Sanja Ivekovic @ South London Gallery & Calvert 22

The second wave movement of feminism throughout the 1960s and 1970s saw a new approach to art history and criticism. Among those embracing change were Linda Nochlin, The Guerrilla Girls and Suzanne Lacy. An artist seldom talked about in Britain, Sanja Ivekovic is another artist who centres her work on how society views women. She is currently the subject of a show across two London galleries: The South London Gallery and Calvert 22, her first major UK exhibition.

Ivekovic is a Croatian artist who uses multiple forms of media to question the role of the woman in modern society. I have not yet made it to Calvert 22 which is said to be more focused on the dissolution of Yugoslavia following the fall of the iron curtain in 1989 and the transition from socialism to capitalism. However, where the Shoreditch gallery is strongly political, so too is the work in Peckham. Where Calvert 22 seems to be more concentrated on life and politics in the artist’s birthplace, the work in the South London Gallery is more universal. This can be seen in the Women’s House series where Ivekovic has paired images of women wearing sunglasses in magazines with those who have suffered from domestic abuse, a problem which is sadly, not confined to one culture. She has also taken common, everyday media sources like newspaper and magazines and transformed them into deeply political messages in the form of photography. This is seen in the Black File series where she pairs images of models with missing teenagers thus criticising the way women are used in advertising: as a marketing scheme, sexualised and idealised. This is strongly echoes in a fashion editorial where she has contrasted the images of men in war zones with glamourised women in camouflage and masks. Here the dispares of society and the media for its continuation to place importance on beauty and outward appearance when others are at war. The images could also be seen to criticise the way in which men are sent to war when women are expected to stand around indoors and be pretty.

In addition to photography, Ivekovic has also utilised film in her work. In Make Up – Make Down, she films herself putting on make up while focusing the camera on her hands and cleavage – possibly the way she sees herself viewed by the opposite sex or society as a whole. There is also another video where Ivekovic marks her face in the same way as a plastic surgeon which she then rubs, leaving smudges and negative view of cosmetic surgery and unnecessary emphasis on outward appearance in society. The artist uses herself as a subject for her work in her photographs also. Double Life sees adverts of glamorous women presented alongside images of herself in the same poses which she does also beside media images of Marilyn Monroe in Tragedy of Venus.

While it was a nice idea to display Ivekovic’s work in two galleries, especially Calvert 22, a gallery dedicated to the presentation of Eastern European Art, in terms of practicality, one gallery would have sufficed. If the two shows were in the same part of London, perhaps this would have worked out better, but logistically, it just does not work. That said, Ivekovic shines at the South London Gallery. Her clever use of juxtapositions succeed in shocking the viewer, causing them to question the treatment and thinking towards the woman in society. Furthermore her clever use of adverts and media clippings only enhance her deeply political work, making use of media forms we are used to in everyday life, which we simply cannot ignore.

Sanja Ivekovic: Unknown Heroine is on display at the South London Gallery and Calvert 22 until 24 February

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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