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Art review: Sanja Iveković

What else changes when a country transitions from socialism to capitalism?

Anna McNay

Fri, 21 Dec 2012 13:11:07 GMT | Updated 4 years today

For her first major exhibition in London, and her first solo show in the UK, Croatian artist Sanja Iveković (born 1949) has taken over two galleries - Camberwell's South London Gallery and Shoreditch's Calvert 22. Spanning a variety of mixed media - from collage and photography to film and performance - Iveković's prolific socially and politically rooted oeuvre simply wouldn't have been done justice in just the one space.


At Calvert 22, the emphasis is placed on works concerned with the transition from socialism to capitalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the ensuing dissolution of Yugoslavia. Social systems, public space, and the agency of the individual are also investigated. At the South London Gallery, the focus is more on the question of female invisibility in the public arena, constructions of femininity, and performativity of identity and gender.


Private - Public (Man's Pictures - Woman's Pictures)(1981), for example, juxtaposes images of idealised masculinity and femininity - strength, power and prowess, in the magazine images of bodybuilding male models, versus agility, poise and grace, in photo album shots of the child Iveković as a ballerina. Similarly,Make Up - Make Down(1978) comprises a video of a woman (Iveković) applying her make-up, but where the viewer cannot see her face, only her upper body and hands, as she repeatedly picks up the tubes of lipstick and mascara. This exaggerated ritual of identity performance takes away any sense of agency, rendering the act mechanical and passive, perhaps even ultimately futile.


Again dealing with agency, but this time in terms of the individual versus the state,Personal Cuts(1982) depicts Iveković with a stocking over her head, which she cuts away at, piece by piece, these clips interspersed with footage from Croatian political television. Ultimately she breaks free from the mask, gaining her identity and voice: the individual emerging from the control of the state; the personal breaking through the political.


The main body of Iveković's works stems from juxtaposing images in a way similar to the splicing of this film.Tragedy of a Venus(1975-6), for example, picks up on the narrative of female success, and the role men have to play in either helping or hindering this, pairing photographs of Iveković with tabloid ones of Marilyn Monroe, labeled underneath with newspaper captions such as "still far from glory" and "still unsure of herself." Similarly,Double Life(1975) pairs images from magazines with personal photographs of Iveković, according to similarities in pose, appearance and setting. Iveković is keen to point out, however, that these personal photographs were taken first, and so it was a case of finding and pairing pre-existing matches, not of restaging or imitating the model in the magazine, as in the work of other contemporary artists such as Cindy Sherman.


Along the same lines,Sweet Life(1975-6) pairs paparazzi shots with Iveković's personal snaps, andBitter Life(1975-6) juxtaposes these with magazine images with captions reporting crimes.Black File(1976) andGen XX(1997-2001) give a deeper meaning to these contrasts, the former pairing images of models from men's magazines with newspaper clippings of teenage girls from missing persons columns, and the latter captioning six magazine adverts featuring well-known models and brands with information about six young female anti-fascist militants, imprisoned, tortured, or executed during the Second World War. These eye-catching and eye-opening montages were published in the independent monthly magazineArkzin, aimed at a younger audience, with the intention of raising public awareness about the invisibility of women in society and history.


"I always seek the most effective way of getting the message across in a given context," says Iveković. "I am convinced that activism and art can be mutually complementary." And so it is that her works give absolute credence to the feminist concept of the personal and political being inextricably interwoven. and the

14 December 2012 - 24 February 2013






Sanja Iveković

Gen XX


6 inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artist




Anna McNay

twitter: @annamcnay



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