The Subversive Icon of Pregnancy in Opposition to the Culture of Fear: Visual Practices in a Local Context

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This paper problematizes the subversive icon of pregnancy and offers a linear overview of its various iterations in juxtaposition to the culture of fear, starting with Vlasta Delimar, whose installation Pregnancy (Trudnoća, 1987), inscribes her in the feminist and women’s art history of the Yugoslav/Croatian context as the first domestic artist who employed photo-documentation, or photo-performance, to document her own pregnancy. She performed her pregnancy in the manner of a goddess, sexualizing it by means of the Baubo pose. Next, the paper addresses the interpretations of the subversion achieved by the pregnant belly in Sanja Iveković’s work Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001). The sequence is further contextualized by the distressing confessional of Martina Križanić, a younger generation artist, who visualized the subversive representation of motherhood (Changing Booths, installation, 2017) from her own perspective and without fear, in the first local exhibition about pregnancy Woman – Pregnant Woman – Mother: Green Spheres and Necropolitics (Žena – trudnica – majka: zelene sfere i nekropolitike, Vladimir Bužančić Gallery, Zagreb 2017, curated by Anita Zlomislić).

Keywords: pregnancy, Croatian contemporary visual practice, Vlasta Delimar, Sanja Iveković, Martina Križanić, subversion of fear

Birth, hymen, martyr… sacrice

James Joyce

This text was written in retrospect, as a post festum of sorts, to the exhibition Woman – Pregnant Woman – Mother: Green Spheres and Necropolitics (2017),3 held as part of the annual program of the Vladimir Bužančić Gallery in Zagreb entitled “Body and Mind”. This was the first local exhibition dedicated to the subject-matter of pregnancy and featured works by the following female artists: Milijana Babić, Ines Matijević Cakić, Tajči Čekada, Vlasta Delimar, Nives Kavurić-Kurtović, Martina Križanić, Ivana Popović, Lena Šimić, Ana Uzelac, Vlasta Žanić, Xena L. Županić, as well as male artist Vladimir Dodig Trokut, along with the collaboration between Darko  Schneider and  Branka  Prša. The key unifying feature of the works at the exhibition was fear:4 thus, Vlasta Delimar states that she had “a horrible fear of this ‘motherhood’ because [she] had never been too interested in children”, Ana Uzelac recounts the trauma of labor, Vlasta Žanić relates her experience of bringing up children… That is, in her performances, Vlasta Žanić also reexamines the stereotypical female roles of woman and mother, responsible for providing her family with emotional and physical nourishment. In her sculptural performance, Cherries (Maraške, 2002), the cherry cake is a symbol of comfort and family protection, while the art- ist’s body becomes the locus of the symbolic inscription of the traces of wounding. By covering her body in dough and impressing cherries into it, the artist expresses the totality of the burden pertaining to this role, as well as the burden of suppressing and sacrificing one’s own personality within the family unit, which is regarded as obligatory (cf.  Žanić in Marjanić 2014: 644).

Whereas in the exhibition catalogue I provided a description of each female and the invited male artist with regard to the subject-matter of the exhibition, here I interpret the subversive image of pregnancy in a temporal continuum – from Vlasta Delimar, whose installation Pregnancy (Trudnoća, 1987) inscribed her in the Yugoslav/Croatian feminist and women’s art history as the first female local artist to employ photo-documentation, or photo-performance, to document her own pregnancy; she performed her pregnancy in the manner of a goddess, sexualizing it through the Baubo pose (cf. Devereux 1990). The linear overview 7 continues with the interpretations of the subversion by means of a pregnant belly, in this case, in a political context, achieved by Sanja Iveković’s work-intervention, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001). The outline concludes with a harrowing testimonial of a younger generation artist, Martina Križanić, who participated in the aforementioned exhibition with an exhibit and performance piece representing a subversion of the media image of the ideal (Stepford) mother (Changing Booths/Kabine za presvlačenje, installation, 2017). Consequently, performance art was the logical choice, however, the notions, terms, techniques and materials pertaining to sculpture remain present in the process of the conceptualization, as well as realization of my work (Žanić in Šimunović 2016: 265–266). I employ the term linear overview to signify the chronology of the socio-political circumstances and developments that can be ascertained from the artistic features of works analyzed in the paper – namely, Vlasta Delimar’s 1987 work Pregnancy, created in the period of late Socialism, just before the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the imminent disaster of war, Sanja Iveković’s 2001 work Lady Rosa of Luxembourg, contextualizing the period of post-Socialism and the capitalist transition in the local sphere, and neoliberal capitalism, given the location where the intervention was presented (the 1998 Manifesta 2: European Biennial for Contemporary Art, Luxembourg), and Martina Križanić’s 2017 work Changing Booths, which belongs to the period of realized capitalism or corporatocracy. All three artistic works, which I have taken as representative   of the abovementioned socio-political periods, demonstrate the superiority of the androcentric matrix, addressed in the closing segment of the paper, in which I underline that the 2018 debate in Croatia about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention con- firmed the fact that Croatian society continues to stigmatize women.

The physicality of pregnancy: the expectant condition, liminality, in-betweenness

Both pregnant women, by means of experience and cultural anthropology, through theory, equally attest that no experience is more physically embodied than pregnancy. During pregnancy, this body thinks more intensely, feels more sensitively and has more pronounced psychophysical reactions to the unknown – the body acts as a protective barrier, shielding the infant that is soon to come into the world (in Borgudan, http; Young 1995). In folklore and informal imaginations, being pregnant is termed expectant,8 which defines the particular patterns of behavior during pregnancy and implies the ritual status of the pregnant woman.9 Sociologist Meredith Nash (2012: 29) uses the term in-between to refer to a pregnant woman’s body in order to loosen the meaning of the liminal status (cf. van Gennep 1960; Turner 1966).10 Nash explains that she does not use the term “liminality” or the term “rite of passage”, because neither did her narrators, that is, the conversations she conducted most often revolved around the triad of terms: in-between, fatness and pregnancy (between fatness and pregnancy). In her view, the liminality rests on the dichotomy nature – culture. In conversations with pregnant women, Nash noticed that they had a very strong fear of getting fat or a fear of being mistaken for obese women. She remarks that one pregnant woman said that she felt as if she was part of a public spectacle because everyone looked at her stomach instead of at her face. In that regard, along the lines of Julia Kristeva, Margrit Shildrick and Jane M. Ussher, in reference to the pregnant belly, Meredith Nash (2012: 29) employs the term abjection, a state of instability or the ambivalence of the embodiment of pregnancy. In addition to the ritual or liminal state of a pregnant woman, the pregnant belly can have a subversive effect. I will exemplify this sub-version by examining the cases of Croatian artists Vlasta Delimar and Sanja Iveković, both credited as the initiators of the feminist impetus in the Croatian visual arts, and in this paper, I would also like to highlight   a younger generation multimedia artist and theorist, Martina Križanić, for her traumatic  experience  with  pregnancy,  which  she  visualized, as the youngest participant in the mentioned exhibition, employing a two-chamber installation. Naturally, a pregnant belly also has a subversive effect in every- day life. Thus, sociologist Imogen Tyler discusses the notion of fertile fashion, noting that pregnant women became visible in the street only towards the end of the 1990s; they stopped hiding their pregnant bodies (pregnant belly, the fear of being observed) and embraced skintight clothing, designed to emphasize the pregnant body/belly. In 1998, American TV series actress Lisa Rinna appeared as the first pregnant woman to do a Playboy photo session. However, Imogen Tyler emphasizes that this shift in pregnancy fashion still occurred within the androcentric culture and primarily for the benefit of the male gaze, and that it is also possible to read the supposed liberation of the pregnant belly as belonging to the pornographic culture (Tyler 2011: 24–25).

I will refer to the status of the pregnant woman in the context of the local popular tradition of the relatively recent past, which can serve as an interpretative framework for the selected works. In daily life, allowances were very rarely made for pregnant women and they were treated in much the same way as other women (Vitez 1998: 153). They performed the usual tasks assigned to them, even the most strenuous ones. The infant mortality and the mortality of pregnant women were very high, and many women made preparations for giving birth in the same way they would for death: they would go to confession and communion and would prepare a set of clothes for burial and a candle (Vitez 1998: 153). However, with regard to the very process of giving birth, its strategy was much better suited to women, unlike the gynecological birthing position of today – convenient for the doctor’s examination/gaze, but not for the pregnant woman. In earlier times, women gave birth standing up, kneeling, sitting between two chairs or lying down, aided by an older woman from the village (a midwife or an accoucheuse) or alone. In between contractions, they paced, aided the contractions by blowing into something (a bottle, a bandage) or pulling on something (e.g. a rope), drank hot beverages and used warm compresses (Grbić 1998: 321; Vondraček-Mesar 1993, 1993a).

Pregnancy was regarded as a state of being in jeopardy from evil forces/energies and evil people; a pregnant woman’s movements were confined to the home and its vicinity.12 Isolation of the newly born baby and the woman who was about to or had recently given birth was practiced out of fear that something might harm them.13 If the family’s living standard allowed, the woman who had recently given birth and the baby were placed in a separate room, and if this was not possible, they lay together in the corner of the main room, shielded by a sheet or cloth: in the Slavonian region, by a quilt (ponjava), or by a sheet in northern regions of Croatia. Often, an amulet, such as pepper, was hung on such a quilt, or a metal object with amulet properties, such as a knife or an ax, would be placed under the pillows (Grbić 1998: 321).

Example number one – the subversion of pregnancy: sexuality and the horror of motherhood

Within the framework of the aforementioned thematic exhibition, Vlasta Delimar presented her 1987/1988 piece, Pregnancy, which Irena Bekić described in her text as reminiscent of an altarpiece (2014: 147). i.e. they performed the usual tasks – may be viewed in parallel to the accounts about the rites of transition by Arnold van Gennep who states that in some communities the pregnant woman was isolated because she was perceived as unclean and dangerous; physiologically and socially, pregnancy was regarded as an altered state, hence, the pregnant woman was treated as sick, foreign, Other (van Gennep 1960: 41).

In this ambiance, her pregnant belly and her nudity are flanked by two white cubes and framed in white tulle. From the photograph, or rather from the installation, a black cloth spills into the surrounding space, from the support on which the artist sits with outspread, or, liberated legs, in the position of the mythical Baubo (position of Baubo – the mythical Vulva), while instead of a bloody trail from her womb, there is a stream of golden strings trickling from her center (delta). This is a celebration of pregnancy, while the artist subverts the proscribed im- age of motherhood “by offering a different model: a corporeal, sexual mother who is entitled to pleasure” (Bekić 2014: 146). “With the golden cloth, Delimar heralds a new experience and the encounter she awaits, constructing herself as an artist and pregnant woman with transformative potential” (Matijević Cakić 2016: 58–59).

We may posit that Vlasta Delimar is the first Croatian artist who used photo-documentation, or photo-performance, to document her own pregnancy. She performed her pregnancy as a goddess and sexualized it through the Baubo pose, subverting the image sanctioned by family and society, of a pregnant woman as a “walking” incubator, ironically termed as such by Muriel O’Driscoll (cf. Ussher 2006: 82), as well as subverting the image prevalent in the religious sphere – of the Virgin Mary as the idealized asexual mother whose womb is able to bear fruit but remains chaste and intact (ibid.: 81).

However, this diverges from the developments within the mainstream culture, such as the instance of pregnant Demi Moore appear- ing as a desirable pregnant woman on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, which opened up the visual space for the iconography of pregnancy. This very photograph became iconic of the western perception of pregnancy. The first reactions were ambivalent: unlike in New York, in other American cities and towns, the magazine was sold at newsstands with a white envelope covering Demi Moore’s body, so that the view of her, of her pregnant belly, would not offend the religious ideosphere of a portion of either male or female readership. Vanity Fair offered its readership a representation of a pregnant woman as sexy and desirable. The pregnant pose was later frequently used by American and British celebrity yummy mummy models (Nash 2012: 6, 203), for example, by Serena Williams on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2017, and Beyoncé, who posted her own photograph on Instagram that same year (here, it is interesting to note that the majority of the so-called mainstream photographs depicted the pregnant belly in profile).14 In the system of media surveillance, which takes precautions not to offend the religious ideosphere, the comical-cynical Baubo is not desirable. Delimar’s altar pregnant belly is also reminiscent of the archetype of the Paleolithic culture, in which the mother and the baby were central. “A gradual waning of the importance of the Mother Goddess or Great Goddess be- gins in the Neolithic, aided by classical Greek myths about gods and the classical Greek philosophers’ perception of the mother as the so-called vagina dentata. Notwithstanding, the mother was still celebrated as the symbol of fertility of the earth and as the eternal wise being embodied in the form of a snake” (Mindoljević Drakulić 2015: 8). By employing such ambiance, Vlasta Delimar subverted the problematic archetype of woman as either a whore or a saint – the stereotypical norm of female sexual behavior. In so doing, she also returned the topic of pregnancy to the throne, given that, during the 1980s, certain theoretical niches regarded the topic of pregnancy, and performance art, for that matter, as lowbrow (certain theoretical niches of today still maintain that the topic of pregnancy cannot be subversive). They did so in the same way that some feminists deny the ecofeminist essentialist (by this I am referring to cultural ecofeminism) interpretation of the interconnectedness between Woman and Nature. The opponents of the Myth of Matriarchy also criticize the idea that woman has a more profound connection to nature than man. Thus, in her 1974 article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” Sherry Ortner reexamines the increasingly popular ideas of western feminists who state that woman is closer to nature, while man is supposedly closer to culture. In the conclusion of her article, Ortner concedes that such ideas are more likely manifestations of culture rather than facts of nature (Ortner 2003: 175–176). Here, I will concatenate that by evoking the essentialist and unpopular connection between Woman and Nature. Camille Paglia, as well as Vlasta Delimar with her “pregnant icon”, deconstructed the notion that the dominance of the female in fertility religions (Earth religions or nature worship) has both positive and negative connotations. “The moral ambivalence of the great mother goddesses has been conveniently forgotten by those American feminists who have resurrected them. We cannot grasp nature’s bare blade without shedding our own blood” (Paglia 2001: 8).

In brief, Vlasta Delimar challenged normative sexuality just as she rejected inscribing herself into the codes of feminism (in the same way Marina Abramović does this) and even of  feminist performance (cf. Marjanić 2014a). Unlike her, the works of Sanja Iveković – whose subversion of pregnancy within the political sphere will be examined based on the following example – are deeply rooted in feminist political activism, that is, her artistic practice fully achieves the intersection of feminist theory and political activism.

In this context, I am referring to the performance I Am Allowed Patience (Smijem strpljenje; 1989) in which Vlasta Delimar used her  daughter Dolina’s crying to explore a mother’s patience, and the 1991 installation Without Title (Bez naziva; Modern Gallery in Zagreb permanent display “The 19th -21st Century Croatian Art”), as well as the auto-interpretation of the aforementioned ambiance piece, in which the artists openly spoke out about the fear of motherhood, which is still a subversive topic today:

In a way, I had a horrible fear of this motherhood because I was never too interested in children. My egocentrism was too great for me to pursue something where I would have to disregard myself. That was – as my dorm mother would say (I lived in a dormitory during high school) – emotional immaturity. That is why I gave in to having a child, in order to develop this segment of my personality as well. Having a baby somewhat tamed my ego. These works are mostly my confrontation – motherhood as a mystery that became a reality. I transformed this “horror” of motherhood into reality through art. Today, my daughter does not want me to include her in my works anymore and I think this is as it should be because her participation in them was completely passive; she could not have even been aware of what it meant. Her participation was in fact only my participation. But, when I involve other people (adults), they actively participate (Vlasta Delimar in Delimar and Božić 2005: 78–99).

Here I would also like to mention Delimar’s work The Celebration of Menstrual Blood (Proslava menstrualne krvi; 2001 – 2016, cloth, zipper, color photograph, pins 28 x 16 cm), which “illustrates the idea that opin- ions are still highly polarized about whether only male blood is good blood and whether women’s blood is equally valuable. Certainly, it is equally valuable. In fact, it is more valuable. After all, women’s blood is a source of her empowerment” (cf. Ženska krv/Women’s Blood 2017: 10; Rikanović 2017). In this work, almost in the manner of eco/feminists, Delimar once again subversively highlights the value of menstrual blood.

Example number two – pregnancy as subversion:

As the next example of subversion by means of a pregnant belly, I refer to Sanja Iveković’s work, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001), for which she used a reproduction of Gëlle Fra (the Golden Lady, i.e., the Monument of Remembrance), a sculpture created in 1923, by sculptor Claus Cito, dedicated to Luxembourger soldiers, volunteers who fought on the side of the Allied Powers in World War I. Here, I will focus on the polarized interpretations of this pregnant belly subversion. When the artist was invited to participate at the 1998 Manifesta 2: European Biennial for Contemporary Art, in Luxembourg, she conceived an intervention on the abovementioned Luxembourg monument under the title Pregnant Memory, however, the project remained unrealized. The artist proposed that the statue be covered in pink cloth, which would suggest Gëlle Fra’s pregnancy, however, this was met with opposition from the President of the War Veterans’ Association (Cegur 2018: 33). Three years later, in 2001, the artist was invited to rethink the idea as part of the exhibition organized by Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain (the flagship contemporary art institution) and Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg City History Museum). On this occasion, Iveković envisioned an intervention on the monument as Lady Rosa of Luxembourg, creating a replica of Gëlle Fra (the statue of Nike as the allegory of victory) some hundred yards away from the original. Bojana Pejić termed the intervention – the new “pregnant” monument, known under the title Gëlle Fra 2 – “three feminist corrections” (Pejić 2003: 34). The artist transformed the allegorical Golden Lady into a historical persona – the Marxist philosopher and revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg (her surname parallels the name of the city). Furthermore, Nike was transformed into a pregnant woman, by which her pregnancy rescinds her former symbolism. The third intervention consisted of replacing the original memorial plaque honoring male heroism with slogans in French, German, and English (the trilingualism pointing to the Luxembourg national identity): “LA RÉSISTANCE, LA JUSTICE, LA LIBERTÉ, L’INDÉPENDENCE” (resistance, justice, freedom, independence), “KITSCH, KULTUR, KAPITAL, KUNST” (kitsch, culture, capital, art) and “WHORE, BITCH, MADONNA, VIRGIN”. Here, the artist also opened up the following combination (collage) of words: LA RÉSISTANCE and WHORE, LA JUSTICE and BITCH, KAPITAL and L’INDÉPENDENCE (cf. Iveković 2007: 238). The slogans on the base of the statue also formed provocative juxtapositions, such as LA RÉSISTANCE 182) believes that the work – as a deconstruction of the national sym- bol of Luxembourg commemorating the victims of all wars – reiterates the patriarchal matrix (naturally, through the pregnant belly) instead of canceling it. However, art historian Bojana Pejić, who considers the above issue/criticism to be highly important, introduces the issue of women raped in the war as a counterargument, dichotomously interpreted not as “fallen heroines” but supposedly as “fallen women” (Pejić 2007: 42). Sanja Iveković states that her work was subject to censorship and criticism from World War II veterans, and anti-Fascist fighters, who demanded that their statue, Gëlle Fra be protected as a national sym- bol.17 She suggests that they probably perceived the pregnancy of the Golden Lady as something provocative, “always citing the same prob- lem, but without ever fully defining it” (Iveković 2002, http). Or, as Inti Guerrero synthesizes, Nike represents a body liberated – an individual, rather than a nation (Guerrero 2018).

In the financial haven such as Luxembourg, my ‘Rosa’ was perceived as a blasphemous gesture. The project prompted a heated public de- bate on various issues that had been suppressed in the public memory of that small country. Numerous articles published at the time in Luxembourger newspapers and TV pieces are now part of a large installation at the exhibit in New York. However, I am not certain that MoMA would have offered me such a representative space had I used the American famous lady, another female allegory, in my new work. I am, of course, referring to the Statue of Liberty. From an interview published in Jutarnji list, on Jan 29, 2012 (interviewed by Patricia Kiš) (Iveković 2012a).

The degree to which a pregnant belly can be a subversion if it is used as an intervention on an allegorical figure representing male heroism is also visible from the fact that the Luxembourg parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, reacted against the intervention, voting on a new act, which, in 2001, awarded Gëlle Fra the status of a national monument; as a national emblem, it is now protected against visual, artistic and other misuses (Pejić 2003: 43).

Sanja Iveković once again introduces the subversive properties of a pregnant belly in her work Isn’t She Too Old For That? – On Witches (installation, 2013), presented at the exhibition Extravagant Bodies: Extravagant Years: Inspiring Old Age – body and mind on the fringes of social norms (Zagreb, Belgrade, Rijeka, London, 2013/2014, Kontejner curatorial team). The work consists of a textual-visual archive, which the artist conceived dichotomously: each individual work is conceived as a dyad – an etching from historical books on witchcraft, counterpointed by a photograph of an older woman from contemporary times featuring a certain pose, a gesture of rebellion or resistance. The title of the cycle of works is an appropriation of the title “Is She Just Too Old For This?” from a text by Lisa Miller, a contributor to the New York magazine (cf. Iveković 2013/2104: 34–35; Miller 2011). The text shows that the age of first-pregnancy mothers has increased throughout the western world. In Italy, Germany, and United Kingdom, the age median is 30 years. Thus, in 2008, approximately 8,000 babies were born to women older than 45, which is double the figure from 1997, according to the data of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the data refers to the State of New York). When it comes to adoption, the figures follow a similar trend: almost a quarter of adopted children in the United States have parents who are older than 45 years of age (Miller 2011).

Example number three – subverting the media image of the ideal (Stepford) mother

Martina Križanić, as the youngest protagonist featured at the aforementioned exhibition presented her work Changing Booths (installation; booth with drapes, self-portraits – “selfie” camera, scanner: manuscript; Her sociology diploma thesis received an award from the Centre for Women’s Studies in 2012 and its was published by the Jesenski i Turk publishing house under the title The Sweet Face of Rebellion (Slatko lice pobune) in 2013, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Science and Education. Since 2006, she has been creating not-for-profit Japanese cultural content and has collaborated with the Embassy of Japan in organizing various events (2013–2016). She creates visions of femininity and sweetness pushed to the extreme, dystopic visions of the world and of aggressiveness, experimenting with clothing, performativity and costume design in daily life, social and cultural action, feminism, consumerism, intermediality, camp and craftivism, especially focusing on identity politics. ready-made objects, audio recordings, 2017). She installed two booths as the male-female fragmentations of personal identity, a quest for the (well-suited) identity (Marjanić 2018). One of the booths contained an ar- tificial phallus (i.e. a strap-on dildo), accompanied by the following text:

CAUSE – the sin of (insufficiently) being a woman; FOUNDATION – gender castration; PATH – self-empowerment by performing the ag- gressive, masculine heteronormativity as a caricature, but also in awe, hedonistically, tearing down all authority. GENDER, MALE, REASON, CONSTRUCTION, AGGRESSION, STRUGGLE, DEATH – WEAKNESS, ACCEPTANCE, PAIN, HAPPINESS.

We may note a degree of animalization of pregnancy, similar to Julia Kristeva’s account of the fertile, grotesque pregnant body, blurring the boundaries between the human and non-human (Kristeva 1989: 66) motherhood, on which the artists recounts:

I am like a gorilla, carrying her young on her chest, at the same time carrying anger and strength – the phallus aggressive power – inside her. She wants what men have, but she herself does not have. This is symbolically realized as a real, physical pain of castration. Femininity and its norms castrate. This beast does not feel fulfilled only by motherhood, she wants to work, express herself publicly and clearly, she wants to feel pleasure, excitement and passion, she wants to read, explore, listen and dance (From the artist’s e-mail correspondence with the curator of the exhibition, Anita Zlomislić).

These dichotomously presented “conflicting” identities are two sides of the same coin. Here, the booths are not completely but only figuratively separate, and by doing so the artist wanted to create unease

(given the erotic and pornographic props) as one observes both booths

  • a strap-on dildo in the male booth and the artificial breast as the MILF archetype in the female booth, in fact, a bi-chamber installation. The part of the body that most female artists connect with the notion of motherhood are breasts, which correspond to the perception of the woman as connected to nature and, of course, the biological function fulfilled by the mother – of breastfeeding. Simultaneously, breasts are a source of sexual exploitation, therefore, the artist places a sex shop silicone “boob” inside the female booth. Conversely, inside the male booth, she places a strap-on, an artificial penis symbolizing a phallus, which, according to her, she envies and which she problematizes as a symbol of patriarchy and her own masculine side. It merits highlighting that the traits that the artist finds inappropriate for motherhood are stereotypically masculine. These “pieces,” or body fragments inside the changing booths symbolize the artist’s gender identity. In a series of texts related to the exhibition,21 the artist offers her own traumatic account of the perception of herself as a pregnant woman and mother, correctly detecting that it is not a case of postpartum depression:

There is a profound conflict happening inside me, a chasm between who I am as a person and the imaginary, media image of the ideal (Step- ford) mother inside my head, instilled in me by the social environment in which I was raised and by my own family, my mother. […]

The result is an emotional crisis that fills me with a deep sense of shame and hatred towards myself, with frustration and aggression. I feel a loss of empathy and my former system of values is unsettled, I suffer from panic attacks, a sense of claustrophobia and suffocation. I am very afraid that somebody will take away my child and that the child will grow to hate me because her mother is not like other mothers. This could be diagnosed as postpartum depression, but when I read about the phenomenon, I do not recognize myself in the description, because my problem is not with my child, but with myself. I hate myself. At the same time, I do not know how to be another, what is worse, I enjoy being myself, I am happy only when I allow myself to be free (Martina Križanić, a fragment from the auto-meta-description of Changing Booths, 2017).

Martina Križanić consistently sent her narrations regarding motherhood to exhibition curator Anita Zlomislić (in the introduction I provide more details regarding the exhibition). Consequently, I would like to draw an interpretative link between these auto-meta-descriptions and Tina Miller’s book Making Sense of Motherhood: A Narrative Approach (Cambridge, 2009), in which the author explores, from a sociological perspective, the ways in which mothers actively construct and reconstruct the “mother’s narrative” in the process of conceiving and representing themselves (cf. Miller 2009: 154).

Within the framework of the exhibition, Križanić also created the performance piece A Changing (Presvlaka), documenting the transformations of her own identity with pronounced gender symbolism, in three acts: each act dictated by a specific social occasion, thus also using performance to demonstrate the subversion of the media image of the ideal (Stepford) mother.

Closing thoughts on the subversive representation of pregnancy

In this paper, I attempted to provide an account of cases where Croatian female visual artists confronted the androcentric matrix, starting with Vlasta Delimar in 1987, during the period of late Socialism, and her installation Pregnancy (1987) in which she sexualized her own pregnant belly – an exceedingly radical gesture at the time, given the negative criticism directed at the artist (especially at the beginning of her career in the 80s) for using her naked body as the exhibition and performance medium. The pregnant belly subversion may be contextualized by the matrix that female physiology is stereotypically regarded as being closer to nature, as anticipated by Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex, in which she concludes that “the female, more so than the male, is the victim of the species” (in Ortner 2003: 157). The second instance considered was Sanja Iveković’s 2001 intervention Lady Rosa of Luxembourg, popularly referred to as “Pregnant Rosa Luxembourg,” in which the artist bestows on the allegorical, abstract Nike, another, personal dimension through the name of Rosa Luxembourg. Simultaneously, the iconogram of pregnancy, from a political perspective, as the antipode of male warrior monuments with guns, may be viewed in the context of the matrix that the social role of women is stereotypically viewed as being closer to nature (cf. Ortner 2003: 165). Finally, the work of Martina Križanić, a younger generation artist, who visualized the traumatic experience of pregnancy in a bi- chamber installation as a subversion of the media image of the ideal (Stepford) mother, may be viewed in the framework of the stereotypical matrix that women’s psyche is considered to be closer to nature (cf. Ortner 2003: 166). This linear tracing of the three female artists, from Socialism, through post-Socialism, to the present day, can be contextualized in a socio-political framework with respect to “gender ideology.”

This subversion (and any subversion signifies a deviation from the dominant culture of fear of the ruling cynicisms, as Peter Sloterdijk phrased it as part of his timeless dichotomy between cynicism and kynicism) is contextualized by the socio-political situations. In addition, by choosing the iconogram of pregnancy, these artists equally subverted the dominant, desirable, market-based themes that permeate the gallery and museum milieu, given the fact that the iconogram of pregnancy – as I learned from interviews with some of the artists who participated in the first exhibition in Croatia dedicated to pregnancy in terms of visual practice (Woman – Pregnant Woman – Mother: Green Spheres and Necropolitics, Vladimir Bužančić Gallery, Zagreb 2017, curated by Anita Zlomislić) – is mostly perceived as a topic belonging to the niche of personal mythologies, devoid of a political dimension, and, therefore, as a so-called lowbrow topic. As feminist theorist Jane M. Ussher says about reproductive bodies today:

The foetus is the focus, not the pregnant woman – she is merely a “walking incubator” […] It is not surprising that women report feeling “colonised” by the poking and prodding which is now a taken-for-granted part of the process of pregnancy and childbirth, feeling “like a piece of meat”, or “like a toy” […]. Their bodies are not their own: they are objects of the medicalized gynecological-obstetric gaze (Ussher 2006: 82).

With regard to the period of Socialism, Sanja Iveković stresses that she was a feminist even during Socialism, when women’s regime organizations claimed that men and women in Yugoslavia had equal rights.

Back then, there were not many female artists on the scene and feminism was an absolutely unacceptable notion, especially within the artistic practice. For example, Marina Abramović, who was already a star in the 1970s, always said (and she abides by this attitude even to-day) that, the feminist movement in socialist Yugoslavia was not necessary because men and women were socially equal. Women’s regime organizations of the time upheld the same attitude: the women’s issue has already been resolved during the People’s Liberation Struggle! This was the argument with which they attacked the first international feminist conference ‘Drug-ca žena. Žensko pitanje?’ held at the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade in 1978 (Iveković 2012a, http).

In 1995, ethno-anthropologist Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin piercingly de-scribed the period of post-Socialism, when many were silent on the topic, stressing that the 1990s in the region resurrected certain regressive circles, which wanted to impose the tragic ideology of the patriarchal subordination of women, that is, “restore women to their place of the German KKK, ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’” (Rihtman-Auguštin 1995: 15).

The context of events in Croatia surrounding the debate whether or not Croatia should ratify the Istanbul Convention demonstrates how powerful the androcentric matrix still is today. In the words of Nikola Visković: “the anthropocentric narcissism of Human Being = Man is equal to the once again androcentric image of society, the underestimation of women and the glorification of the male as Padre Padrone Padreterno (Father, Master and God the Father)” (Visković 2003: 256).

The 2018 debates in Croatia about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention confirmed the fact that Croatian society continues to stigmatize women – especially underage mothers, unemployed, single mothers, divorced, infertile, sick – compared to men, those in economically unfavorable circumstances and underprivileged positions on the labor market. “In Croatian society, there is a constant manifest conflict between feminism and the pro-natalist dogma that motherhood is a necessary prerequisite for a woman’s fulfilment” (Galić 2011: 313).

The cited examples confirm that in the realized image of motherhood the pregnant belly can be subversive in the same way that renouncing motherhood is – the role of a non-mother is a threat to the “existing order, in which the jeopardized society either subjects her to pressures or pushes her to the margins and ignores her because of her unfulfilled role and failure to integrate into the society; in other words, there is no valid social status outside family and motherhood” (Peternai Andrić 2019: 139). In the representation of women, “the power of her role as a mother surpasses all other identity starting points, while the collective gaze fills her with feelings to which other female roles cannot even come close” (Vidmar Horvat 2017: 42).

I conclude the topic by recounting the performance Pregnant Bride in the Wheelchair (Österreichischer Kunstverein, Vienna, 1978) by Renate Bertlmann, as a sort of timeless allegory of pregnancy. It consists of a bride in the late stage of pregnancy, wearing a wedding gown and a gro- tesque white mask on her face (the mouth is represented by a series of baby bottle rubber nipples, as are her fingers and the tiara on her veil), sitting in a wheelchair with the words “Please, push!” written on the back.

As the audience pushes her around in a circle (in the gallery space), there is the sound of a lullaby coming from the music box around her neck. As soon as the wheelchair stops, the lullaby stops and we hear faint baby cries coming from the bride’s belly. After some time, the performance of birth follows, the bride barely manages to stand up from her wheelchair and then lets the tape recorder wrapped in bandages and the umbilical cord made out of latex slowly slip to the floor. The bride disappears, leaving behind the wheelchair and the tape recorder (Schor 2016: 272–273).

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Translated by Andrea Rožić

Author Profile
Suzana Marjanić

Suzana Marjanić (1969) is on the staff at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb, where she realizes her interests in the theories of ritual and myth (dissertation: Mythical in oral literature – tracing Nodilo's re/construction of the "old faith" of the Serbs and the Croats, IEF, manuscript 1774, 2002), animal studies and the performance studies. She published the book Voices of “Bygone Days”: Transgressions of Worlds in Krleža’s Notes 1914-1921/22 (Naklada MD, 2005) , Chronotope of Croatian Performance Art: From Traveleri until Today (Bijeli val / Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research / Školska knjiga, 2014) and The Topoi of Performance Art: A Local Perspective (Durieux, HS AICA, 2017). She co-edited the collection Cultural Bestiary (Zagreb, 2007) and its sequel Literary Animal: Cultural Bestiary 2 (Zagreb, 2012) with Antonija Zaradija Kiš, The Folklore Studies Reader (Zagreb, 2010) with Marijana Hameršak,  Mythical Anthology (Zagreb, 2010) with Ines Prica and the collection Krleža's EU/rope furiosum with Bojan Koštić.