Milica Rakic, Beautiful As The Revolution

February 27, 2019 | Ana Simona

Milica Rakić, Beautiful As The Revolution

The solo exhibition of conceptual artist Milica Rakić opened on the 26. of February in Gallery of Ilija M. Kolarac Endowment. The exhibition, titled BEAUTIFUL AS THE REVOLUTION, represents her most recent artworks that research some of the long present questions in her artworks - position of women in society, remembering the revolution, personal experience, archiving as the process of creating collective and individual memory. Milica Rakić uses the documentary material from The Archive of Yugoslavia, and by decontextualizing it from the context of historical testimony and giving it the role of citation in her artwork, she turns the historical evidence into fiction. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, documentary and imaginary, is the typical heritage of postmodernist art, that in this case, the artist uses, not so much for aesthetic purposes, but much more for critical ones. By using the omnipresent method of feminist art - her majesty the Irony - Rakic offers a witty criticism of both patriarchy and capitalism.

When she says "it takes energy to be afraid, and I am a lazy woman", the irony is double - not only that the artist refers to the absence of neoliberal "governmentality" in her own life, which presupposes productivity in work and life in general, capability to succeed in those terms of capitalist market economy, entrepreneurial spirit, and constant will to „win at everything, but at the same time she connects her passive rejection of social conditions with the problem of insecurity and bad socio-economic living conditions of women. This way, the artists direct the irony towards herself, confessing her "weakness", taking responsibility for not "being afraid", but by doing so, she mocks the social need to internalize and individualize personal responsibility for emancipation (and safety) of society and social conditions in which "to be afraid" (and stressed out) is a full-time job.

In the artwork "my nerves are historically damaged" Rakic is identifying herself with the generations of women who fought for rights and better position of women, and she also emphasizes the continuity and constancy of the struggle by using the word "historically". She is referring to big and important, but not visible enough, the problem of women’s mental health, that is not more "unstable" by coincidence, but is caused and heavily influenced by social conditions. The rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, problems with body and sexuality is not accidentally higher in case of women. Humor that artist uses is again present through irony, having in mind that women have always been considered more nervous, on the edge of nervous breakdown, neurotic, and hysteria has been historically defined as women’s illness.

Milica Rakić connects the problems women have today in Serbian society with the unfinished project of women’s emancipation after the revolution. This critical inquiry of socialist heritage in the context of women’s emancipation functions both as the comment on today’s situation and as a retrospective analysis of civilizational achievement of socialist revolution. Sharply and cynically the words "just raped" echo in the head, just as many phrases that can be heard in police station when women come to report violence, but also in the comments on the online news - "just a slap" "just a bruise", not even to recall the most disgusting one "she asked for it". The femicide and violence rate is way too high not only in Serbia, but globally as well, and institutional help in preventing violence, punishing it, providing safety, support, shelter, or protection is usually insufficient and inadequate. The genius of the artist lays in the ability to recognize not just oppression of women in patriarchy but to connects it to the ability of the patriarchal system to exploit ideas and ideologies (even revolutionary struggles) for sustaining the present power relations. This artwork thus shows to what extent is misogynist patriarchal society capable of betraying its own ideals in order to keep in power those gender relations that reproduce it.

I must say that two of my favorite artworks "he didn’t hit me as a woman but as a communist" (hit meaning in this case more like emotionally touch, disappoint, offend) and "if I am not a hero I don’t know what is a hero then", are the rare examples of art that rethinks position of women in the left movements, or relationship between feminism and communism. This "unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism", as feminist economist Heidi Hartmann called it in 1979, is a historical problem both for the leftist and feminist movements. It seems like this long-lasting problem was close to being solved in the country like SFR Yugoslavia whose laws guaranteed equality and human rights to women, but the gap between the rights given by the laws and real possibilities for fulfilling this equality in practice was still very big. Not just that, but also the word "feminism" had the negative connotation, for the ruling party considered it part of the bourgeois ideology coming from the West, and for its main sin was separating the women’s question from the class struggle. So when the artist separate what offends her as a woman and what offends her as a communist, she is alluding to contradictions of Yugoslav socialist society - patriarchy didn’t stop existing after the revolution, nor was the women’s question solved by solving the class one. So, by putting an emphasis on the communist identity she also refers to priorities and hierarchy in the treatment of social problems and identities.

Also, her artwork "if I am not a hero I don’t know what is a hero then", bears the same social criticism. She is, in a very feminist manner, with a lot of self-confidence and self-awareness pointing out the different treatment and discrimination of women both in National Liberation Movement (NOB), and after the war in (postfeminist) everyday life. The statement is an illustration of double burden (even though two is not really the number that really shows all the possible axes of oppression) that women carry - inside and outside the house. This problem was present in Yugoslav society because women did get employment for a wage but they were also in the same time expected to keep their gender roles as mothers, nurses, housekeepers, cooks, and maids. Oppression goes further having in mind the beauty myth that was more and more present with the rise of consumerism in Yugoslav society after the 60s. Beside this obsession with physical women are also expected to do emotional labor, that was still part of their patriarchal gender role. It seems like I don’t need to continue for making the artist’s point clear - we are heroes (!) because if not, what is a hero?

The artist is criticizing The National Liberation Movement - even though over 100 thousand of women fought in NBO, only 91 of them got the Order of the People's Hero (not even the 7% of total recipients of the order), and only 17 were given the Order during their lives. We should recall the testimonies of women who took part in the revolutionary struggle, i.e. what they say about discrimination during the wartime, and also remember the disproportion in the distribution of positions of political power (be it a party structure, institutions, or government).

With these exhibited works, Milica Rakić triggers both laughter and sadness, and this ambivalence has been part of the charming poetics of her artworks ever since the beginning - remember this one artwork "it’s a bit inconvenient to be dead". With the simplicity of style and content - white letters creating short "truisms" would remind us of famous American feminist artist Jenny Holzer, but Rakić still made her artworks more "tragic" by using clean black or red backgrounds. Instead of neon "ads" we get epitaphs - thumb stone to the revolution that reminds that revolution is ended but not completed, but also to the fact that this poorly paid job is waiting for us to finish it if we are not too lazy women.


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