Đejmi Hadrović: depicting the convulsion of post-socialist turbo-capitalism in Slovenia
It is challenging to return to Trbovlje with Đejmi Hadrović. Trbovlje was always connected primarily with Laibach, and this was important and historical.
Đejmi Hadrović occupies a powerful position in the contemporary generation of Slovenian artists; her work relates directly to capitalism and the question of labour and capital and patriarchal structures of society. Hadrović is putting aside the complaints of the nation-state as it is clear that it just protects the speeding up of the political oligarchy that regained such position after looting the (socialist) country of its possessions through different manipulations and procedures developed by post-socialist capitalism to make a profit.
The artistic themes opened up by Đejmi Hadrović are issues of a neoliberal global capitalism that has its turbo face in the former socialist countries; in only a few decades in Slovenia, this turbo neoliberal capitalism which is a hyper-fast and violent form of the “normal course of history” has strongly deregulated and immiserated workers, wage labourers and internal migrants (from the former Yugoslavia), produced second-class citizens, the LGTBQI, the non-citizens, the Erased, and dispossessed specifically Bosnia’s migrant precarious working labour force of money and dignity. This is the frame through which Đejmi Hadrović manoeuvres her art, evidently differently from Trbovlje’s Laibach that at the beginning of the 1980s was primarily reflecting the structures of representation, the history of the Second World War and the Slovenian collaborators of Nazism.
Hadrović displays other compelling stories of the time in which we live; in the 1990s she could not write her name correctly as, at the height of racism and hatred against “the others” coming from the former republics of Yugoslavia, the letter Đ was forbidden, as not being part of the Slovenian alphabet. The letter ć also vanished from the public sphere; I was one of the few to use it in the 1990s; the letters đ and ć, therefore, shared the same damned destiny in the 1990s, while German and English and French names with their umlauts and special signs were used as regularly as in the past in the newly born country on the sunny side of the Alps.
Today, the Slovenian petit-bourgeoisie (the only one we have, although it dreams for more), that has become rich after dispossessing our country, invigorates the myth of the nation that is supposedly different, superior, better, etc. than all the ex-Yugoslav “scum.” On Slovenian public television, racist jokes are reserved for the Roma (TV show Slovenski Pozdrav (Slovenian Greetings), 2019). Slovenia’s health and pension systems are collapsing.
Zahida is a feminist (2016), one of the central works at the exhibition by Hadrović, deals with her two grandmothers. Zahida, her grandmother from her father’s (Midhat’s) side is alive, powerful. She is a feminist indeed, even though her life was not easy; she defies troubles as a rock that cannot be crushed. From the maternal (Safeta’s) side, the grandmother Bagajeta passed away. In between is aunt Brankica and her travels to and from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Austria. As was recently commented by Dafina Sylejmani or DACID GO8LIN (Vienna), at a presentation of the contemporary exhibition project curated by Edith Jeřábková in Prague, which included psychedelic LSD ingredients (which can also be understood as the official entry into the East of psychotropic ingredients so popular in the 1970s in the West): “Life today is the strongest LSD trip”; unlike the 1970s, when we had secretly to buy LSD as an additional life stimulus.
Along with the stories and statements, the artworks of Đejmi Hadrović are an intense depiction of the societal convulsions of the last few decades. On the other side, Hadrović is so brutally precise and political. She talks about labour, about structures of power and of mothers and grandmothers from the deep socialist times who struggled to stay alive. In the works of art by Hadrović we find a mixture of positions that are all political, sexual, historical; former (Yugoslavia) and present Slovenia are connected through the working class, the women struggling for work, mobility, resisting patriarchy. Feminism denotes a political agenda and historical struggles for emancipation.
Tea Hadžiristić in her excellent analysis “Unveiling Muslim Women in Socialist Yugoslavia: the Body between Socialism, Secularism, and Colonialism” (2017) exposes the way of understanding feminism in the post-socialist neoliberal global capitalism; she states that feminism simply indicates the belief of equality between the sexes.
Next, to feminism, the veil, veiling and unveiling are persistent topics in many of Hadrović’s artworks. It is important to understand these lines of work in Hadrović’s artistic opus. A look at history shows that after WWII the unveiling of Muslim women was very present in the former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, it shows that the resurgence of veiling at the end of the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina is due to the 1990s postwar investors in the country, such as, for example, Saudi Arabia.
As Andreja Mesarič in her influential study “Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo: Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina” (2013) reports, the concealment was initially perceived as foreign, imported practice, just like feminism and the rights of LGBT people. Imported from the West and with no relation to the local reality. The veil is a “signifier of hierarchical class and gender relations, women’s illiteracy and unemployment, ethnic differences and colonial pasts.” (Hadžiristić 2017: 185). After WWII, the unveiling was presented as progress and also a cut with the past. Paradoxically, as reported by Hadžiristić: “the zar, a burqa-like garment which covered the whole body and face, was introduced in the mid-19th century by wealthy women returning from a trip to Turkey—it quickly became fashionable among Muslim women. Indeed, until the Austrian occupation [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] in 1878, the veil was more status symbol than a religious marker, and the zar was often an expensive, luxury garment which signified the wearer’s elite status (Mesarič 2013: 25). While Christian and Jewish women had largely stopped veiling between 1878 and 1914, the arrival of the Austrian occupation fixed the zar as a religious garment worn by urban Muslim women.” (Hadžiristić 2017: 186). In this way, we can perceive a consistent relation of power between the veil and the colonizer.
On such complex historical, anthropological, and social elements, thus, operates the art of Hadrović. The work advances bit by bit and stubbornly from veiling to the unveiling, from labour to gender, and shows the complex relations between different regimes of power: civic, religious, artistic, sexual, and colonial. As a consequence, it shows that the discourse of veiling is firmly connected with questions of power, geopolitical interests, state policy, and religious identities. These relationships, presented through the challenging artistic language of Đejmi Hadrović, a language that is an intersection of body art, tableau vivant, and exploitation of different media, are therefore a direct intervention in the concepts and potentials of society, the community, and the institutions.
Hadžiristić, Tea. 2017. “Unveiling Muslim Women in Socialist Yugoslavia: the Body between Socialism, Secularism, and Colonialism,” Religion and Gender 7:2, 184–203.
Mesarič, Andreja. 2013. “Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 22:2, 12–34.
Đejmi Hadrović: Begajeta, Safeta, Đejmi, Zahida
“With this photo, I wish to honour my grandmother Begajeta.” That’s how visual artist Đejmi Hadrović begins one of the captions in the photo series Zahida Is a Feminist. In the series, reminiscent of ethnographic studies of rural areas of the former Yugoslavia, the artist draws on her own story and the stories of her ancestors. She takes the inquiring about her own history and the emphasis of her own position even further in the work Silent Observer, a monologue confession of a woman in her thirties. Đejmi Hadrović asks whether we can speak about emancipatory female practices in the Balkans and whether it is possible to speak from the otherness that is implicit in the Western perception of the Balkan region as a region that represents the unfinished and undeveloped Europe that still needs to be shown the right path to civilisation. In the photo series Zahida Is a Feminist, Đejmi, along with Safeta, Zahida and Begajeta, appropriates her own otherness so that her and their identities can uncouple from the stereotypical images of Bosnian women, who have been represented through the prism of the patriarchy only as victims of war or housewives, incapable of speaking for themselves. In this way, the project enables the possibility for new narratives and a different kind of establishing meaning and identity. In the video Silent Observer, we witness the artist’s confession from behind a curtain, wondering whether she has done enough for society as an individual. Through speaking about her own limitations, internal conflicts, her own past and the history of her body, the monologue touches on identity politics and migration, with the disparity between her own subjective story and the broader social turn of events, in which she has failed to take an active role, stepping to the forefront. The artist speaks from the intersection of a multitude of identities (woman, Muslim, Bosnian, artist), the only position she can declare herself from. When she appears in front of the curtain towards the end of the video, she is no longer anonymous, exposing herself also as the body behind the speech and taking responsibility for her own tale. The work of Đejmi Hadrović thus explores the ways the imparting of meaning and the valuation of objects, people and art are constituted. The artist attempts to redefine given terms and their meanings, established through ideological semantic networks. By identifying with various socially constructed terms, the inhabiting of the position of her own otherness, and the appropriation of stories that have historically always been told by others, her work allows for the possibility of deidentification. The subjects speak about themselves, tell their own story, which allows for the possibility of new meanings arising.