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20th Red Dawns Festival: Tina Dobrajc- Domesticated Animals (It’s Hard to Work in a Dress)

06 March 2019 > 29 March 2019 Kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition "Domesticated Animals (It's Hard to Work in a Dress)" by Tina Dobrajc, on Wednesday, 6th March, at 7.30 pm at Alkatraz Gallery, ACC Metelkova mesto. Curated by Tamar Klavžar, Eva Jus and Ana Grobler. The exhibition is a part of 20th International Feminist and Queer Festival Red Dawns (1st - 10th March). Opening hours of Alkatraz Gallery during the festival: Thursday, 7th March: 1 - 9 pm; Friday, 8th March: 3 - 11 pm; Saturday, 9th March: 4 - 11 pm.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Feminist and Queer Festival Red Dawns, the Alkatraz Gallery will host  the solo exhibition Domesticated Animals (It's Hard to Work in a Dress) of Tina Dobrajc, an exceptional young artist who has already exhibited her work in many notable exhibition venues in Slovenia and abroad. She pointedly weaves sociocritical themes with feminist undertones into her work. She incorporates an interlacing of traditional and emancipatory elements, and questions the issue of gender and the roles of women in the contemporary world, but purposefully outside of a theoretical conceptual framework. In her works feminism gleams in the background and presents itself as an all-consuming idea that pervades the motifs of her works. It is clear from her artistic approach that an inventive introduction of engaged content can only enrich a work of art. Through the painting technique, the artist explores the concepts of identity and social labels. By combining the ostensibly alien images of the present day and traditional motifs, she creates new contexts and opens up new perspectives on both the present and the past. By combining different worlds, including human and  animal, she is seeking and emphasizing the dramatic tension between different aspects of inherited  identities, creating an appealing, yet chilling atmosphere that draws the eye.

The figures of women that she puts in the foreground establish communication between the traditional roles of women and an emancipated, empowered view of the world. By combining folk costumes and ethnological symbols with a strong-willed, independent and liberated body, she adds hues of gray into the world which strives to appear black and white. Through this, she creates a space for reflection, a space for the synthesis of tradition, contemporaneousness and rebellion. All this is additionally emphasized by the elements of embroidery, words, film-like subtitles, plastic decorations and other additions that occupy its own imperative space in the artwork.

Her works explore and combine various Eastern-European costume traditions all of which, without exception, helped shape and mark the position of women in society and dictate the boundaries of freedom of expression. The traditional image of a woman in a folk costume bears a nostalgic, ethno-mythical message of a connection between nation and woman as a symbol of its self-reproduction. Tina Dobrajc puts a clever twist on this assumed traditional symbolism. The women depicted in her works wear headdresses in an amply distinctive way to cut finely into the predominant ethno-centric, patriarchal and heteronormative ideology. Certain elements, such as the absence of the women’s faces (You Don’t Belong to This Century) expose the issue of the reduction of women to their traditionally accepted gender roles, while others, for example the assertive posture of the girl in Mela-mela-mela-melancholia, Mon Cher, do the exact opposite – they subvert the expected forms of portrayal. The complexity of the blend of these various elements brings about the nonsense and even violence of seemingly harmonic images of normative womanhood. The absurdity of the ideal gushes to the surface and is strapped to a pillory. Through this reversal, the author creates a space where an image of a woman can be read differently – as an independent, strong woman or girl, as a goddess that warn us of the cruelty of the world.

The author reexamines the image of the Slovenian and Eastern-European costume as a historic indication of gender. The headdress in the painting Mela-mela-mela-melancholia, Mon Cher is especially interesting. It portrays a girl wearing the so-called laufar costume, which can  traditionally only be worn by men. The girl watches over everyone as some kind of supreme arbiter and protects them from “liars”. But she is not alone; she is flanked by an army of beasts defending the town in the background and she is followed by another girl holding a rifle. A comparison can be drawn with archetypes and mythology. The way in which the girl’s body takes up space is reminiscent of kings and popes. Her position is somewhat morally ambivalent, but it undoubtedly exudes power. This power is not absolute and it does not come without flaws. It projects a degree of arrogance, even contempt. The girl is portrayed as a leader of a vindictive march of the oppressed and her power is strengthened  through her relationship with nature; more precisely, through  what frightening and monstrous in nature. The connection with the archetype of women who have access to death and the underworld is therefore not coincidental. The army personifies this socially conditioned ballast of patterns, beliefs and ideals, and fights for the truth that has been appropriated by manipulative elites who hold the power to bend the truth to their needs just so they can stay in the position of power.

The question of gaze is important in the works of Tina Dobrajc. Either the arrogant gaze of the girl in Mela-mela-mela-melancholia, Mon Cher, which is more like the gaze of aristocratic men, or in the case of You Don’t Belong to This Century, where the central figures are turned to the side, where the gaze is notably absent. The faceless figures seem to be looking to the side; one face is replaced by a splash of pinkish red reminiscent of blood and violence, the other has a bouquet of flowers growing where the face should be. Just as with the girl, it is clear  that the figures are not meant for the gaze of hegemonic masculinity, but portray a completely different reality and turn the spectator’s gaze away, into the distance, to the cemetery, somewhere outside of the materiality of the canvas itself. This work is especially defined by contrasts – the strict ascetic crosses are made out of flower ornaments and pink satin pillows. By combining binary opposites, each seemingly strict category loses its power, and even though the painting itself is full of content, it leads us towards something which lies beyond, something essential and possibly horrible. There is a premonition of contemporary times, where all that matters – power plays and atrocities – escapes the eye.

In the work The Origin of the World, Tina Dobrajc puts the ignored into a position of strength – she transforms them from objects into subjects, from the observers into the observed. We can peep through the image of the famous Courbet painting to find portraits of thirteen women’s rights activists from the 19th and the 20th century. Alenka Spacal[1] wrote about Courbet’s work The Origin of the World, arguably the most pronounced example of voyeurism in painting, a work commissioned by a well-known collector of erotic works of art. For a long time, the work remained practically unknown to the general public. During World War II, the work supposedly disappeared from Hatvany’s collection in Budapest and resurfaced in France after the war. Its third owner, Jacques Lacan, hung the painting in his country house but hid it behind a landscape by André Masson, revealed only by a secret mechanism. Before the notorious work came into the possession of Orsay Museum in Paris, it was kept hidden and was intended only for the voyeuristic gaze of its owners, or its whereabouts were unknown. Tina Dobrajc used this work, an illustrative example of a patriarchal gaze, to give women power and space, and especially a chance to look back.

The exhibition Domesticated Animals (It's Hard to Work in a Dress) is an ideal opportunity for the Festival with an ever-expanding visibility in the media and a growing audience, both at home and abroad,  to recognize the feminist contribution of the innovative, unique and original artist, even if expressed slightly differently than in previous festival editions. With this exhibition, we attempt to display the various angles through which Tina Dobrajc approaches feminism – from colossal paintings with imposing figures of women, drawings and mixed techniques on humble sheets that address taboos around menstruation and installations, to miniature postcards that find new life through artistic intervention. The exhibited works that question and subvert gender roles and traditions are all the more important in a time when we are witnessing the growth of neo-conservative ideas that want to take away the hard-won rights of women, the LGBTIQ community and other minorities.

Tamara Klavžar, Eva Jus, Ana Grobler

Production: KUD Mreža, Društvo za kulturo inkluzije

Tina Dobrajc was born in 1984 in Kranj. She obtained her BA and  MA from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana. She has exhibited in several solo and collective exhibitions in Slovenia and abroad, including in Equrna in Ljubljana, the Božidar Jakac Gallery in Kostanjevica na Krki, KiBla in Maribor and is currently exhibiting in the Ljubljana Modern Gallery in the group exhibition Time Without Innocence. Recent Painting in Slovenia. She has participated in various group exhibitions: Lace: One Woman's Pittance, Another Woman's prestige in the Ljubljana City Museum , Slovenindia, an exhibition of Slovene visual artists in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, India, and the Biennial for Young Artists ART EX-YU in the Centre of Contemporary ART in Podgorica, Montenegro. She has received many recognitions and awards for her work. She was among the nominees for the 2011 ESSL Art Award and is a recipient of the Rihard Jakopič Recognition Award for Young Artists (in 2015) and the Hinko Smrekar Plaquette (in 2016). She received a working grant of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia in the same year. She lives and works in Škofja Loka.

[1]             Alenka Spacal, Pogled, telo in drugost "šengenskih žensk", Borec, Revija za zgodovino, antropologijo in književnost, 657-661, 2009, p. 568-589.

Photos by: Nada Žgank.

Tina Dobrajc, You don't belong to this century, 182 x 305 cm, mixed media, 2015