, filling the monitor entirely, her gaze is directly fixed upon the viewer as she draws black lines and arrows upon her face. She also massages, pinches, marks, and twists her face and neck with her hands, as though physically manipulating her appearance in order to draw attention to usual, neat, and normalized ideas and standards of beauty. Towards the end of the performance, the artist rubs the markings from her face, but traces remain. Such faint reminders suggest pains and scars that social expectations leave upon us, even despite active resistance against unrealistic demands.
During the early 1990s the French artist, ORLAN, made a series of artworks, which document her experience of plastic surgery. The images that remain of the experience show the artist with pen drawing and marks on her face to indicate to the doctors where to cut. The same marriage of beautification, and the same closeness of possible violence, is a theme shared with Iveković's (much earlier) video piece. The work also strongly recalls a work by the Surrealist Meret Oppenheim called Portrait with a Tattoo (1980). Oppenheim has marks on her face that look like tribal adornment and as such the viewer returns to look at the work by Iveković and to see the arrows less as marks where to make incisions for cosmetic therapy, or where to imagine the application of make-up. Instead the marks appear as somehow ornate, like tribal warnings applied by a warrior preparing to do battle. Indeed, Iveković intends to portray herself as a fighter, as a woman sure of her identity whilst at the same time examining how it has been constructed.
Video performance, duration 6 minutes - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Make-up Make-down (1978) is a nine-minute color video that shows the artist's upper body within the confines of a television monitor. The static shot brings the woman's hands into focus; they lovingly twist a rouge-red lipstick upwards and down again. Following this, her fingers run slowly over the tip of an eyeliner pencil, and then tenderly handle a tube of mascara. Unhurriedly, Iveković strokes while delicately holding, even caressing, the cosmetics that are seemingly in use. We do not know if they are used for certain, as ambiguously, the artist applies make-up to a face that is never seen. Make-up Make-down focuses the viewer's attention on an ordinary yet private activity, and successfully subverts the representation of women in the media by withholding the image of the face. The video was produced by Galleria del Cavallino based in Venice, who had also produced an earlier black and white version of the work in 1976. This 1978 version was originally filmed on an open reel portable video recorder and was later transferred onto a digital betacam tape.
The use of make-up and cosmetics in art, especially lipstick, is a relatively common motif amongst other female artists, and has typically been used to explore the question of selfhood. Both Jessica Lagunas and Janine Antoni use make-up in their work by means to help defy and fight against the idea of a woman as an object for consumption. Indeed, instead of presenting the female body as an object of desire for the male gaze, Iveković redirects desire towards the eroticised cosmetics. It is not the finished image of the woman made-up that is displayed here, but the process or ritual of self-care - of love for oneself - represented by the act of putting on make-up. Thus the artist complicates even feminist ideas; she imbues make-up with positivity by suggesting that the application of such can allow space for self-reflection, and in turn, create a reflective space in which the viewer is invited to share. The work raises many questions: Does make-up help women to show how they really feel inside, revealing sexuality and confidence for example, or does the application of such products in fact hide the real person? Iveković has said herself, in an essay titled, Is This My True Face, "The application of make-up is a discreet activity performed between my mirror and myself ... The TV message is received in the isolation of a private space. The everyday movements that I make are slowed down, thereby giving to the ordinary act of applying make-up the character of a ritual performance."
Video performance, duration 9 minutes - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Triangle (1979) consists of four black and white photographs and a piece of text, all of which document an 18-minute performance that took place on May 10, 1979. The work is directly political and successfully exposes the high levels of surveillance and control experienced by the Yugoslavian people at this time. On one particular day, Iveković knew that Marshal Tito was making a state visit to the capital; he would be driving along the street below her apartment and security measures would therefore be heightened. In defiance and protest against the repressive regime, Iveković took herself out onto her balcony with a pile of banned books, including the British Marxist sociologist Tom Bottomore's 1964 study Elites and Society, started to read these, drink whisky, and simulate masturbation. The artist's text that accompanies the performance states, "...a policeman in the street in front of the house. Due to the cement construction of the balcony, only the person on the roof can actually see me and follow the action. My assumption is that this person has binoculars and a walkie-talkie apparatus. I notice that the policeman in the street also has a walkie-talkie. The action begins when I walk out onto the balcony and sit on a chair; I sip whiskey, read a book, and make gestures as if I perform masturbation. After a period of time, the policeman rings my doorbell and orders the persons and objects are to be removed from the balcony."
It was after 18 minutes that the policeman knocked on the artist's door. His visit revealed that Iveković was indeed being watched. It also exposed the total lack of privacy available to citizens living within this rigid socialist system. As the policeman unwittingly becomes a part of the performance however, there is a comical aspect to the work as well. He becomes a voyeur confirming the abused status of woman as objects in the system. Ultimately, and interestingly in reverse of what seems to be the case, it is Iveković, the artist, who is entirely in control of this situation.
18-minute performance, gelatin silver print photographs on paper - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia
In 1982 Sanja Iveković presented Personal Cuts on prime-time Yugoslavian national television, on TV Zagreb's 3, 2, 1 - Action! The video was later displayed for at MoMA's retrospective Sanja Iveković: Sweet Violence (2012). In the video she confronts the camera wearing a translucent black stocking mask pulled over her head. Reminiscent of Rebecca Horn's violent piece, Cutting Ones Hair by Two Scissors Simultaneously (1974-75), Iveković uses scissors to cut one hole after another, slowly revealing her face. Each cut is followed by a short sequence of archival footage taken from a television program on the history of Yugoslavia, produced by the state shortly after Marshal Tito's death, in 1980, and chronicling 20 years of the socialist republic. The artist thus makes the statement that every political happening has had a direct personal impact on her life, and positions herself as a terrorist fighting against the level of dangerous influence that a government has on its people.
Cleverly calling the work Personal Cuts, Iveković informs the viewer that this is her way of compiling a narrative, always to reshuffle and collate together, rather than to suggest a smooth and linear false narrative. Her stance, as always is quite confrontational, and during an interview in 2012 she stated, "Since the beginning of my career I have been interested in reflecting my own position as a woman, as an artist and as a citizen in a certain socio-political context and that has never changed". Towards the end of the video, the footage changes to become somewhat more light-hearted and colorful. It ends on an image of the artist who although tired, is now without her fighter's mask, no longer at the mercy of a close sharp edge, and 'free' from an earlier phase in history.
Video (black and white and color, sound) 3:35 minutes - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg
Deemed Iveković's most notable piece, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001) - an altered reproduction of Luxembourg's Gëlle Fra (Golden Woman) - is a war memorial and national symbol dedicated to the Marxist philosopher and activist Rosa Luxemburg who was executed in 1919 for her radical political ideas. The original sculpture depicts Nike, the goddess of victory, but Iveković's version had been significantly and thought provokingly altered. The iconic female figure became visibly pregnant and was accompanied by a plaque that read in English, French and German: "Whore, Bitch, Madonna, Virgin", "Resistance, Justice, Liberty" and "Kitsch, Culture, Capital, Art". There was an utter uproar at the idea that Rosa Luxembourg was to be remembered as a real, multi-faceted woman, as opposed to an ideal, unobtainable, and allegorical representation of such.
Despite widespread disagreement surrounding the monument, due to its placement in a public park, it has become one of the artist's most widely accessible and famous pieces. The sculpture gave rise to much discussion on gender, unearthing many of the brave but all too often ignored efforts of women throughout history. Such were typically replaced by stories of men, or if women were to be revered, this work shows that they were to be perfected somehow, not real women who carried babies and gave birth, but some other more isolated (more masculine?) version. Iveković sought to re-address this outdated balance and like Alison Lapper - the at once pregnant and disabled artist, whose portrait sculpture became a monument in Trafalgar Square - to let all heroes rise, and to be visible in whatever their actual physical state may be.
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg was presented in MoMA's atrium during the retrospective exhibition. The towering statue was surrounded by an installation documenting the work's reception, including vitrines full of newspaper clippings and magazine articles from across the globe, as well as monitors playing recordings of television broadcasts discussing the piece. Iveković appropriates the outrage, incorporating it into her work as a comment on the public's discomfort felt towards a woman who dares to challenge symbols of heroism and national pride.
Bronze monument - Luxembourg City, Constitution Square
Women's House (Sunglasses)
Women's House (Sunglasses) was made in collaboration with the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Croatia and is part of a bigger project. Iveković has spent much time in women's shelters, which protect women from violence, and has been greatly impacted and humbled by this experience. Indeed, here we have images of beautiful women that upon first glance simply appear to be women advertising sunglasses. However, on closer inspection the viewer reads the accompanying text that recounts a name, other personal details, and this particular woman's experience of domestic abuse. The sunglasses suddenly take on another role altogether and the viewer wonders if they serve to hide bruised and black eyes beneath, no longer are they fashion accessories.
Again Iveković has gleaned imagery from advertising and then re-appropriated it to impregnate a work with a political and emotional message. With this particular work, Iveković sought to bring domestic abuse to the forefront of media. The piece also plays on ideas of that which is seen, and that which is hidden. It exposes how greatly influential and manipulative the media has the power to be. When displayed at MoMA, Women's House (Sunglasses) lined the entrance to the exhibition. The artist immediately introduced her interest in the contrast between bright, glossy, and luxury media imagery and dark, brutal, and everyday narratives of suffering. She exposes the complex entanglement between consumerism and exploitation, and also in this work - through its title that references Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro's Womanhouse project (1972) - reasserts her assured status as a feminist.
Photomontage, digital print on paper
On The Barricades
On The Barricades was a live installation that aimed to remember and protest against the Gwangju Uprising that took place in Korea in 1980. At least 606 people were estimated to have lost their lives when the ordinary people who rose up against repressive martial law were brutally and unmercifully massacred. The work was initially presented at the Gwangju Biennial in 2010. A group of Korean volunteers sat, stood, and curled-up upon on a raised platform in the centre of the room. Meanwhile, surrounding the platform on one of the walls was ten small monitors displaying found and collected portrait images of some of the people declared dead or missing during the Uprising. The portraits had been slightly manipulated by Iveković to close the eyes of the subjects to indicate that they had died. At intermittent intervals, humming could be heard from the volunteers whom Iveković had asked to hum the melody of a song composed for the funerals of the first victims.
The work became known as a "living memorial", with the aim to always re-assess history and to remember it in order to avoid cultural amnesia, and thus further humanitarian disasters in the future. Whilst memorials can be static monuments, to set up a "living memorial" whereby the audience must encounter, and come face-to-face with living representations of a tragedy, seems in many ways more poignant and affective. As in the artist's earlier work, Rohrbach Living Memorial (2005) that makes reference instead to Nazi brutality, the audience is forced to share in an emotionally-centered and politically-charged space, and is thus highly likely to remember the experience.
Eve's Game with Enrico Lunghi
This is a performance that took place in 2009 at Bétonsalon, a cultural center dedicated to art in Paris surrounded by a crowd attending the Platime Festival organized by Pierre Bal-Blanc. In 2011, the scene was recreated for a photograph. Naked art historian and writer Enrico Lunghi, and fully dressed Sanja Iveković sit together at a chess table. In total, these pay homage and reinterpret the famed photograph by Julian Wasser, which depicts the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a naked woman - Eve Babitz. Iveković replayed an interview that had taken place between art writer, Paul Karlstrom and Eve Babitz in 2000, during her chess game with Lunghi.
There are significant differences between Wasser and Iveković's images. Most importantly, the roles of the man and woman in the situation have been reversed. Lungi, the man, is now naked and exposed whilst Iveković, like Duchamp was, is fully dressed, with her gazed fixed on Lungi, and in control. The piece also interestingly recalls Marina Abramović's work, The Artist is Present (2010). Both artists create a piece whereby two people sit opposite one another across a table; they push past perceived limits of the mind and body and explore the complex relationship between artist and audience. Furthermore, both artists share origins in former Yugoslavia; they exhibit great interest in the dynamics of relations between people, and express an overarching interest in the position of women in society.
Biography of Sanja Iveković
Sanja Iveković was born in 1949 in what is now the Croatian capital, Zagreb. Her mother, Nera Šafarič, was a survivor of Auschwitz; she had been a fighter in the People's Liberation War, arrested and sent to the prison camp in 1942; she was released in 1945. In 1949, when Iveković was born, Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia and was ruled under the dictatorship of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Tito's authoritarian rule routinely suppressed basic human rights, including gender equality and freedom of speech. Croatia did not achieve independence until 1991 and thus a large part of Iveković's life was spent resisting repression. There remains much to be done in the research of Iveković work and life, but interestingly, one of her artworks, Reconstructions (1952-76), pieces together scenes from her childhood through the use of moving image. She was brought up in an intellectual household and remembers being interested in drawing from a very early age, saying in an interview that art always came out very easily.
Iveković graduated from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts in 1971, where she had studied graphic design; already at this stage she had made a stand and established herself in the realms of a new and alternative media. She made challenging works from the outset of her career and began to lay the foundations for video art in Croatia. Under the dictatorship of Marshal Tito, Modernist abstraction (rather than Socialist Realism) was the officially recognized artistic style, and thus a style resisted by rebellious artists. People could travel freely and had some exposure to the work of Western artists, as result Iveković became well versed in the history of art at this time. She has said that by deciding to stay in the East, it was "exciting to break the rules". In 1973, she had her first solo show at a state-supported exhibition space, the Student Center Gallery in Zagreb.
She became a member of the New Art Practice (NAP), an organization that attempted to remove tradition from galleries and promoted new technologies, mainly photography and graphic design. Both Iveković, and her partner in the early stages of her career, Dalibor Martinis, worked as graphic designers to support and maintain their art practice and everyday life. Iveković regularly traveled to Western Europe and North America to study art and to glean inspiration from other interesting artists. She always remained adamant however that she would remain in Yugoslavia, declaring that the Western world was no more enticing or compelling than her homeland.
Iveković consistently made work to dissolve boundaries and challenge traditional views of what it means to be a woman. She typically acted as the protagonist in many of her pieces. In Tragedy of a Venus (1975-76) the artist creates a sequence of photomontages, combining images from mass media with those of herself. She collected pictures from magazine advertisements, fashion photography, and tabloids; images of Marilyn Monroe are displayed next to formulated images of Iveković's own body in order to create a visual narrative that highlights the fictitious and misleading view of Hollywood celebrities. The work explores the impact of consumer culture upon women, and then contrasts the Eastern European artist, who is dealing more with big political issues and everyday life rather than with glamour and an expected ideal appearance.
Both her own individual practice and collaborative work made with the film director, and former partner Dalibor Martinis, developed steadily and organically. Instructions (1976), Meeting Point (1978), Maya (1986), and Put Ljubavi (1990) are a selection of her solo works, whilst collaborative works made alongside Martinis include, Made In Prison (1979) and The Bride, The Bachelors - Even (1992). By the early 1990s, Iveković had had many solo exhibitions and staged performances all around the world. Her work had been shown beyond Zagreb, in Toronto, Köln, and Novigrad, with performances in Beograd, Montreal, New York, and Berlin. Despite relatively high visibility, Iveković remained little known to international critics and art historians. In 1995, Iveković extended her interest in activism and founded Electra - The Women's Art Center in Zagreb.
In 2001, Iveković created a newly envisioned monument to Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001), which many consider to be her most famous work. The artist alters existing depictions of the heroic Polish philosopher to controversially show her as pregnant. This is, of course, a normal and natural state for women to be in, but it is almost erased from visual history and as such makes clear that female identity is not by any means fully understood. In 2011 Iveković's large-scale retrospective exhibition, Sweet Violence, opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She simultaneously had her first exhibition in London, fittingly titled, Sanja Iveković: Unknown Heroine. These exhibitions were well received but it is also worth noting that much of Iveković's work, aside from performance, video, and sculpture, takes the form of billboards, posters, public television broadcasts, and publications, and therefore any form of traditional exhibition can be difficult to navigate. As was already the intention in her early work, Iveković still today intends to make artwork that directly intervenes in the surrounding world, thus meaning that aesthetic choices must always operate in tandem with the political message. In November 2017, Iveković took part in a discussion at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in London called Decolonising the Mind, Provincialising the West.
The Legacy of Sanja Iveković
Iveković is a role model for artists working within the constraints and restrictions of an oppressive regime. She made the important comment in 2012 when interviewed for Flash Magazine, that "The important advantage of living and working in socialism is that you learn very early on that nothing is independent from ideology... I have repeatedly asked myself what is my position in the social system, my relationship with the system of power, domination and exploitation, and how can I respond and act meaningfully as an artist ... I want to be deliberately active rather than a passive 'object' of the ideological system." Furthermore, as the first Croatian artist to address issues of female identity and readily identify herself as 'feminist' she is an invaluable and much needed example for all creative individuals living in former Yugoslavia.
Iveković is part of a group of now mature artists who have been examining questions of gender equality for more than four decades. The longevity of such a career, shared by the German artist, Annegret Soltau, makes for interesting discussion. This comparison is particularly apt because of the uncanny resemblance between Iveković's work, Instructions No.1, and Soltau's series, Self, made the following year in 1975. Both of these artists have examined themselves through a cutting and pasting of their own image on paper. Both artists also have re-visited early works at later stages in their careers. For example, Iveković recently restaged Instructions No.1 (1976). This durational quality of a career and thus the chance to go forwards and backwards again, shows younger artists, and also the world at large, that for all that changes and progresses there is also much that remains the same. There will not be a point that identity is a finished topic and that all people exist as equal. Iveković visually explains that this is an ongoing negotiation and just as history must always re-asses itself so as not to repeat past wrongs, so must the individual. Iveković, like fellow Yugoslavian, Marina Abramović, importantly reveals to a new generation that no discussion is ever over, no dialogue should stop, and no identity is ever fixed.
Indeed, a whole swathe of younger artists have taken up the themes of Iveković's oeuvre and continue to fight for the process of equality that is by no means complete. The use of make-up as materials traditionally used to beautify women is subverted and the motif expanded upon. The capacity of these products to hide as opposed to reveal identity - as a precedent set by Iveković - is also well reflected upon by Janine Antoni and Jessica Langunas.