Essay / 3 April 2020

“To Our Women”

Close-Up: Inheritance

Dear women, With a Five-Year Plan, great tasks have come to us that seek our spiritual chastity and agility. In addition, the wife and the mother, as educators, have the greatest influence on the child's development. Today's woman needs to have the right attitude towards physical education. A woman must be strong, healthy, enduring, and it is our duty to support her physical development in the way that suits her female being. Properly organised exercises will have a beneficial effect on her development and will strengthen her qualities, cordiality, combativeness, nobility and sincerity, which will be reflected in her life and prevent cruelty and selfishness. As a full citizen of Tito's Republic, the woman has the responsibility towards the people to be healthy, to safeguard her working ability and to be able to give birth to a healthy and strong family.

Since our founding in 2010, we at Crvena have been exploring and researching the revolutionary history of Yugoslav women, in particular that of the Women's Antifascist Front (hereinafter AFŽ) and 1942-1953, as it's most glorious era. In 2014, we advanced towards building the online Archive of the Antifascist struggle of women of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia ( that was officially launched on March 8th, 2015. Centered around thousands of documents, photographs, interviews, periodicals, secondary sources, etc., the popularly called AFŽ Archive is the most resourceful digital archive of the history of women’s organised struggle in Yugoslavia. This archiving labor is not just to remember, but also to articulate and politicise the role and position of women in socialist Yugoslavia, to whom our historiography, art and artistic creation have remained deeply indebted.

What do numbers have to do with women? They have to do with the house — it is important that numbers in households are kept, that we have some kind of permanent bookkeeping, that we know if we can get something in the future or not. When we compare revenues and expenses, we can decide. Every woman must have a proper attitude towards the state's measures, as needed for accurate data, about resources and according to the plans we undertake. In the state economy, the items are larger than in the household, so another form of control is needed here — STATISTICS. And why the numbers? Look at the difference. If I say, there are many forests in Slovenia, that is true, but it is better to say: in Slovenia we have 708,300 ha of forest, ie. 47% of the total fertile area of the former Drava Banovina. And what is a record? It is a precise monitoring of socio-economic development. The state must know the size of our country, individual districts, places, it needs to know the amount of arable land there is, how much it costs, how much livestock, goats and horses there are. The state needs to know how many people are sick, how many are disabled, how many women and orphans there are. It must know the average cost of living. How will this information be obtained? Do we need a new census? Yes, the censuses from the old Yugoslavia are worth nothing, because the speculators in power concealed state revenues. And who gives the data? Everyone who knows them, you and I, a peasant woman, a craftsman and all those involved in production and government. The broad masses.

The archive is constantly researched and activated through an ongoing practice of scientific and art production. From the very beginning of the archiving process, in which we collected, combined, stored, organised, digitised and analysed the material, our roles and rewards have been multiple. In the process, we have been collectors, archivists, researchers, activists, critical thinkers, interpreters, curators and artists, thinking and confronting the archive from different positions, allowing for multifold interpretations and knowledge production. There have been many collaborations and works rooted in the AFŽ Archive.

In December 2016, the Volume "Lost Revolution: Women`s Antifascist front between Myth and Forgetting" was published, representing a pioneering contribution to the feminist historiography, countering as well an otherwise under-researched, trivialised, and de-politicised role of the movement in the traditional historiographic narrative on socialist Yugoslavia. Series of individual and collaborative artworks were produced, presenting an archival corpus in a creative conceptual and visual manner with a strong feminist interpretation and stand. Our latest AFŽ-related undertaking was setting up the permanent exhibition “Polet žena” (Verve of women), at the Historical Museum of B&H in December 2019.

The Lajovic metal and bakelite factory employs 80 women. On February 27th, 1947, 38 of them passed the professional exam and after 6 months of work behind the machines they were given the opportunity for retraining. The best of them, such as Olga Sitar, tried their hand at teaching. The factory is very lively. There is no corner where something is not done. The committee members look at the happy faces of the women workers and encourage them to continue. The production has tripled, and with the introduction of the third shift it will be quintupled!!!

One of the many valuable sources of knowledge and creative stimulus for AFŽ Archive-based art were periodicals published after the Second World War in Yugoslavia. The emergence of women's magazines had great political, cultural and educational significance for women, being the most important medium to convey political and ideological messages as well as to mobilise women for the great tasks that stood ahead of them. A number of women’s magazines were published by AFŽ and its regional branches, i.e. “Žena danas” in Serbia, “Naša žena” in Slovenia, “Makedonka” in Macedonia, “Žena u borbi” in Croatia, “Dalmatinka” in Dalmatia, “Nova žena” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc.

During the summer of 2018, I spent time at the residence programme in Ljubljana (trans-making project/Horizon 2020 programme), where I worked with the women’s monthly magazine “Naša žena” (Our Woman) that was published after WW2 by the Slovenian AFŽ. I researched editions that came out between 1945 and 1948, which I’ve collected from private sources and at flea markets. Having done substantial research on “Nova žena”, a Bosnian and Herzegovinian AFŽ journal, I noticed many similarities when it came to the content and structure of the magazine. The magazines were very much alike in their composition, however with slight content adaptations toward the respective regions. In addition to articles on the political and economic situation, reports from Congresses and subsequent Resolutions, love for Tito, addresses by prominent AFŽ or Party members, articles on the organisational problems of AFŽ and its most important tasks, occupied a significant place within the magazine. A correspondence with women activists in the field and readers, results of individual work and collective actions, reports on the literacy courses and the problems and successes in certain areas, were also covered. These were followed with literary contributions or content dedicated to the recognition of individual women who, in some way, had excelled in their work, outworked the norm, or died heroically in the struggle for National Liberation. Advice on household, reproductive, and care work were an integral part of the magazine, which aimed at addressing all aspects of women’s lives.

Mothers ask me how their children are doing there. Well, here. Are there any diseases? No, I didn't see any real disease. One young man went to Brčko to the dentist. One sprained his ankle because he was jumping from a height, and one girl bumped herself a bit. They went to the infirmary. How are the tents? Is it true that males are close to females? It's true. But there's nothing wrong with that. In terms of cleanliness, young people compete with one another; whose bed is better made, whose blanket is tighter, whose tent is cleaner. This is especially helpful for our young men who are wrongly raised at home and think it is a woman's job. In the Slovenian camp where I was supposed to sleep with my male colleagues, a young woman called me out and warned me that I would set a bad example and that I had to sleep in a women's tent. I never thought this could be a problem. But they sent one home. They claim that she always looked where the men were and wanted to be with them. And do young people work too much? No they don't. They worked 6 hours a day. Since the railroad was already over, they worked quickly. I noticed that the female workers did easier jobs, and many were resting and talking during work, no one was punishing them for that.

The material was easy to navigate, despite my only partial understanding of Slovenian language. The similarity in form and content and the knowledge of the subject matter have allowed me to focus on particular issues that characterise the first years that followed the war, from 1945 to 1948. Encouraged to take action, to mobilise on all fronts, to vote now that they could, to seek education and advancement in “unusual” professions, women were in these first years portrayed in a revolutionary mode, as partisan fighters, heroic figures, leaders, factory and mine workers, behind heavy machines, doing hard “male” work and generally being powerful and important. After 1948, and which I’ve seen in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian “Nova žena” journal too, the image of women changes. Socially recognised as the role upon which socialism depends the most, motherhood became the paramount preoccupation of the magazine, degrading into a practical journal for reproductive and care work and better management of household duties.

Collage, as my primary medium and technique, was used in treating the archival material. Turning to content and text and appropriating the low quality visual material, I’ve used cut and paste techniques, translation and editing, montage and assemblage, and I’ve dislocated and interrupted. The writings on the back are interpreted and edited articles from Naša žena, fit to size, in a hybrid Slovenian-Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian language. They are formulated as addresses to women about issues that (should) interest them, such as: care for the orphans, the importance of physical education, the relevance of statistics in state economy and women’s role in it, the state of morality at the railroad building sites, etc. Returning to the archaic act and with certain anxiety about whether they will reach the recipient, the collages were constructed as mail artworks and sent through the postal service from Ljubljana to Sarajevo.

The works are hand-made, with scissors, paper, glue and the original material.