Background

 

This project stems from my ongoing interest in the formation and internal operations of artistic networks. During my PhD (2017) which focused on the former Yugoslavia in 1960s and 1970s, I became increasingly interested in networks of cultural workers that formed around the Student Cultural Centres, the many artists’ groups that emerged during this period, as well as their predecessors, collectives formed in the early 20th Century. It did not take long to realise that these groups and networks were formed along a very narrow axis – they were networks of like-minded male artists, while female cultural workers in most cases took up administrative roles. I became interested in undertaking a deeper intersectional analysis, as a way of finding out what were the mechanisms of exclusion that meant that these often radical artists’ groups remained populated almost exclusively by a very particular demographic of young white men, offering little or no access to anyone else. These were brilliant and progressive young artists explicitly interested in art’s role in society and the democratisation of art, and yet the question of gender disparity seemed to remain a blind spot. This was not only the case in their own functioning at the time, but also in subsequent conversations with colleagues across the region. A strange acceptance fuelled a lack of further investigation.

Despite many emerging feminist curatorial projects and groups across the region in the early 2000s, as well as feminist takes on the work of the few female artists, the systematic work of revisiting the history of collective practice in the region was still missing. In 2015, an anthology of Yugoslav art offering a comprehensive survey of Yugoslav New Art Practice profiled over thirty artists from 1950s onwards. It did not include a single female artist.

This project, which began in 2019, is the result of my realisation that the work of revisiting the Yugoslav cultural sphere and addressing the ingrained sexism urgently needed to be done in a thorough and systematic way. The project has since developed into a broader investigation of gender and collectivity beyond the region.

As a practice-based researcher and curator (see for instance Her Noise and 27 Senses projects) my methods always involve conversations, workshops, residencies, exhibitions and reading groups, which gradually shape the outcomes of my projects. In this instance, the conversations are taking place in two forms – through recorded semi-structured interviews and a series of public contextual conversations which will be documented and archived on the BIRMAC website.

The Yugoslav research is the first step in what has become a much broader project exploring collectivity and labour. If you are interested in these topics and would like to take part in these conversations, please contact me here.

This project has been supported through Birkbeck College’s School of Arts Research Grants and the Open Society University Network, Center for Arts and Human Rights at Bard College 2022 Faculty Fellowship.