Interview with Zora Rusinová on her research in Slovak Republic

In many cases gender representation in the socialist period was marked either by the continuity in or the transformation of traditional gender roles. Could you describe how and which tradition was continued or transgressed under socialism? The re-establishment of nation-states in the 1990s coincided with a return to conservative agendas. How do artworks created after the 1990s address traditional gender patterns?

During the 1960s in Slovakia religious traditions continued to strictly define domestic relationships and the role of women as mother and family matriarch. At the same time communist ideals supposedly supported equality in the professional sphere. In the visual arts the male-female pair was the demonstrative symbol and representative of equality in the agrarian and working class while also serving as a commemoration of the emblematic figures of the partisan resistance movement against fascism. This proclaimed equality between the sexes had a certain virtue: many women artists entered the art scene during the 1960s, a period of democratic processes culminating in “socialism with a human face” in 1968. Although in the first half of the twentieth century in Slovakia only very few women artists were active, in the 1960s a great number of female graduates (Jana Želibská, Viera Kraicová, Tamara Klimová, Jarmila Čihánková etc.) contributed greatly to the neo-avant-garde movement. The “feminization” of what had been up to that time a predominantly masculine profession continued over subsequent decades. Women, as unique personalities, introduced many new themes to the visual arts, often subjectively reflecting upon their intimate life experiences and opening therefore the doors to moderate forms of criticism that took aim against male-generated stereotypes of woman in art and culture. In the stormy atmosphere of fundamental societal changes after the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, younger artists in particular began to explore gender within the new social and cultural constellation of consumerism and family values by exploring issues related to the body and physicality (Ilona Németh, Dorota Sadovská, Emöke Vargová, Denisa Lehocká, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkáčová, Mira Gáberová, Pavlína Fichta Čierna etc.) as well as gender theory, societal differences, and the position of lesbians in society (Anna Daučíková).

The practices of women artists in Slovakia in the 1960s seem to be comparable with the work of their Czech colleagues at this time-which comes as no surprise if we keep in mind that Czechoslovakia formed a single state. Could you comment on whether a shared cultural environment existed between Czech and Slovak women artists?

Czech and Slovak art of the 1960s was naturally interconnected given its long co-existence in a common state. In the first half of the twentieth century many Slovak artists studied in Prague since the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava was founded only in 1949. In the 1960s we can also find many similarities between Czech and Slovak art in the development of neo-avant-garde tendencies. Perhaps the closest relationship existed between the works of Mária Bartuszová and Eva Kmentová, especially since both artists studied in Prague (where Bartuszová was born, although Slovakia later became her other home; I consider her artistic expression as being more rooted in the Czech art scene). On the opposite pole is situated Jana Želibská, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (AFAD) in Bratislava. In the 1960s she introduced to Slovak art an ironic take on the pop-art rhetoric of the naked female body with a distinct touch of criticism, whereas we find in Czech art of the same period the defense of an essential lyrical-expressive or imaginative femininity. A definitive position in Slovak art of the 1970s also belongs to another representative of female art: Veronika Rónaiová.

Could you elaborate on how the vocabulary and methodologies of feminism and gender studies were introduced to Slovakia in the early 1990s by the magazine Aspekt and the contemporary art magazine Profil? Could you characterize the situation in the mid-1990s when the “domestication” of feminist theory was succeeded by art exhibitions that focused on questions of gender (as for example in projects curated by Katarína Rusnáková)? How much did art critics and curators participate in the development of gender discourse in Slovakian art of the 1990s?

Texts on feminist or gender issues in art started to appear in Slovakia several years after 1989. The NGO Aspekt-Interest Association of Women was active since 1992, but the crucial shift occurred with the launching of its eponymous magazine in 1993. It was a Czech-Slovak magazine with an editorial collective that brought together European and US personalities oriented toward gender or feminist theory: Zuzana Kiczková, Jana Cviková, Anna Daučíková (Slovakia); Hana Havelková and Jiřina Šiklová (Czech); Konstanze Fliedl (Austria); Angela Repka and Heidi Burmeister (Germany), etc. Aspekt became the periodical (circa four issues per year) that introduced themes that had previously not been voiced in Slovak and Czech cultural and social contexts. These themes included: women’s literature, feminist literary science, art theory, historiography, sociology, psychology, medicine, pedagogics, political science, etc., but also many taboo subjects related mainly to women in forms of translated or original studies, articles, observations, interviews, reportages, reviews, and literary works. Every issue of Aspekt was devoted to a single topic: for example “The Beauty Myth” (1993), “Women and Power” (1995), “Lesbian Existence” (1996), etc. All topics were supplemented by the addition of translated texts by many foreign feminist theoreticians such as Naomi Wolf, Karin Flaake, Irena Brežná, Silvia Bovenschen, Sigrun Bohle, Patricia Mainardi, Helène Cixous, Herta Nagel-Docekal, Ute Gerhard, Mary Dally, Rosanna Fioccheto, Adriane Rich, Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, Biljana Kašić, Žarana Papić, Martina Pachmanová, Mirek Vodrážka and many others.

In 1993, feminism and gender theory began to gain importance and to be published in monothematic issues of Profil-Contemporary Art Magazine (first published in 1991, from 1992 onward by chief editor Jana Geržová). Thanks to Profil gender discourse and terminology was adopted from Western theory and applied in short reviews and articles to the work of individual Slovak artists and developed further. In the second half of the 1990s the perspective on gender in Slovak visual art acquired a deeper level of meaning and the programming support of curators and critics, for instance, in projects by Katarína Rusnáková, then the director of the Museum of Art in Žilina (primarily Paradigma žena / The Paradigm of Woman, 1996, and Medzi mužom a ženou / Between Man and Woman, 1997).


Zora Rusinová, Research Slovak Republic

Zora Rusinová is a senior lecturer (associate professor) in the Faculty of Arts at Trnava University, Slovakia, where she lectures on the History of Modern and Contemporary Visual Arts in the Department of Art History and Culture. She defended her PhD and doctorate dissertation in the Faculty of Arts at Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic (2003). From 1992 to 2007 Zora Rusinova worked as a curator of the Sculpture and New Media Art Collection at the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava, from 1994 to 2000 editor-in-chief of the art magazine Galéria – Noviny o umení. She has authored numerous publications, scientific essays, artist monographs and professional reviews.