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  • Writer's pictureBalkan Art Scene

Secondary Archive - History of Central and Eastern European Art from Female Artists' Perspective

Iga Maria Szczepańska is a Manager at the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation and Dejan Vasić is a Visual Arts Program Curator in the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Serbia.

In the following interview, they will share with us details about their collaboration and how SECONDARY ARCHIVE supports the rising and established artists of Central and Eastern Europe.

BAS: First things first, tell us about the project of Secondary Archive, and its position at this year's Manifesta.

Iga: is a digital, constantly expanding archive that presents the history of Central and Eastern European art from the perspective of its female artists. This year the Secondary Archive was enlarged with artists from Ukraine and Belarus in February and most recently 144 artists from Albania, Kosovo and Serbia, as well as creatives from the four founding Visegrad countries also joined the platform. Therefore making it one of the most prolific and important archives of the region. We were very pleased to be able to move beyond the digital sphere this year and participate in the Manifesta 14 Biennale in Pristina, Kosovo. The installation prepared by the Secondary Archive team and its partners at the National Gallery Kosovo showcased the voices of nearly 160 artists, who are a part of the platform. It has marked a new path for the project, that so far has had more virtual frame.

For the unique sound and visual installation in Manifesta 14, each artist recorded a one-minute statement, ranging from statements in active voice, political and artistic manifestos, to experimental sounds, wordplay, or sound poetry. The project did not have a curator per say, in order to give the platform to the artists themselves. Statements were also played randomly through a specially designed program in order to avoid further hierarchization.

Dejan: In the frame of Manifesta 14, we also have launched an Open call for emerging artists. This call was open to early career artists from Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and V4 Countries, who were born after 30. December 1987. We have received over 250 applications, out of which we have selected 5 artists from Albania: Lori Lako, Elsamina Musiq, Marina Sula, Abi Shehu, Gerta Xhaferaj, 3 artists from Kosovo: Laureta Hajrullahu, Agrina Vllasaliu, Barbara Prenka), 8 artists from Serbia: Sanja Anđelković, Marianna Feher Nikolić, Aleksandra Saša Jeremić, Jelena Mijić, Sunčica Pasuljević Kandić, Anastasija Pavić, Anja Tončić, Adrienn Ujhazi, and 8 artists from V4 countries: Eliška Konečná (CZ), Stonytellers (CZ), Lili Agg (HU), Zsuzsanna Simon (HU), Michalina Bigaj (PL), Justyna Górowska (PL), Alicja Wysocka (PL), Paula Malinowska (SK).

All of them together with curators have written their statements that are now part of the archive. The international jury of Adela Demetja, Renea Begolli, Daniela Šiandorová, Róna Kopeczky, Bogna Stefańska, Lucia Kvočáková, and myself, decided to award Elsamina Musiq (AL), Laureta Hajrullahu (XK), Sanja Anđelković (RS) and Paula Malinowska (SK).

The announcement of the grant recipients was part of the official launch of the newest artists’ statements in the Secondary archive in the frame of the closing of Manifesta 14. Besides providing a space for the celebration of female voices, also opened a space for discussing the struggles of women and female artists in the different countries that are part of the archive.

BAS: Dejan, you are an active participant at the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Serbia, and through Secondary Archive, you are fulfilling your plans and goals on empowering art and cultural activities in Western Balkans art scene. Am I correct? How would you describe your role and activities?

Dejan: I am working as Visual Arts Program Curator in the Center for Cultural Decontamination (CZKD), where I organize exhibitions, public discussions and programs in different formats. CZKD Center is a non-profit cultural institution established in 1994, whose work promotes critical discourse, alternative trends in social and cultural policy, human rights and fundamental freedoms while confronting violence, nationalism and discrimination. It is a place of culture and arts, open to political and cultural dialogue, and a space of criticism and affirmation. Since its foundation, CZKD organized several thousand events: plays, performances, exhibitions, public discussions, film screenings, concerts, workshops, seminars, conferences and lectures, as well as several complex performance experiments. We are promoting emancipatory practices, creative initiatives, and the culture of resistance by opening a space for dialog and exchange of knowledge and experience beyond Serbian and the borders of former Yugoslavia.

The Visual Arts Program of CZKD opens a space for exhibiting, discussing and introducing the different artistic practices from the post-Yugoslav region, with the aim of recognizing and promoting different political, media and education paradigms, as well as sustaining and intensifying the international context of those practices and their wider and deeper historical contexts. By the same token, my commitment as a curator of the Visual arts program is to provide continuous support for experiments in art, based on the approach of mediation and exposition, as a collective negotiation of fostering unexpected knowledge.

Within the Secondary archive, together with my colleagues Mirjana Dragosavljević, Simona Ognjanović and Jelena Vesić, I have edited and helped writing 40 artists’ statements and texts during 2022, that gave significant insight into practice, everyday life and politics of female artists. These statements written in first person and active voice also help in understanding shifts of the visual arts paradigm in the longue durée art histories of the Yugoslav Art Space (1945-1991) and Serbia (1991 to the present).

BAS: Iga, please tell us about Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation and its role in Balkan Peninsula cultural scene. Share with us your experience with Secondary Archive.

Iga: The Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation (Instagram) was established by Katarzyna Kozyra in 2012 in Warsaw. The main goal of the organization is to support artists and women working in culture from Eastern and Central Europe. For 10 years we have been fighting invisible barriers and questioning social norms that legitimize the low representation of women in art.

Since the establishment of the Foundation, we have organized a number of projects, exhibitions and publications, and our flagship initiative is the Secondary Archive, a digital archive of female artists from the region of Central and Eastern Europe, which currently includes almost 500 female artists from Albania, Belarus, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary.

With the most recent enlargement in the Western Balkans we hope to continue our collaboration with the partners – Center for Cultural Decontamination in Serbia, Tirana Art Lab Center for Contemporary Art in Albania and Oral History Initiative in Kosovo, beyond the recent project. The Secondary Archive unites institutions across Eastern and Central Europe, establishing a strong network leading to collaborations, exhibitions, publications and more. We hope to keep inviting more artists from the Western Balkans to join the platform, as well as to organise additional events. The first one, happening very soon, is the exhibition of the Secondary Archive in Belgrade. It is marking just the beginning of what is to come.

BAS: So, you are planning the second exhibition sometime in December? Share with our audience more information, including when and where can they visit the exhibition.

Dejan: We are speaking about the two exhibitions. First is the solo exhibition of Sanja Anđelković, an artist who received the grant on the Open call, and it would be open for the public in period 06.12-11.12.2022. The second exhibition would take place in CZKD Center in the frame of our Visual Arts Program and it would last from 27. December 2022, until 15. January 2023. In this exhibition, we would present the sound peace which was produced for Manifesta 14, and organize public talks and discussions together with the artists.

Iga: With the recent launch of the Secondary Archive and the success of Manifesta 14, after which we received very positive feedback, we understood that there is a need for such initiatives in the region. Dejan Vasić from the Center for Cultural Decontamination came up with the proposal to tour the exhibition and show it next at the CZKD in Belgrade, Serbia. The exhibition will take place in December of this year and will be a great closing to such a fruitful year for the Secondary Archive, as well as the teaser for the projects coming in 2023.

Pictures credits: Courtesy of Manifesta 14 Prishtina

Photos by: Atdhe Mulla

Graphics credits: Marcel Kaczmarek

Author: Hana Tiro


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