Interview with Urška Jurman on her research in Slovenia
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?
The Yugoslavian post-war constitution (1946) and state politics proclaimed the equality of women and protected their status with social policy measures. Nevertheless, after World War II social relations in Slovenia changed slowly, which was also a result of strong pre-communist social and cultural traditions that had been carried over into the new era. The status of women was determined to a large extent by the influence of Catholic traditions, which, taken alone, still doesn’t fully explain the preeminence of the idealized maternal figure during the postwar period. At first view, in postwar imagery, the unselfish and subordinate figure of the woman as mother-modeled after the image of the Christian Mother Mary-stands in contrast to her much-promoted ideological devotedness. Courage, firmness, and determination were favored qualities, but at the same these were merged with typical (traditional) female characteristics. Political propaganda also strongly emphasized female emotional nature and motherhood. In essence, the new image of woman was rooted in a transfer of her unselfishness from the sphere of private life to that of society. She was offered the role of proletarian mother.
In 1991, after Slovenia proclaimed its independence as a state and embraced capitalism as the new economic and ideological system, the status of woman as worker/proletarian was quickly replaced by her status as consumer and the (sexual) object of desire. Counter to the socialist idea that had sought to abolish the individual and the private and orient the family toward the public sphere-to whose development all forces should conjoin-, the notion of the private now returned in its full dimension. The characteristic qualities of female determination and devotedness were transferred back to private life and the individual: on the one hand, to the idea of free-choice and self-realization, and, on the other, to the notion of family life-which is now even more strongly under the influence of pre-communist and catholic traditions. That women are meant to remain emotionally trapped between these levels and avoid combining them in an emancipated way was, par excellence, proven with the passing of a new legislation in 2000 (and re-confirmed by a referendum majority vote in 2001) that denies single women the option of artificial insemination.
Could you describe what has been the role and reception of works by women artists (Duba Sambolec, Metka Krašovec, Marina Gržinič, and Aina Šmid, and later Janja Žvegelj and Eclipse, etc.) and writings (Marina Gržinič, Tanja Mastnak, Bojana Kunst, Alenka Spacal, and others) that convey feminist messages and question dominant gender hierarchies?
Feminism was introduced in Slovenia in the mid-1980s (even though, in principle, Yugoslavian state politics made both genders equal, it did not want to have any connection with the feminist-bourgeois women’s-movement) and was at that time strongly linked to alternative movements in Ljubljana. The autonomous women’s group Lilit, established in 1985, played a very important role in this process, as well as the lesbian group LL (Lesbian Lilit), which was established in 1987 as LL-Lesbian Section of ŠKUC (Students’ Cultural Center). Feminism as a political movement and theory as well gender studies became institutionalized during the 1990s: in 1992 the Bureau for Women’s Policy (renamed the Bureau for Equal Opportunities in 2001) was founded; feminist theory and gender studies slowly entered the University; translations and publications from this field started to be published more frequently; in 1995 the specialized magazine for feminist theory and gender studies, Delta, was established; and also in the same year the international festival for the promotion of women in culture, City of Women (Mesto žensk), was introduced, etc.. Parallel to these events, themes of female identity, sexuality, gender stereotypes, violence against women, etc., were more broadly discussed and were also more frequently dealt with critically within artistic practice. Through very different media, genres, and strategies artists started questioning and subverting dominant gender patterns and the politics of their representation: in some cases as humorous illustration (Petra Varl, Zora Stančič), in an activistic manner (Aprilija Lužar), in a provocative manner (Eclipse), through process and research oriented work (Tadej Pogačar, Aleksandra Vajd), and as a critical reflection and self-reflection (Duba Sambolec, Marina Gržinič and Aina Šmid, Janja Žvegelj, Franc Purg, Marija Mojca Pungerčar, Nataša Skušek), etc.
Nevertheless, it seems that feminist tradition in Slovenia still has to fight for its raison d’être. Even though after the 1990s artworks that convey feminist messages and question dominant gender hierarchies are more frequently on display, artists who declare their work as feminist, or who at the very least are not made uncomfortable by such a reading of their work, are still somewhat rare. Since a far broader influence of artistic and theoretical feminist (aware) production is at stake, I remain somewhat skeptical. No doubt, a certain level of public awareness of and sensitivity to questions of gender equality is present (also due to the heritage of the previous system). But while the results of research (from 2003) addressing the portrayal of women artists in Slovenian print media suggest that the articles are not explicitly intolerant, an in-depth analysis shows that a significant number of women artists are still excluded from the larger dialogue and experience latent forms of intolerance. What’s more, the forms of reporting are often semi-sexist in nature and reflect typical gender hierarchies and anti-feminist positions.
Eva Bahovec, Nina Vodopivec and Tanja Salecl, “Slovenia,” in Women´s Employment, Women’s Studies and Equal Opportunities 1945-2001. Reports from Nine European Countries, ed. Gabriele Griffin (Hull: University of Hull Press, 2002), 292-339.
Alenka Spacal, „Umetnike: ‚lepe’, ‚nežne’ in ‚intuitivne’. Analiza medijskega poročanja o umetnicah” (English abstract: “Women Artists: ‚Beautiful’, ‚Tender’ and ‚Intuitive’. Analysis of How Print Media Report about Female Artists”), in Poročilo skupine za spremljanje nestrpnosti / Intolerance Monitor Report, no. 3 (Ljubljana: Mirovni inštitut/Peace Institute, 2004), 134-147. http://mediawatch.mirovni-institut.si/nestrpnost/porocilo/03/nestrpnost.pdf
Urška Jurman, Research Slovenia
Since graduating in Art History and Sociology of Culture from the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana in 2002, Urška Jurman, born in 1973, has been working as a freelance curator, critic, editor, organizer and mediator in the field of visual arts. She collaborated with different contemporary art institutions and initiatives, including Škuc Gallery, Ljubljana (1995-1997); SCCA-Center for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana (1999-2002, 2005-2006); hEXPO, festival for self-organised cultural forms, Slovenia (2000); Break 2.2 festival, Ljubljana (2003), P74 Center and Gallery, Ljubljana (2005-2008), Kud Obrat (2006-). From 2000 to 2005 she co-edited (together with Barbara Borčić) the Platforma SCCA magazine for contemporary art, published by the SCCA-Center for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana. She publishes texts about contemporary art and its context in different Slovene magazines.