Sanja Iveković

Was ‘pop art’ a term used by yourself or colleagues or was there a different terminology that referred to a new figurative art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s?

Pop art, minimal art, body art, conceptual art, arte povera … all these terms were in use in the art circles in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and 1970s.

Did you ever consider yourself (now or in the past) a pop artist?

No, I would not consider myself a pop artist. I belong to the generation who came onto the art scene at the beginning of the 1970s. We were commonly known as the ‘conceptualists’. As young artists we were eager to react to the work of the generation before us. We wanted to break with the modernist tradition, which was accepted in socialist Yugoslavia of the 1960s as ‘official art’. Our main concern was the political critique of the high, elite, institutional culture. We questioned the nature and function of art itself, the ‘autonomy’ of the gallery-museum context, the influence of the market logic on the production of the artwork, the social and political role of artists … We shared the opinion that pop art was not radically different from abstract expressionism: the content had changed but everything else stayed the same: the artists were exhibiting in the commercial galleries, their works were quickly accepted by the market … pop art seemed to be just another product of a capitalist mainstream culture. At the time we still believed that the alternative was possible.

I was preoccupied with the question of gender identity and gender roles in society so the politics of the representation of femininity in the mass media was my favourite subject; pop art seemed to be an almost exclusively male movement so it wasn’t inspiring for me.

Did your work engage with current events in the 1960s and early 1970s?

As a woman and as an artist I was formed by the contentious spirit of 1968. I was following the student demonstrations in Yugoslavia but at the Zagreb Fine Art Academy where I was studying I wasn’t generally able to produce works that engaged with the movement. Only on one occasion, for an etching project, did I use a photograph of a well-known female politician who was the president of the Croatian Communist Party. It was my comment on the current political event called the ‘Croatian Spring’. It wasn’t well received by my professors.

How did you choose the subject matter for your work included in The World Goes Pop?

The Yugoslavian socialist government practised a Communist ideology combined with consumerist elements. The subject of this early video, Sweet Violence, is a good example of this. I wanted to deal with the manipulative power of the media, which is a subject that I am still interested in working with. The video consists of the commercials that were part of the economic propaganda programme broadcast on Zagreb television. By placing vertical strips of black tape over the television screen I wanted to create a visual reference to the passive viewer’s captivity at the hands of the system. In this way I could symbolically disconnect viewers from the ‘sweet violence’, violence committed in a tender, endearing and efficient way, and thus even more damaging in its effects. 

Where did you get your imagery from (what, if any, sources did you use)?

Since I didn’t have any access to television archives the only way was to record the television programmes.

Were you aware of pop art in other parts of the world?

The information about pop art in other parts of the world was scarce. The Anglo-American media dominance was global.

Was commercial art an influence on your work or the way in which it was made?

In the 1970s I was working as a graphic designer at a large publishing house in Zagreb. Later I started a collaboration with a number of Croatian non-government women’s organisations designing their press material and creating the promotional videos for the television. The knowledge I gained as a graphic designer definitely influenced the way I deal with my artworks.

Was there a feeling at the time that you doing something important and new, making a change… 

Yes, the 1970s were heroic in the sense that we felt we are making a change … it was a good feeling.

Was there an audience for the work at the time – and if so what was their reaction to it?

The audience was small but dedicated and enthusiastic.

Looking back at these works, what you do think about them now?

I am pleased to see that young artists find some of my work still inspiring.

September 2015