Women on their work: conversations with Rončević, Janečić, and Rožman

If you keep up with Ikon, you might already be familiar with the artists Dina Ron?evi?, Helena Jane?i?, and Maja Rožman. On the occasion of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we invited them to tell us more about working as female artists in Croatia.

While Ron?evi? and Jane?i? directly engage with gender identity in their work, Rožman investigates other concepts, such as human perception and the creative act itself. Together these three artists offer a nuanced view of the current situation in Croatia, acknowledging lingering gender inequality, but also questioning to what extent being a woman affects artists professionally and how discussions of gender can have a productive impact. Ultimately, all three artists advocate positivity and proactivity. Rather than rehashing divisions, they push to transcend hard-and-fast identifiers and pose larger questions about both art making and social constructs.

Here is what they had to say.

What does it mean to be a “female artist”? How does being a woman shape your work?

Ron?evi?: The fact of me being a woman is a part of my personal identity, as well as one of the most important issues of my work. As a social construct, gender identity is a treasure chest for understanding the culture we live in.

Rožman: I belong to that part of the populace that doesn’t separate between the sexes. Being a woman doesn’t have anything to do with the way my work is shaped. My experiences do. Of course those could be shaped by the fact that I’m a woman, but my work generally does not deal with questions of gender – or nationality, ethnicity, or any other identifier. For example, along with three other Croatian artists, I did needlework of statements by famous male artists about art. Of course needlework was traditionally used by housewives to pass their time and decorate the house – and they also often used reproductions of famous artworks, as can be seen on some custom needlepoint keychains – but I was actually making a statement about the trend of text art.

Jane?i?: This is a difficult category for me, because I feel androgynous, both male and female. Since I am a feminist and support women’s rights, in public I identify myself as a female artist. With that identification I support other female artists and change the way society views women, as successful professionals in their field of work. It’s important for me to portray women as active, independent, self-confident characters. I am also making a statement about gender ambiguity. I want to present this type of an ambiguous body because it’s not visualized enough.

What is the general situation like for female artists in Croatia?

Ron?evi?: Well, as we don’t have gender studies, even showing feminist works can be refreshing in that context. But, I wouldn’t say there are many young female artists who do feminist work. Maybe the answer should be about the situation for women in general, in Croatia. It is kind of sad how much we have to adjust to patriarchal rules, just to have a good start: being raised “as women” and [later] having to apply “male characteristics” to yourself to be able to function independently, but then covering it again with femininity so you won’t be considered an outcast, a problematic gender bender, [or] insulted for being improper, a bitch, and so on. You know, when a woman gets a “dragon” nickname, just because she is capable of handling her life.

Rožman: I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s generally good. I exhibit, I travel, I teach, I create. It’s fun, challenging, a bit frustrating until inspiration kicks in, and then it’s a lot of work. But as they say, hard work always pays off. True, statistically speaking, at least here, most of the leading artists are still men. I don’t exactly know why this is – if it is connected to sex, or if it is a matter of taste. Surely, in the past it was not easy to be a female artist. But now I think that the times are changing, and there are more and more women teaching at the Academy (I am one of them), more women are enrolling (more women than men, in fact), and emerging artists are, give or take a few, equally women and men. Yes, there are still some patterns of chauvinistic behavior present in society, but the fact is that if you work hard, you can be successful.

Jane?i?: I think the situation for artists in general is difficult in Croatia because the art market is very small. But it is even more difficult for female artists, because this small market supports just a few male artists. Most positions of power are still held by men who support and promote their male colleagues, so women enter institutions in smaller numbers, especially in the art academies in Croatia.

Do you feel that you have support from your peers, from professionals in the field, and from your viewers?

Jane?i?: I feel that I have support from the Academic community and other professionals. My work is included in several collections, and I am a member of the Croatian Association of Artists. I see a lot of male and female artists work hard to produce their work, but it seems that the male artists are “louder” about it, and there are more of them out there.

Ron?evi?: I find support and feel accepted. Older, male chairmen often have a patronizing attitude, so I usually try to avoid having to work with them. But, I wouldn’t put my hand in the fire by claiming that it’s because of my gender – maybe it’s just my age or their ego. Peers are, well, mostly supportive, but also opinionated, which is good! And for sure, it’s a man’s world, so one has to adjust to its rules before trying to change anything.

Rožman: Absolutely. I don’t make distinctions between peers, buyers, sellers, or viewers. Those I have established relationships with are always there for me, and vice versa. I like to reciprocate.

Are men or women generally more interested or receptive to your work?

Ron?evi?: Women are more receptive, for sure. Feminists and lesbians the most. Probably because, to generalize a bit, they are more self-aware of their sex and gender positions in society and therefore, struggle more.

Jane?i?: Women are receptive to my work, and like it a lot, but men have the financial ability to buy it.

Rožman: I would say both. Mostly those with specific visual taste, who seek out black and white minimalist work, or drawings and prints.

What changes would you like to see for artists who are women, in Croatia or in general?

Rožman: In the art world perseverance is key. So I’d say more hard work.

Jane?i?: I would like to see female artists helping and supporting each other like the male artists do. There should be more female mentors in the Academic sphere, so they can be role models and offer guidance to young, upcoming female artists.

Ron?evi?: Things don’t change out of the blue. I would like it if people in general would be more active … and that structures that allow us to function as communities would remain open and work for the people, never mind whether they are men or women. I would like us not to need feminism anymore. The struggle to achieve such goals will never stop. It’s not only about women, it’s about all the “others.” We are all different. It’s not about equality – we cannot be the same. It’s about respect.

Interview by Elaine Ritchel

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