Among Women brings thriving contemporary Serbian art scene to Pittsburgh | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Among Women brings thriving contemporary Serbian art scene to Pittsburgh

click to enlarge Among Women brings thriving contemporary Serbian art scene to Pittsburgh
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
On Dry Land 1, 2, 3 by Maja Simić, part of Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia
On one wall of 937 Gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh are what look like typical class group photos, all hung chronologically from kindergarten age to senior prom. But a closer look reveals something uncanny — the students in each photo all have the same face, that of Serbian artist Milica Ružičić.

Entitled Annual, the work, which is part of the group show Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia, befuddles the eye, as Ružičić took her visage from each photo (all the images are from her actual school days) and used it to replace the faces of her classmates. She did it well enough that guest curator Rachel Klipa, who says she has become close with the artist, can't pick out which student is actually Ružičić.

Now on view through Sun., Jan. 9, 2022, Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia is described as featuring 11 women artists who are “deeply connected” to Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.

Besides showcasing a stunning art scene, Among Women also speaks to the issues affecting Serbia, from women's rights and the refugee crisis to environmental concerns and the consequences of a growing consumer culture in the country. Shown together, the artworks also intend to provide a snapshot of Belgrade's “productive and multilayered contemporary art scene, drawing on themes such as memory, the importance of place, and the ability of the female body to reveal personal narratives.”

Annual reflects a tone found throughout Among Women, which unsettles with images that evoke a sense of unease or visceral discomfort. There's the sense of drowning one gets from watching Creation II, looped videos featuring artist Anica Vučetić submerged in a tub of water. With Perfect Time, Tijana Radenković presents a series of beautifully photographed still lifes of rotting produce, all meant to comment on, and embrace, the perishable nature of life.
click to enlarge Among Women brings thriving contemporary Serbian art scene to Pittsburgh
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Perfect Time by Tijana Radenković, part of Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia
Klipa, who is Serbian-American, says she started traveling to Serbia in 2017 to study the work of Nadežda Petrović, an Expressionist painter considered one of the country's first female modern artists. She then discovered that Belgrade boasted a thriving community of female artists, and set about exposing them to Pittsburgh audiences.

While the country has produced notable names like controversial performance artist Marina Abramović, Among Women demonstrates that the arts scene has far more to offer.

The artists all range in age from around 29 to 60, with most falling somewhere around their late-30s or 40s. Having voices from multiple generations provides insight to a country that has seen major shifts in the past half century. This includes changes currently taking place there in the years following the devastation of the Yugoslav Wars and conflict over Kosovo, as well as the country’s separation from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and, later, from Montenegro, the small European country with which it was united until 2006.

Disputed Histories, a project by Vahida Ramujkić, comments directly on life after Yugoslavia by investigating the conflicting information and propaganda found in history textbooks produced in each country after the republic’s breakup. There’s also a puzzle featuring cutouts of the countries that once formed Yugoslavia.

While Serbia’s fraught history might justifiably overwhelm, Among Women finds the artists grappling with universally resonant themes. In Maja Simić’s On Dry Land 1, 2, 3, a trio of large, vertical screenprints show the artist swathed mummy-like in a variety of materials. Seeing her tightly wrapped head-to-toe in disposable plastic shopping bags (like the U.S., Serbia also faces a plastic crisis) instantly evokes the feeling of being smothered. This is by design, as the images capture the artist’s own feeling of suffocation by the expectations society puts on women, particularly as a mother and consumer of household goods and beauty products.

The focus on women’s issues extends to A Queen of Montenegro (Self-portrait) by Bojana S. Knežević and the provocative To please, serve, and obey by Marina Marković, both of which investigate the levels of discrimination, lack of autonomy, and sexual freedom women face in their home countries and abroad.
click to enlarge Among Women brings thriving contemporary Serbian art scene to Pittsburgh
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
To please, serve, and obey by Marina Marković, part of Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia
Overall, the show contends with preserving identity and community in the age of globalization, as Serbia now faces the same environmental, human rights, and cultural concerns as other countries. This includes the impact caused by the growth of industry in Serbia, as planned lithium mines have recently stoked fears that the country will face environmental devastation, similar to what the U.S. has experienced with the proliferation of natural gas drilling.

The topic of gentrification also comes up when looking at Pattern Recognition (Deconstruction) I – V by Nina Todorović, which preserves images of Belgrade’s crumbling buildings and infrastructure. Klipa acknowledges that, like many other cities, Belgrade is not exempt from the indistinct coffee shops, stores, and bars threatening to homogenize the landscape.

The more socially engaged art on display offers glimmers of hope through interaction and collaboration. Like other areas of Europe, Serbia has become part of the refugee crisis, reflected in a film by the minipogon artist collective, which set up workshops at Krnjača refugee camp on the outskirts of Belgrade. The tapestry Kaludjerica from A to Ш by Documentary Embroidery Office shows the results of embroidery workshops used to empower residents of the Belgrade suburb of Kaludjerica, described as lacking “cultural facilities, places to shop, and other social infrastructures.”

After completing its run at 937 Gallery, Among Women will become a sort-of traveling exhibition, being moved to the Bronx River Art Center in New York City sometime in early 2022. By doing so, Among Women will continue to humanize a country at a crossroads, all by showcasing artists with unique perspectives and styles.
Among Women: Contemporary Art from Serbia. Continues through Sun., Jan. 9, 2022. 937 Gallery. 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Free.

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