Sanja Iveković Sweet Violence

December 18, 2011–March 26, 2012

Special Exhibitions Gallery, third floor The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium

This is the first retrospective in the United States of Sanja Iveković’s audacious work as a feminist, activist, and video and performance pioneer. Iveković (b. 1949, Zagreb) came of age in the post–1968 period in the former Yugoslavia, during a period when artists were breaking free from institutional settings, laying ground for a form of opposition to official modernist culture in an alternative movement known as the New Art Practice. Iveković’s work engages with a range of subjects, from the “sweet violence” of media seduction in the 1970s, to the transformation of reality from communist to post-communist political systems in East Central Europe following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to the disregard for women’s rights that pervades today both in transitional societies and in democracies that pretend otherwise. Addressing such complex matters in a variety of mediums—conceptual photomontage, video, social sculpture, drawing, posters, performance—the artist has continually challenged the status quo and the politics of power.

The exhibition is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography.

Sweet Violence

Sweet Violence, the work that gives this exhibition its title, was among Sanja Iveković’s first forays into video. It presents one of the artist's recurring themes: the corrosive effect of media culture under the state doctrine known as the Third Way, a political experiment that took place in Yugoslavia in the 1970s, defined by an idiosyncratic mix of socialism and free-market economics, all steeped in propaganda. In order to create a distancing effect, and thus make obvious the contrivances and fictive qualities of media reality, Iveković superimposed black bars on a television monitor and then taped one of the daily broadcasts of Zagreb’s Ekonomsko Propagandni Program (economic propaganda program). With this simple intervention she visually disconnects viewers from the "sweet violence" of media seduction so that they may examine the power of images, the way they circulate in everyday life, the stories they purport to tell, and, by extension, the mythologies that lurk beneath their surfaces.

Sweet Violence. 1974. Video (black-and-white, sound), 5:56 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Make Up—Make Down

Debunking clichéd notions of beauty has been especially instrumental to Iveković’s practice, which draws attention to the politics of gender representation in consumer society, such as in Make Up—Make Down, in which the artist performs the familiar routine of applying makeup at an unusually slow pace, converting an ordinary act into a fetishistic ritual. The video shows the artist's cleavage and hands in close-up as she rehearses intimate, sensual gestures—opening and closing a tube of concealer, rolling a lipstick up and down in its case, fussing with mascara, and running her finger over the tip of an eyeliner pencil. Her face is kept offscreen, a strategy that critic Tom Holert has linked to a crisis of subjectivity. The crux of Make Up—Make Down and Iveković’s other early experiments in video is the exposure of society’s unrealistic vision of femininity—a perfect image designed according to the trends, icons, and fashions found in the pages of glossy magazines and on television.

Make Up—Make Down. 1978. Video (color, sound), 5:14 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Tragedy of a Venus

In Tragedy of a Venus Iveković probes the impact of the lives of Hollywood celebrities on those of ordinary people. Here she pairs photographs of Marilyn Monroe (the archetype of feminine desirability), taken from a 1975 tabloid published in the magazine Duga, with snapshots in which the artist appears as a ballerina or strikes mocking, "glamorous" poses for the camera. Using an endless repertoire of roles, poses, and personas derived from magazine ads, fashion photography, and tabloids, Iveković calls attention to a kind of fame, quite common in the West, that was unimaginable for an Eastern European artist. Like Double Life, this series presents the fictions on both sides, both of public and private narratives, of Iveković’s invented double life; she suggests that a magazine advertisement and a personal snapshot have become analogous in a world increasingly experienced through images.

Tragedy of a Venus. 1975–76. Five from a series of 25. Gelatin silver print and magazine page, each 17 1/2 x 23 7/16" (44.5 x 59.5 cm). © 2011 Sanja Iveković. Above: A life in dreams. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.
They called her tigress. 1975–76. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Finally a choice. She chose DiMaggio. 1975–76. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Sex-appeal as a main weapon. 1975–76. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Pleasant and unpleasant encounters with the telephone: constantly expecting something. 1975–76. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb

Double Life

In Double Life (Dvostruki život), a series of 64 pairs of pictures originally published as an artist's book, Iveković provides a poignant lens on the politics of media representation of the new Yugoslavian woman. One of each pair is an image of the artist during various periods of her life, from 1953 to 1976, and the other features models from women’s lifestyle magazines from different countries, such as Amica, Anna Bella, Brigitte, Duga, Elle, Grazia, Marie Claire, and Svije, advertising beauty products, kitchenware, and new consumer products that claim to make a woman’s life more pleasant and efficient. Public and private images are matched on the basis of similarities of gesture, situation, props, and location. In each Double Life work, Iveković documented the ads’ sources and publication dates and included a caption about the context of each personal photograph, which were culled from her own family albums. Most of these informal snapshots predate those in the magazines with which they are paired, making it clear that the artist was not mimicking, aspiring to, or rehearsing the models’ poses; instead she reveals the uncanny resemblance by exploring her own life as a series of retroactively assigned roles—and then ultimately shatters the illusion.

Double Life. 1975–76. Five from a series of 64. Gelatin silver print, magazine page, and typewriting, each 23 3/4 x 31 1/2" (60.3 x 80 cm). © 2011 Sanja Iveković. Above: Summer 1959/"Grazia," June 1974. 1975. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
In Aunt Koka's Apartment, Krajiška 19, 1962/"Duga," 1975. 1975. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
As a First-Year Student at the AFA Zagreb, 1966/"Brigitte," May 1974. 1975. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb
In the Apartment, September 1975/"Elle," March 1975. 1975. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Photography Fund
Zagreb, October 1975/"Brigitte," October 1975. 1975. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Photography Fund


The exploration of mass media's socioideological effect is present in many of Iveković's works of the period, including Structure, which consists of 10 newspaper pictures of women from various age groups and backgrounds that have been multiplied 10 times and arranged in a grid. Each of the 10 pictures in the first row has a different handwritten caption taken from various newspapers. In subsequent rows the captions are redistributed among the pictures in new combinations, so that each image is presented in 10 different semantic contexts. Anne, Princess Royal of England, appears with the caption “Sought consolation in horse racing and nightlife”; Patty Hearst with the caption “Expecting her master’s return”; an unidentified woman with “Executed in Bubanj in 1944”; the Yugoslavian actress Beba Lončar with “Learned how to be photogenic”; and Ellen Stewart, founding director of the experimental theater club La MaMa, with “Finally found the time to shorten her trousers.” These pairings deconstruct the binding status of the standard media format (an image accompanied by a caption), and with them Iveković unfolds the banality of media language used to simplify the plurality of feminine selves.

Structure. 1975–76/2011. One hundred gelatin silver prints with handwritten text by the artist, each 7 1/16 x 5" (18 x 12.7 cm), overall: 6' 6 3/4" x 59 1/16" (200 x 150 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

My Scar. My Signature

Iveković’s analysis of power structures and the clichés of gender representation is exemplified in My Scar, My Signature (Girls), a series of full-page ads in which the artist smeared women’s faces with lipstick kisses (the distinctive mark of her bottom lip, scarred in a childhood accident, is intentionally brought into play). The related series My Scar, My Signature (Ads) features ads for exhibitions from Flash Art magazine. With this group of works Iveković posits an anti-institutional critique of the art world and consumer culture.

My Scar. My Signature (Girls). 1976. Lipstick on magazine page, 10 1/4 x 9 1/16" (26 x 23 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković
My Scar. My Signature (Ads). 1976. Lipstick on magazine page, 16 9/16 x 13 3/8" (42 x 34 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Paper Women

In 1976 Iveković began to more violently alter advertisements in order to defamiliarize them, to turn them into an unsurprising antithesis of seductive high-fashion veneer. One such work is Paper Women, a series of magazine ads, featuring beautiful models, that have in some way been defaced—torn apart, cut into pieces, scratched, or perforated—so that each picture bears tactile evidence of the artist’s attack. Here Iveković uncovers the violence that lurks behind beauty's polished surface by shattering the image itself.

Paper Women. 1976–77. Four from a series of 12. Torn printed paper, 11 15/16 x 8 9/16" (30.3 x 21.7 cm). MACBA Collection. Fundació Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. © 2011 Sanja Iveković


On May 10, 1979, Iveković engaged in an act of political defiance when she performed Triangle on the balcony of her Savska Street apartment during one of Josip Broz Tito's official visits to Zagreb. During the festivities, she came out, dressed in an American T-shirt, onto her balcony, which overlooked the street along which the presidential motorcade slowly advanced. She sat in a chair with a glass of Ballantine's whiskey, cigarettes, and some foreign books next to her on a small table. Once settled, Iveković picked up Tom Bottomore’s Elites and Society, a 1964 sociological study of power relationships in modern society, and, as she read, pretended to masturbate. She knew she was being watched by an agent of the Communist secret police stationed atop the Hotel Intercontinental across the street, and the titular triangle completed itself when, 18 minutes into the performance, the police rang Iveković’s doorbell and commanded her to stop her activities. Tapping the persuasive language of political performance, Iveković offers a critique of the masculine cult of the leader and its Soviet-style system of political surveillance.

Triangle. 1979. Performance, 18 min.: Four gelatin silver prints with printed text, each print: 12 x 15 7/8" (30.5 x 40.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Waiting for the Revolution (Alice)

Waiting for the Revolution (Alice) is a set of seven sketches of a girl watching a frog change colors from frame to frame, waiting hopelessly for something miraculous to happen. While this set of drawings belongs to a body of Iveković’s work made during the late 1970s–early 1980s and characterized by biting political satire of the state and patriarchal order, it also exposes modes of passive spectatorship of military exhibitionism: a girl watching a frog make revolution happen, like something from a fairy tale.

Waiting for the Revolution (Alice). 1982. Pencil on seven pieces of paper, each: 11 7/16 x 8 1/4" (29 x 21 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Personal Cuts

In 1982 Iveković presented Personal Cuts on prime-time Yugoslavian national television, on TV Zagreb's 3, 2, 1 – Action! In it she confronts the camera wearing a translucent black stocking mask pulled over her head, terrorist-style. Using scissors she cuts one hole after another into the mask, revealing one section of her face at a time, and each cut is followed by a short sequence of archival footage culled from a television program on the history of Yugoslavia, produced by the state shortly after Marshal Tito’s death, in 1980, and chronicling 20 years of the socialist republic. Cut by cut, in sequential shots, Iveković at once exposes her face and suggests the insidiousness of national propaganda—mass rallies, a public address by Tito, and monuments, all promoting the socialist way of living—thus demonstrating that historical events are inextricable from human ones, and ending with the artist’s face fully uncovered. Personal Cuts is modeled on a television documentary but formally and conceptually undercuts the totalizing, unified picture of official history; history is presented as broken inscription rather than linear narrative. Iveković infiltrates media space and disrupts the official narrative, reshuffling it, using the cut as a leitmotif and a reference to the editing and montage strategies that have informed her photocollages and video works.

Personal Cuts. 1982. Video (black-and-white and color, sound), 3:35 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Practice Makes a Master

Iveković first performed Practice Makes a Master in 1982 at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. The video documenting that performance shows the artist in a black evening dress on a stage, her head hooded with a white plastic bag. Her body suddenly jolts violently, and she falls to the ground. She lies immobile for several seconds and then gets up. A few seconds later she falters, falls again, and lies on the stage with legs outstretched. She stands and falls and repeats these actions over and over again. A spotlight switches on and off with a regular rhythm. All the while a sensual tune sung by Marilyn Monroe, from the sound track of the movie Bus Stop (1956), is progressively slowed until the female voice becomes unrecognizable. The score is disrupted by the jarring clamor of guns and other machines from video games, recorded by the artist in New York the previous year. More

Practice Makes a Master is a compelling study of the rehearsal of violence and psychological savagery. The body's sudden and repetitive shifts, from standing to prone, provokes in viewers a nauseating disequilibrium. In 2009 Iveković asked dancer Sonja Pregrad to reenact Practice Makes a Master at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, and at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. Performed again in conjunction with the exhibition at MoMA, this contemporary restaging brings to mind the images of aggression that have followed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, as well as more recent violence around the world.

Practice Makes a Master. 1982/2009. Performance, 16:38 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Lady Rosa of Luxembourg

Among the projects that represent Iveković’s feminist position, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg is her most public statement. In 1998, when the artist was invited to participate in Manifesta, a biennial exhibition of contemporary art held that year in Luxembourg, she proposed a civic intervention, titled Pregnant Memory, that would involve removing the gilded, larger-than-life neoclassical Nike (the allegorical female figure of victory) from the war memorial known as Gëlle Fra (Golden lady): the figure would have been taken from the top of its obelisk in Constitution Square, in the center of the capital city, and installed on the premises of a shelter for abused women. Gëlle Fra was designed in 1923 in memory of the volunteers who fought with the Allies in World War I. In 1940, during the Nazi occupation, the statue was dismantled and placed in storage, and in 1985 it was re-erected with a plaque including the names of the fallen soldiers of World War II. Iveković’s proposal was deemed too controversial and remained unrealized. More

Three years later the artist was invited back to rethink her initial proposal as part of an exhibition organized by Casino Luxembourg and the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg. It was then that she created Lady Rosa of Luxembourg, a full-scale replica of the Gëlle Fra, installed within walking distance of the original, with three critical interventions: the new monument was dedicated to the Marxist philosopher and activist Rosa Luxemburg, who was executed in Germany in 1919 for her radical political ideas; Nike was turned into a visibly pregnant woman; and the original commemorative plaque honoring male heroism was replaced with texts in French, German, and English: "LA RÉSISTANCE, LA JUSTICE, LA LIBERTÉ, L’INDÉPENDENCE" (Resistance, justice, liberty, independence); "KITSCH, KULTUR, KAPITAL, KUNST" (Kitsch, culture, capital, art); and "WHORE, BITCH, MADONNA, VIRGIN.”

Women played a significant role in Luxembourg’s resistance movement during World War II, but their fight has been kept out of official history; instead they are represented simply as symbolic bearers of national history, as idealized, allegorical figures such as Nike. By making Nike pregnant and renaming her after a real woman, Iveković restored the female figure to its rightful historical position. Lady Rosa of Luxembourg provoked a fierce debate that played out in newspaper headlines, on television shows, and in hundreds of articles and Internet discussions. The most violent opposition focused not on the pregnant figure but on the plaque; the displacement of ideals of male bravery with words that include abusive terms regularly used to describe women evidently touched a nerve. Iveković had flouted memorial conventions, tying everyday feminine dissidence to past resistance.

The most memorable of Iveković’s public art projects, Lady Rosa of Luxembourg renegotiates the memorial’s purpose by questioning the conventions of social remembrance and insisting on justice for women. The work constitutes a case study in the tradition of countermonuments/monuments that at once use the conventions of heroic form and reverse public expectations of it. The documentation of the monument’s original reception and controversy (which is included in MoMA's installation) has become part of the monument’s meaning.

Lady Rosa of Luxembourg. Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. © 2011 The Museum of Modern Art
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg. Public monument installed in Luxembourg for the project "Luxembourg, Luxembourgians: Consensus and Bridled Passions," Casino Luxembourg―Forum d’art contemporain and Musée d'histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg, March 31–June 3, 2001. Organized by Enrico Lunghi
Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (foreground), with the Gëlle Fra (background). Photograph by Christian Mosar. Courtesy Casino Luxembourg—Forum d’art contemporain

Press Material for Lady Rosa of Luxembourg

Courtesy Casino Luxembourg—Forum d'art contemporain

Gen XX

In Gen XX, a series originally published in small-circulation Croatian magazines such as Arkzin, Zaposlena, Frakcija, Kontura, and Kruh i ruže (Bread and roses), Iveković appropriated magazine ads featuring professional models, excising the products' brands and replacing the logos with the formal charges against and execution dates of the young female antifascist militants Dragica Cončar, Nada Dimić, Ljubica Gerovac, the Balković sisters, Anka Butorac, and Nera Šafarič, all of whom were imprisoned, tortured, or executed by the quisling regime in Croatia during World War II. One such text reads, “Nada Dimić: Charged with anti-fascist activities. Tortured and executed in Nova Gradiška in 1942. Age at the time of execution: 19.” The only photograph in the series that is not of a model is of Iveković’s mother, Šafarič, as a young woman, taken from the artist’s family album rather than from a fashion magazine. A fighter in the People’s Liberation War, Šafarič was persecuted for her antifascist activities. In 1942, at age 23, she was arrested in Crikvenica and deported to Auschwitz, where she remained until the end of the war. These women were considered national socialist heroines, but in the postcommunist period their stories fell into oblivion. By layering accounts of the cruelty of their treatment with eye-catching advertising images, Iveković reintroduces their histories into the consciousness of today’s amnesiac society.

Gen XX. 1997–2001. Inkjet prints from a series of six, each: 39 3/8 x 27 9/16" (100 x 70 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković
arkzin. 1997–2001. Offset lithograph. Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Women's House (Sunglasses)

Women’s House (Sunglasses) focuses on issues of the social disregard and gender violence hidden in postcommunist Croatia—as it was in other democratic nations—with advertisements for well-known brands of sunglasses altered to include short texts about the living conditions of battered women. Presented in the form of posters, billboards, and inserts in magazines, the project has been shown in various countries, including Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Thailand, and Turkey, and each time the artist has emphasized inequities specific to the country of exhibition. Women’s House (Sunglasses) underscores Iveković’s engagement with feminist causes; she has founded or been engaged with Croatian women’s organizations such as ELEKTRA—Women’s Art Center; B.a.B.e./Be active, Be emancipated; Autonomous Cultural Center—ATTACK!; Center for Women War Victims; and the Association of Feminists.

Women’s House (Sunglasses). 2002–present. Inkjet prints from a series of 16, each: 55 1/8 x 39 3/8" (140 x 100 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković
Women’s House (Sunglasses). Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. © 2011 The Museum of Modern Art
Women's House (Sunglasses) installed in Łódź, Poland, 2009

Rohrbach Living Memorial

In 2005 Iveković created Rohrbach Living Memorial, a work that shifts the typology of the memorial from enduring monument to transient and performative work. In collaboration with the Austrian women’s organization Frauentreffpunkt, she invited the citizens of the small town of Rohrbach to perform a living memorial for Holocaust victims for whom no permanent national monument had been erected. The performance was based on a photograph from the 1940s, showing Roma and Sinti people waiting to be deported to a concentration camp. Iveković reenacted the photograph with the citizens of Rohrbach, who were asked to assemble in a public square in the early hours of the morning and wait in silence until noon. This quiet reflection on genocide from the perspective of the victims was documented in a video work that is presented across from the original photograph and a book of interviews with the participants about their reasons for taking part in the project. By confronting the irrecoverable past through the process of active commemoration rather than locked-up memorialization, Rohrbach Living Memorial creates a context for an intergenerational testimony.

Rohrbach Living Memorial. 2005. Installation with video projection (color, sound, 22:22 min.) and photographic transparency on Plexiglas, 5 7/7 x 8 ¼" (15 x 21 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković
Photograph courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
Photograph by Egbert Trogemann

The Right One. Pearls of Revolution

In 2010 Iveković created The Right One. Pearls of Revolution, a group of 10 pictures made with feminist photographer Sandra Vitaljić and sociologist and urban activist Jana Šarinić. In each large-scale color picture, Šarinić faces the camera, her left eye covered by an archival photograph of two Yugoslavian partisans performing the revolutionary salute, with fist held to temple. Šarinić, too, rehearses this now-forgotten salute, making the gesture with a hand that also holds a string of pearls, seducing the viewer into examining the differences between the gestures, from one picture to the other, in order to determine which is “the right one.” Iveković's critique of image-based consumer capitalism, with its philosophy of living in the moment, is here used to expose mechanisms of collective forgetfulness.

The Right One. Pearls of Revolution. 2010. Ten chromogenic color prints, each: 44 1/8 x 44 1/8" (112 x 112 cm). Collection the artist. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Report on CEDAW U.S.A.

In 1998 Iveković created Shadow Report, a project using an annual report produced by various European nongovernmental organizations on the infringement of women’s rights in Croatia. She printed the document on red paper, mounted its cover page for wall display, and left the remaining sheets crumpled into irregular balls and scattered in corners and around the perimeter of Zagreb's Galerija Klovićevi dvori. The printed sheets look like trash, but Iveković succeeds in mobilizing the report’s activist potential. Those who pick up the sheets, discarded as such leaflets often are, learn about the uncertain status of female refugees, the lack of protection for trafficking victims, and the violence of honor killings—brutal acts that continue to this day. More

For her exhibition at MoMA, Iveković has produced Report on CEDAW U.S.A., a similar installation based on a communiqué drawn from Amnesty International’s literature on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a comprehensive agreement, adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and endorsed by 186 counties, for the abolition of all forms of discrimination against women. As of May 2011 the United States is still among the minority of countries, including Iran and Sudan, that have not yet ratified CEDAW. Here Iveković pressures us to respond and take responsibility for society’s progress, or lack thereof, in eradicating persistent forms of gender violence.

Turkish Report (2009) at the 11th Istanbul Biennial. Installation with text photocopied on red paper, dimensions variable. Collection the artist. Courtesy Amnesty International USA. © 2011 Sanja Iveković

Exhibition Credits

Organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography.

The exhibition is made possible by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation.

Major support is provided by The Modern Women’s Fund and by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Additional funding is provided by David Teiger, The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Trust for Mutual Understanding, and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art.

Website Credits

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