Sunday, February 11, 2018

Chicana en Belgrade: Feminist Theory in Serbia Today and the Art of TKV!

This weekend, I cover two events in Belgrade:  The Feminist Conference happening at The University of Belgrade and the artwork of TKV.  The juxtaposition of intellectual academic discussions side-by-side with activism and street art emphasizes all the various important and provocative avenues for women's voices to be present and heard.  ¡Que Viva La Mujer!
Conference Title: "Somebody Said Feminism?  Feminist Theory in Serbia Today"

TKV Graffiti/Mural near the river boardwalk in Belgrade

In 2008, Adriana Zaharijević, (PhD in Feminist Philosophy) edited the anthology, Somebody Said Feminism?  How Feminism Affected Women of the XXI Century, published in Belgrade via the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, Women in Black and Reconstruction Women's Fund.  Twenty-six women contributed to the anthology providing theoretical answers to the question: is there a space for feminism in the contemporary world?  The topics discussed were women's rights and freedoms, the intersection of the private and political, identities and differences, representations of women, the arts, theory and activism, and historical intersections.

One of the important events that occurred with this anthology was how it was disseminated throughout the Balkan region.  Contributors and friends in alliance with schools, organized trips to introduce the anthology and give away copies.  In this way, the anthology became quite a significant curriculum text, printed in multiple editions.  In all, 2,400 copies were disseminated.  It was truly theoreticians and activists working together.

The picture below is of Adriana Zaharijević (academic) and lepa mladjenovic (lesbian feminist activist). I post this one to emphasize the strong connections between the theory and practice of feminism in the Balkans, which was clearly visible during the conference.

Adriana Zaharijević and lepa mladjenovic
When I first arrived at the University of Novi Sad, I remember one of the students telling me about one of the essays in the anthology that she had read and used in her own studies this past year.  It has been an important anthology for a number of students, especially considering the various dimensions (personal and political) of post-war considerations.

And so it is with this in mind, that Adriana Zaharijević returned as co-organizer with Katarina Lončarević (PhD at University of Belgrade) to launch this weekend's conference in Belgrade, entitled, "Somebody Said Feminism?  Feminist Theory in Serbia Today," inviting us all to revisit these questions.  The conference runs from Thursday, February 8th through today, Sunday, February 11th, 2018. And in these few days, there have been spirited discussions, reunions with friends, and the rise of new feminist themes for this region.  For me, it was eye-opening to see how activists and theorists in the Balkans consider feminism within their various geographic spheres and historical moments.

Here are just some of the questions discussed this weekend:
1. Are there some local specificities that make this theory different from western feminist theories or do we see some significant coincidences and similarities in the approaches and problems that the feminist theoreticians in the West occupy?
2. Can feminism in Serbia be compared with the theories that are labeled "global south" or with feminism belonging to the elusive "east?"
3. How does feminist theory form practical policies?  What are the contents of the feminist character that go unnoticed in politics, the media, the economy, and what kind of theoretical strategies do we need to be aware of?
4. How do we describe, explain, and position our feminist engagement today?

Also new was the fact that a rigorous revision of Balkan history is emerging: one that places a focus on women who have previously never been studied or considered within the academy.  As well, the entire conference took place at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, a space that had never before sponsored a Feminist conference.

Zaharijević writes: "Thanks to the theoreticians who used it in teaching, the book had its application at The University of Belgrade, the University of Novi Sad, the University of Sarajevo, and the University of Rijeka. With the help of activists and theorists who shared it tirelessly, the book has found its way to countless readers.  The book left a mark on the theoretical design of several generations of women in its effort to show that feminism touched or fundamentally transformed the most diverse spheres of our private and public life.  Therefore, the marking of this important 10-year anniversary is at the same time an occasion to consider and re-consider how far we've come and where we are going."

The first edition, Somebody Said Feminism, which was co-funded by The Reconstruction of the Women's Fund and Women in Black, quickly found its readership audience.  The book was reissued twice in 2008 (Civic Initiatives, Heinrich Böll Stiftung), and in 2012, an extended edition was published (Sarajevo Open Center).

I was very happy to be among the feminists here, to hear their perspectives and discuss with them both at the conference and then later sharing drinks at the cafe. Some issues are quite similar while other preoccupations differ.  For example, Ana Kolarić and I spoke at length about classroom pedagogical strategies. She explained that courses are still taught here in a very traditional way (instructor centered instead of student centered).  Also, professors are not easily available to students because of their heavy teaching load. We talked about ways to connect our work transnationally.

On Saturday, we heard from a number of the contributors in an important mid-day plenary session. Each contributor discussed how she came to write her specific chapter, the challenges in writing it, and what she learned. Some of the topics: pedagogy, the law and women, anti-semitism, identity, abortion.  The last question of the plenary was most riveting for me because the contributors talked about what they would write about now. Suddenly we were placed within our present-day context.  Contributors discussed their concerns with the rise of fascism and nationalist agendas, racism, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments, violence against women, the continued struggles women face to be heard and seen on their own terms.  This is what they would take on given a chance to create a new anthology.  More than one participant at this conference told me, in conversation, how they had always seen the U.S. as a place where democracy existed, which had always given them hope.  And at this point in history, they feel that hope has faded.  So much work to be done, more than ever before.

I felt very much at home hearing and speaking with these brilliant, hard-working, and committed women.  Most of all, I felt warmly welcomed and so grateful for this opportunity a compartir nuestras vidas intelectuales y personales.

The following is a pictorial essay of the conference this weekend:

Panel on Feminist Identity:  Karolina Lendák-Kabók, Eni Gajanova,
Svenka Savić, Ervina Dabižinović, and Sanja Milutinović Bojanić 

During breaks, conference participants were reuniting with old friends or making new ones.
For example, I met one woman who spoke to me about some of the comments I had made. When I asked if she was affiliated with the speakers or universities, she said "no"-- that she was a "street feminist" and was "hanging out" to familiarize herself with the various topics offered.  
Panel on Feminist Literatures and Pedagogy in the Balkans
(historical and present day): Moderator, Ana Kolarić, Jelena Milinkovic
I am with Professor Emeritus Svenka Savić who is the founder of the
Women's Studies Program at The University of Novi Sad.

I could not have attended this conference without having a translator with me, because all the
presentations were in Serbian.  Special thanks to lepa mladjenovic for translating. 
Post Conference Celebration at the cafe:  lepa mladjenovic, Jelena Miletić, Katarina Lončarević, Milica Mirazic, Tina Piskulidis, Miriana Mirosavljevic, Jelena Višnjić, Hana Ćopić, Adriana Zaharijević, Amelia Montes


Kraljica Vila is a name that means, "the queen of the fairies" or TKV for short.  She is well known in Belgrade and has become so well recognized that her work has crossed into established art galleries.  Last November, writer Molly Harris wrote a piece on TKV for, of all places, Teen Vogue (click here for article).  But it makes sense because TKV attracts that age group.  In the article, Harris writes that TKV "is one of the few female street artists in Belgrade.  Practicing her art since 2004, the 29-year-old attended a high school for graphic arts before attaining her Masters in global media in 2012.  Her message is clear and consistent.  She wants to exercise her right to the city's public spaces and open a dialogue about who has access to those spaces and how they can provide a path to change." 

You can find TKV also on Twitter and on Facebook!  

TKV working on one of her pieces
This is a lovely example of a TKV mural.  It is under Branko's Bridge in Belgrade (near the boardwalk)
Close-up of the mural above which shows TKV's signature

Poster announcing TKV's exhibition at the Institut Français, Belgrade
Institut Français TKV exhibition, Belgrade

Institut Français TKV exhibition, Belgrade

1 comment:

Unknown said...

So interesting and heartening to hear about our sisters in Serbia. Love the artwork by TKV. Love you and what you’re doing.