Graphic Design and Artistic Strategies of Sanja Iveković

“When discussing the graphic design of Sanja Iveković, it is precisely the themes and choice of media that make it clearly distinct from her artwork. The context is different, i.e. the fact that they are commissioned professional assignments. However, the methods and approaches are often the same or very similar — although she approaches her work as a designer with the utmost professionalism, seriousness and distance, it also clearly expresses the self-aware attitude, a reflexive approach to the medium and the theme she interprets. Both in her art and her design, her works are focused on the medium, and characterized by a high degree of “anonymity”, not merely as the absence of a signature, but also as the absence of a visible and recognizable ‘hand’ and ‘handwriting'” – WRITTEN BY: MARKO GOLUB & DEJAN KRŠIĆ


The goal of feminism is to change the character of art

—Lucy Lippard


It is well known that Sanja Iveković is one of the most prominent contemporary Croatian artists, whose significance is recognized on the international contemporary art scene and whose art works have been displayed at numerous international exhibitions, such as the Documenta, and in some of the most prestigious museums around the world, including a retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Sweet Violence, MoMA, 2011). The scope of her artistic practices primarily comprises conceptual art, video art and performance art, but it is far less known that graphic design is also an important part of her work. She worked as a graphic designer continuously, at greater or lesser intensity, from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s. What is more, in addition to the numerous graphic design works she did for cultural institutions, public television and civil society, Sanja Iveković spent full 11 years as an in-house designer for the Graphic Institute of Croatia, for which she designed numerous publications, edition series and ad campaigns. Despite this fact, her work as a graphic designer as well as the design aspects of many of her art projects, except for occasional mentions in a couple of articles, have not been the subject of much scrutiny. It is precisely these aspects of her work that this exhibition is dedicated to — on the one hand to her commissioned graphic design works, and on the other to her artistic projects that not only have a considerable graphic design component, but also require a discussion on design, advertising, mass media, etc. in order to be fully understood.


Postav izložbe "Sanja Iveković - Dvostruki život: Dizajn, umjetnost, aktivizam". Fotografija: Monika Džakić

Exhibition view, “Sanja Iveković – Double Life: Design, Art, Activism”. Photographed by Monika Džakić


The presentation of the graphic design opus of Sanja Iveković is a logical continuation of several recent similar exhibitions held in the CDA Gallery as part of the Designing History — Historicizing Design program section. The most important ones included the exhibition of posters by Dalibor Martinis entitled Counterfeits, Misinformation and Frozen Images – the Design of Dalibor Martinis from the 1970s and 1980s (2017), the exhibition dedicated to the design and conceptual art of Željko Borčić (Information — the Design for Culture by Željko Borčić 1970 — 1990, 2016), and the exhibition Yugoslav Neo-Avant-Garde Art Magazines (2016). In this regard, this exhibition — as well as the exhibition of the graphic design by Goran Trbuljak, to be held in late 2018 and dedicated particularly to the design of magazines and newspapers — continues the process of documenting and presenting the works of designers and artists who were part of the SC Gallery circle and gained recognition as important figures of the new artistic practice, continuously working in graphic design in parallel to their art.


Postav izložbe "Sanja Iveković - Dvostruki život: Dizajn, umjetnost, aktivizam". Fotografija: Monika Džakić

Exhibition view, “Sanja Iveković – Double Life: Design, Art, Activism”. Photographed by Monika Džakić


Although until the establishment of the School of Design in Zagreb in 1989, which created the conditions for integral higher education in the field of design, it was not peculiar for artists to work in graphic design, the interplay between graphic design and conceptual art was an extremely intriguing topic due to the artistic worldview of this generation, most commonly denominated as “new artistic practice”, which explicitly calls into question the traditional understanding of art, artists and artworks, is critical of institutions, recognizes the social and political dimension of art, leaves behind purportedly neutral gallery spaces, which it sees as deeply ideological, and replaces them with the street, with public and media spaces, and with the sphere of everyday life. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why artists such as Sanja Iveković and others from the same milieu, gathering in the early seventies primarily around the SC Gallery and the Gallery of Contemporary Art (these include, besides those already mentioned, Gorki Žuvela, Jagoda Kaloper, Davor Tomičić and others) found graphic design so attractive, not only due to understandable practical reasons, but due to programmatic and tactical ones as well.


Postav izložbe "Sanja Iveković - Dvostruki život: Dizajn, umjetnost, aktivizam". Fotografija: Monika Džakić

Exhibition view, “Sanja Iveković – Double Life: Design, Art, Activism”. Photographed by Monika Džakić



Art that strives to resist the cult of originality and inimitability can be easily recognized by its use of multiplication, reproducibility, relative accessibility, but also by the ephemeral quality of the graphic design artefacts.[1] It is no surprise then that some of the key works of conceptual art in the early seventies in Croatia were done in media such as posters, publications, leaflets and books, and the entire art scene created an informal communication network that bypasses institutional channels and used youth and student publications, newspapers and magazines. This, of course, does not mean that all of the art produced by this circle of artists had pretensions to become graphic design as such — quite the opposite was often the case — but it did, indubitably, use the resources of design, and used design as an instrument.[2]


Postav izložbe "Sanja Iveković - Dvostruki život: Dizajn, umjetnost, aktivizam". Fotografija: Monika Džakić

Exhibition view, “Sanja Iveković – Double Life: Design, Art, Activism”. Photographed by Monika Džakić


In addition to collaborating with Martinis on designing television graphics, telop images for the Zagreb Radiotelevision, during the seventies Sanja Iveković mostly designed posters for cultural institutions and events (Gallery of Contemporary Art, IFSK — the International Festival of Student Theatre,[3] the Workers’ and People’s University of Moša Pijade); during the following decade she worked as a graphic designer or, as the position was then named in publishing, a “graphic” or “art editor”, in the Graphic Institute of Croatia; and during the nineties, as a graphic designer she mostly collaborated with various feminist/women’s organizations, groups and initiatives — primarily the Women’s Infotheque, the Centre for Women’s Studies, the Women’s Ad Hoc Coalition, and the Women’s Network Croatia.


Telopi, Radiotelevizija Zagreb, 1973 - 1975.

Telop images, Zagreb Radiotelevison, 1973 – 1975


The exhibition before you follows more or less Sanja Iveković’s journey through graphic design as outlined above, but we have supplemented this course with several of her key art works and projects that were created using, for a lack of a better expression, “the resources of graphic design”. Chronologically, these are primarily her books from the 1970s (Tragedy of a Venus and Double Life, 1975 — 1976), the series of interventions in magazines and newspapers Gen XX (1997 — 2001) and Women’s House: Sunglasses (2002—) as well as several others that we are showcasing through printed and photographic documentation. It should be noted that this is not the first time that some of these works are displayed as they were part of exhibitions devoted specifically to graphic design. For instance, Gen XX was exhibited at the Design and Moral exhibition as part of the Design Days and the ICOGRADA Regional Congress (2001), the posters from the Women’s House (Sunglasses) project were displayed at the Zgraf 9 exhibition as part of the Designer and Advertising section in 2004, whereas Figure&Ground was shown at the exhibition of the 40th Zagreb Salon of Applied Art and Design devoted to Sinergies in 2005. Since some of these works involved collaborations with other designers, primarily Barbara Blasin, Sanja Bachrach Krištofić, Dejan Kršić and Rafaela Dražić, this exhibition is also partly devoted to the nature of these collaborations.


Hrvatski tjednik, plakat s logotipom, 1970.

Croatian Weekly, poster with logotype, 1970


While she was still a student at the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts, from which she graduated in 1970, Sanja Iveković expressed interest in manipulating media images, evident from her student work in which she used prints of clichés with the photograph of then leading Croatian politician Savka Dabčević-Kučar. As early as the late 60s and early 70s, she became part of a circle of young artists gravitating around the then propulsive SC Gallery under the leadership of Želimir Koščević. In her early career she was mostly interested in ambient works and interventions in urban spaces, which was, among other things, documented by the exhibition Possibilities for ’71[4], and since 1976 she was predominantly dedicated to video and performance art. She began to do graphic design while she was still a student – in 1970, her first serious professional assignment involved designing a logo and subsequently becoming a graphic design editor Croatian Weekly magazine, which Matica hrvatska began publishing in the spring of the following year, but only until December of the same year, when it was prohibited.0[5] The Croatian Weekly was conceived as a serious magazine for cultural and social issues, but in a design sense it was quite conservative, particularly when compared to student papers of the time. Sanja Iveković herself says, in the interview she gave for this exhibition, that she was well aware at the time that she would not have much opportunity to experiment, and that she was not particularly well disposed to the magazine’s content either. Still, to a then 22-year old designer and artist, the experience in the Vjesnik printing office was invaluable, though it would take an entire decade before she would return to the design of books and magazines.


IFSK 12 - Permanentni kazališni festival, programski plakat, 1973.

IFSK 12 – International Festival of Student Theatre, program poster, 1973


During the seventies, the majority of her design production was created in the medium of posters for cultural institutions and events. During 1972 and 73 she designed several posters for the International Festival of Student Theatre, which at the time was trying out a new program concept based on the idea of a “permanent theatre festival” or a “theatre in process”. The visual identity and the posters designed for the festival reflect this idea. Their basis is a sort of “three-dimensional” grid, whose basic element was the space of a stage represented abstractly through lines, drawn always from a slightly different angle. As the festival took place for almost two years, and was divided into four stages, several different posters were made for it, but the most interesting among them is the program poster, whose grid is “filled” in sequences, suggesting the announced “permanent” or “processual” character of the festival. On a design level, the work also comments on the medium of the poster itself and its conventional characteristics, primarily deconstructing the rigidity of the network, and then introducing the element of time into the static form of the poster. The majority of posters by Sanja Iveković from the 1970s more or less directly touch upon the same issue.


"Plakati zagrebačkih kulturnih institucija", plakat za izložbu, Centar za kulturu Radničkog sveučilišta "Moša Pijade", 1973.

“Posters of Zagreb Cultural Institutions”, exhibition poster, Workers’ and People’s University “Moša Pijade”, 1973


The poster for the exhibition Posters of Zagreb Cultural Institutions, held in the Workers’ and People’s University “Moša Pijade”, represented a challenge in itself as it is a poster that is supposed to represent other posters. Iveković approached the task with great wit and intelligence. The poster is composed as a “poster within a poster”, with the smaller poster (exactly half of the entire format) marked with a red outline and a typographically restrained title and no other graphic contents, but with its right upper corner “cut out” and dislocated to the edge of the larger format. This type of auto-referentiality when it comes to the medium, the playing around with the material constraints or characteristics of a certain medium is very typical for the art of the time, particularly in the field of new media, such as video, but also photography, especially in the works of artists such Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Goran Trbuljak or Ladislav Galeta. However, designers were inclined to it as well, not just Boris Bućan or Željko Borčić, who were both artists and designers, but also pure designers such as Boris Ljubičić, who never had any pretensions to become an artist. Some of the most interesting posters of the 1970s were created for the Gallery of Contemporary Art, which quite often commissioned design work from conceptual artists from the circle of the so-called New artistic practice.


Plakat za izložbu Marine Abramović, Galerija suvremene umjetnosti, Zagreb, 1974.

Poster for the exhibition of Marina Abramović, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1974


Among the posters designed by Sanja Iveković for the Gallery, certainly the most well-known is the one created for the exhibition of Marina Abramović in 1974, again characteristic for its unusual intervention into the rectangular shape of the poster, created by cutting the right lower corner of the poster. In this case, the intervention is not only a reflection on the specificity of the medium, but also a reference to the artistic practice of Marina Abramović. The radical intervention in the limits of the poster’s medium is related to the body art of the artist herself, whose artistic practice often involves reaching the limits of physical and psychological exertion. The poster for the exhibition of Dalibor Martinis in the Gallery of Contemporary Art again plays with the medium and form of the poster, but is also a double appropriation — on the one hand it appropriates real pages of the Večernji list newspaper, and on the other it appropriates methods used by Martinis himself in some of his works. Instead of intervening in the space of the medium by leaving estranging messages in the ads section of the daily paper, this time the ads section contains an ad for the exhibition itself, and Iveković merely blew up the page containing the ad and had it printed in the form of a poster, without marking it in any additional way.


"Ugo la Pietra - Ponovno prisvajanje okoline", plakat izložbe, Galerija suvremene umjetnosti, Zagreb 1975.

“Ugo la Pietra – Re-appropriating the Environment”, exhibition poster, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb 1975.


The following year she designed the poster for the exhibition Re-appropriating the Environment by Italian architect and artist Ugo la Pietra (1975). At first glance, the poster suggests the artist’s work involves urban interventions or other ways of deliberating urban space. However, on closer observation, the spectator can notice that in addition to the cartographic display of the streets of Zagreb, the poster includes another layer overlapping the urbanist graphic of Zagreb – a sewing pattern for a clothing item, similar to the ones that used to be, and still are sold in fashion magazines. This juxtaposition is not coincidental as la Pietra himself dealt with the relation between private and public space, but Sanja Iveković highlights this dichotomy from a slightly different perspective, at the same time expressing her own focus on the issue of the relation between the private and the public, that is the personal and the political.


Telopi, Radiotelevizija Zagreb, 1973 - 1975.

Telop images, Zagreb Radiotelevision, 1973 – 1975


We have already mentioned the extremely significant work Iveković did in collaboration with Dalibor Martinis on the design of television graphics for the Zagreb Television (1973 — 1975). In the early 70s, the design of Slovenian designer Jože Brumen won a public tender announced by the Zagreb Radiotelevision for the design of its new visual identity, and the Center for Industrial Design was assigned with creating the entire visual identity.[6] In order for the ambitious project to be implemented consistently, Matko Meštrović was transferred from the Center to the Television and monitored the implementation of the visual identity. One of the assignments was to design static telop images that would air between television programs or in case of technical issues. Today, there is no concrete documentation that would indicate how the collaboration came to be, and the participants themselves do not remember, but it is likely that Matko Meštrović, as someone closely connected to the exhibitions of the New Tendencies and the activities of the Gallery of Contemporary Art played a crucial role in bringing them together. In the period of increasing interest in the new medium of video, from 1973 to 1975[7], Sanja Iveković and Dalibor Martinis “did the graphic design for telop images of the Zagreb Radiotelevision, creating some of the best specimens of television graphics in the 70s at the Zagreb Television.” [8] As Susovski writes, we can find this type of “transfer of experiences from the field of conceptual art or from working with new media to applied forms of art such as print, photography, posters, television graphics, etc. with other artists of the generation. They have given significant contributions and new impulses in their respective fields and in tackling the problems they were facing.”


The late seventies were characterized by an increasing interest in video, and study visits to Canada, where Martinis and Iveković created several video works. However, during the eighties, Iveković was one of very few in-house graphic designers employed by the Graphic Institute of Croatia, where she worked on designing books — primarily for the Zora edition series, but also many other editions. During her time with the Institute, from 1979 to 1990, she also did the design for numerous ad campaigns of this publishing house.


"Mali napori, velike promjene: čitajte", oglasna kampanja Grafičkog zavoda Hrvatske, rane 1980-e

“Small efforts, big changes: Read!”, advertising campaign for the Graphic Institute of Croatia, early 80s


Until 1977, the Institute represented one of our largest and best equipped printing offices. Then it merged with the publishing house Zora and took over its publishing program. The publishing department of the Student Centre Biblioteka Teka was then also merged with the Institute, with Albert Goldstein announcing the ambitious plan for the Institute to become the Croatian “Gallimard”. In the early 1980s, the publishing and printing departments were separated, and continued to operate separately. In order to achieve his goal, Goldstein invited the experienced Zoran Pavlović Zozo to lead the publishing department’s graphic design department as its art director. He agreed, but asked for the operation to be reorganized, which was partially adopted.[9] It was mostly in-house designers/art editors, such as Iveković, who worked on the design of various edition series, but Pavlović also often hired external associates, such as the young illustrator Mirko Ilić. During the 1980s, then, with many edition series (Zora, Teka, Ogledala, Civilizacija, Retro, Rotulus, Omladinska biblioteka…) the Institute truly did become one of our largest and most ambitious publishers with about 50 new publications per year. Iveković herself points out that today this type of a cultural industry is unimaginable, not only when it comes to the number of publications and their editions (for instance, 2000 copies was a standard number for relatively esoteric books), but also the type of editions, the choice of author or the programmatic profile of edition series.


Knjige iz Biblioteke "Zora" Grafičkog zavoda Hrvatske, 80-e godine

Books from the “Zora” edition series, Graphic Institute of Croatia, 1980s


Book design is certainly the most extensive part of Iveković’s design opus. In most editions of the Institute, books were designed according to relatively rigid and clear standards outlined by Pavlović, whereas individual edition series were recognizable by their format and the design of the covers, which was assigned to various designers. Among Sanja’s work, probably the most important design is the one she did for the already mentioned Zora edition series. The covers of the books from this series show reproductions of art works, often by Croatian avant-garde and neo-avant-garde artists such as Josip Seissel/Jo Klek and Dimitrij Bašičević Mangelos, but also of foreign classics such as Man Ray and Duchamp, selected by Iveković herself. The inside of the covers contained short texts on the artwork reproduced. This turned the covers into a sort of biblio-gallery with an educational and didactic dimension.[10] The content of the books themselves mostly had no explicit connection to the artwork – the publishing project was used as a vehicle for intervention in the medium for the purpose of disseminating art and artistic ideas.


Klaus Theweleit - Muške fantazije, naslovnice knjiga, Grafički zavod Hrvatske, 1983.

Klaus Theweleit – Male Fantasies, book covers, Graphic Institute of Croatia, 1983


For the design of the editions of larger formats, for instance the four volumes of Male Fantasies by Klaus Theweleit or, from the same series, Myth of the Machine by Lewis Mumford, but also for the annual catalogues of the Instutute’s editions, often the method of collaging fragments of photographs and texts was used. Whereas the most interesting of these catalogues (1983), with their dynamic collage approach, are reminiscent of the aesthetic of fanzines and more radical film and rock magazines, later examples and several book covers from the late 80s, with their decorative geometric forms and textures, show influences of the then dominant postmodern aesthetic (Claudio Magris: Danube; works from the series of books selected and prefaced by Jorge Luis Borges[11] [1988], Retro Edition Series — Božo Kovačević: The Case of the Zagreb Revisionists, C. Ginzburg: Cheese and the Worms… [1989]).


Babilonska biblioteka — niska fantastičke književnosti u izboru Jorgea Luisa Borgesa, serija naslovnica, Grafički zavod Hrvatske, 1988.

Library of Babel — collection of fantastic literature selected by Jorge Luis Borges, series of book covers, Graphic Institute of Croatia, 1988


During the nineties, after being let go from the Institute and becoming an independent artist, Iveković’s work as a designer was characterized by collaborating with feminist or women’s associations and organizations. In 1993, she began collaborating with the women’s information and documentation centre Women’s Infotheque[12]. She designed the centre’s visual identity and was the graphic designer for some of its publications – the first Croatian feminist magazine, Kruh i ruže, and three books from the edition series Druga. This collaboration ended in 1998, when her final design for the centre was published, for the book Ženski načini spoznavanja.


Plakati u povodu predizborne kampanje 1999., Ženska ad hoc koalicija, Likovno oblikovanje: Sanja Iveković; suradnici: Sanja Bachrach Krištofić (pre-press), Barbara Blasin (fotografije)

Posters for the Croatian parlamentary election, Women’s Ad Hoc Coalition, 1999. Design: Sanja Iveković; contributors: Sanja Bachrach Krištofić (pre-press), Barbara Blasin (photographs)


During this period, most often in collaboration with photographer and designer Barbara Blasin and designer Sanja Bachrach Krištofić, Iveković did graphic design for several promotional campaigns aimed at raising public awareness and sensibility on the issue of family violence, the need to introduce women’s quotas on electoral lists, etc. She also did the design for books, posters, the logo and the memorandum of the Centre for Women’s Studies as well as posters and leaflets for the election campaign of the Coalition of Women’s Groups aimed at raising awareness about the importance of women in politics and women voting in elections. During the nineties, she also established the women’s art centre Elektra as part of which, among other things, she designed posters for workshops, exhibitions and performances. This is why documenting and exhibiting the works by Sanja Iveković is not significant and interesting only as the representation of the work of one artist and designer, but also as the recording and preservation of the history and activity of women’s organizations in the 1990s, which is all the more important because today such data is mostly unavailable, and archives lost or dispersed.[13]


Časopis "Kruh i ruže" nulti, prvi i drugi broj, Ženska infoteka, Zagreb 1993. - 1994.

“Bread and Roses”, magazine covers, no. 0-2, Women’s Infotheque, Zagreb 1993 – 1994


In the last two issues of the magazine Kruh i ruže that she designed, she included a series of ad photographs of famous models, who, instead of the usual names of fashion houses, had names of women who were antifascist national heroes, and were tortured and killed during WWII in Yugoslavia inscribed over them. This leads us to the second part of the exhibition, which contains a selection of socially engaged and activist Sanja Iveković’s works that use the media, methods and language of design. She has used the language of and experiences from graphic design from the very beginning of her career, for instance in her publications/books, such as Tragedy of a Venus and Double Life (both 1975 — 1976), which appropriate and to a certain extent invert the form of popular lifestyle magazines and are most certainly informed, but not crucially formed by her experience in design. In addition to these publications, which were published in a large number of copies in the mid 1970s, and were recently republished abroad, other works on similar topics by the artist exist, which were originally also envisaged as publications, but have for now only been exhibited as gallery pieces as they have not yet been published: Slatki život (Sweet Life), 1975; Gorki život (Bitter Life), 1975/76; 1976; On (He); Braća (Two Brothers), 1987; Crni fascikl (Black File), 1976; Titov album (Tito’s Album), 1980; Dnevnik Domaćice (Diary of a Houswife), 1976; Dnevnik domaćice II (Diary of a Housewife II), 1976; Ljudi i Događaji (People and Events), 1978.


"Tragedija jedne Venere" i "Dvostruki život", naslovnice umjetničkih publikacija, 1975. – 1976.

“Tragedy of a Venus” and “Double Lifet”, artist’s book covers, 1975 – 1976


Also, by frequently using the form and rules of classified ads and advertisements, Sanja Iveković made a series of interventions in the media space. In these works, she sometimes collaborated with other graphic designers, such as Dejan Kršić (Gen XX, 1997 — 2001; Women’s House: Sunglasses, 2002; The Disobedient: Reasons for Imprisonment, 2012), Sanja Bachrach Krištofić (Lady Rosa of Luxembourg, 1998) and more recently, Rafaela Dražić (Ich war, ich bin, ich werde sein, 2015). She did some of her most significant artistic and activist works (partially or fully) in the format of advertisements in magazine pages. Among them, the most prominent was the media project Gen XX from the late 1990s and early 2000s, done in the form of mimicry of print  — primarily fashion — ads published in publications such as Arkzin, Zaposlena, Zarez and others. At a time when the Croatian antifascist legacy was being suppressed from public discourse, including every mention of the heroines of the antifascist struggle, Sanja Iveković returned them to the media space with the tactical intervention of the project Gen XX: she appropriated commercial photographic ads with portraits of the world’s most famous photo models, but instead of using the names of known fashion houses, she inscribed unexpected content, the names of the forgotten heroines and brief informational texts on their struggle and deaths. The project is not graphic design per se, but uses design resources with a specific awareness of the role of visual communications and the power of mass media.[14] The women in the photographs are famous models (such as Linda Evangelista), whereas the accompanying text introduces us to the national heroines known to socialist generations of former Yugoslavia, but completely wiped out from the contemporary collective consciousness. This way, the project insists on the positive values of our antifascist past, expresses respect for the heroism of these young women, resists the organized social oblivion, erasure or re-inscription of history, but also deals with the current issue of re-capitalization, the return of the capitalist market, visual codes/clichés, advertising, etc.


Gen XX, oglasi u časopisima i novinama, 1997 - 2001.

Gen XX, adverts in magazines and newspapers, 1997 – 2001


The manoeuvre that Sanja Iveković carries out with the media action Gen XX presents an appropriation of the media space that it subverts with its own resources. Dealing with media is always manipulation – the technical treatment of a certain material with a specific goal. When a technical intervention is of immediate social relevance, such manipulation becomes a political act (which is default in the case of the media industry). Gen XX uses this generally accepted fact to its own advantage, addressing the sophistication of the audience, the “target group”, which enjoys being taken seriously, and which should not be left to advertising. At a time when the hegemonic discourse of Croatia expressed an incredible power of amnesia and an excess of ideological extremism compared to “democratic” procedures of fabricating public opinion, publishing photographs of known models with a text referring to an antifascist history being swept under the rug truly works as propaganda, fulfilling the pedagogical and didactic function of art.


Gen XX, oglasi u časopisima i novinama, 1997 - 2001.

Gen XX, adverts in magazines and newspapers, 1997 – 2001


Similarly, the project Women’s House: Sunglasses (2002 — 2009) is focused on the issue of violence against women, and was also carried out in the form of print ads in magazines such as Istanbul Life, Elele (Turkey), Feral tribune, Nedjeljni Vjesnik, Zarez, Springerin, etc. In this series, the artist once again uses the language of promotional campaigns of well-known fashion brands (such as Giorgio Armani), and intervenes into them with short texts containing the testimonies of abused women, specifically collected from the country in which the work was published.


Ženska kuća: Sunčane naočale, serija plakata i oglasa u časopisima i novinama, 2002.

Women’s House (Sunglasses), series of posters and adverts in magazines and newspapers, 2002.


On a technical level, the fact that they use the mass reproduction of media, and at the same time almost completely abolish the direct intervention of a particular artist’s handwriting represents a significant political aspect of these works. When women’s or feminist art is created or discussed, often we are faced with the cliché that places women’s art, unfortunately also feminist art, in the sphere of socialized biology, relying on an imagined essence of womanhood, a phantasmatic female sensibility, intuition, etc., which is then marked, in a social sense, by biology, the vagina, menstruation and sanitary pads (or, in the case of artists from the former socialist block, the shortage of sanitary pads in stores). The artistic practice of Sanja Iveković bypasses this cliché completely and belongs to another current of feminist theory and art, which not only underlines the social constructedness of gender and gender roles (a particularly hot-button issue in Croatia recently!), but also regularly confirms that these “gender troubles” are inseparable from the issues of class and class struggle, establishing a continuity of historical struggles for women’s emancipation, revolutionary movements and various contemporary initiatives.


“In these artist books, there are no ‘interventions by the artist’ in the photographs themselves. She only lines them up, and by juxtaposing media and personal photographs, she creates a new meaning that can be read in several ways — as a commentary on the media machinery, celebrity culture and the advertising industry, the relation between the private and the public, the original and the copy, the media ideal and reality.”


One of the classic feminist slogans says that the personal is the political, but feminist theory also accentuates that there is a clear distinction between the personal and the intimate. When in some of her works, particularly her books, Iveković deals with the relation between the personal and the public — among other things, by using her own private photographs — she does it without expressing individual sentiments, deftly avoiding any obscenity of the intimate (which, today, in a time of Instagram and the selfie culture, lost any illusion of radicalness). Even when dealing with something that could be understood as intimate (in the sense of a testimony or autobiography), this is always emphatically medialized, mediated through media in a conspicuous way — not only as a play with or reference to the exploitation of emotions by the media (women’s magazines, commercials, scandals, celebrity culture, advice columns…), but also quite literally expressed with a “cold”, “objective” newspaper style. In these books, there are no “interventions by the artist” in the photographs themselves. She only lines them up, and by juxtaposing media and personal photographs, she creates a new meaning that can be read in several ways — as a commentary on the media machinery, celebrity culture and the advertising industry, the relation between the private and the public, the original and the copy, the media ideal and reality.[15]


Iz postava izložbe "Sanja Iveković - Dvostruki život: Dizajn, umjetnost, aktivizam". Fotografija: Monika Džakić

Exhibition view, “Sanja Iveković – Double Life: Design, Art, Activism”. Advert from the Women’s House (Sunglasses) series in the magazine Zarez. Photographed by: Monika Džakić


Generally, her artistic and activist works that use the language and methods of design are never a testimonial expression of the psychological states of the artist. Rather, they deal with how gender positions and relations are formed and conditioned by social, class and political positions and relations. In this sense, issues of women’s rights, the position of women in society, etc. are inseparable from issues of post-socialist transition, the rise in neoconservative policies, etc. When discussing the graphic design of Sanja Iveković, it is precisely the themes and choice of media that make it clearly distinct from her artwork. The context is different, i.e. the fact that they are commissioned professional assignments. However, the methods and approaches are often the same or very similar — although she approaches her work as a designer with the utmost professionalism, seriousness and distance, it also clearly expresses the self-aware attitude of the artist, a reflexive approach to the medium and the theme she interprets. Both in her art and her design, her works are focused on the medium, and characterized by a high degree of “anonymity”, not merely as the absence of a signature, but also as the absence of a visible and recognizable “hand” and “handwriting”.


Dvostruki život, karakteristične stranice knjige umjetnice, 1975 - 1976.

Double Life, artist’s book spread, 1975 – 1976


Most often, these are collages, (photo) montages, exploitations and appropriations of found (media) materials, be it ads, documentary or family photographs, art works. The general absence of an explicit interest in typography with Sanja Iveković and her generation of artists/designers is the result of both objective and subjective circumstances. The educational system of the time did not pay particular attention to typography. In a technological sense, the composition of a continuous text was completely determined by and subordinated to the technological system of printing offices and their mostly restricted selection of typefaces. Any attempt to circumvent this system would mean collaging letters from foreign magazines, the use of letrasets, etc. This is why the use and understanding of typography was primarily focused on the symbolic significance of individual logotypes or juxtaposing texts created using different typefaces. However, and even more importantly, the spirit of conceptual art was more in line with simplicity, the reduction of visual art resources and a succinctness of ideas, without surpluses, with precisely as much aesthetics as is necessary to read the work as an integral whole.


“Despite the fact that today, at the peak of her international career as an artist, she does graphic design only sporadically and only with regard to issues that interest her, her graphic design opus is fascinating, not only because it sheds an interesting light on her artistic practices, but also because it exudes inventiveness, irreverent critical thinking, often humor, and a deliberation of the very nature of design as a medium”


The drop in Sanja Iveković’s interest in graphic design and the decline of her opportunities to do it in the late 1990s corresponds to two facts  — the first is the much discussed emergence of a new generation of young designers who graduated from the School of Design (for instance, when it comes to the graphic design of the publications of the Women’s Infotheque, Sanja was succeeded by Dora Bilić and Tina Müller, whose work was presented at an exhibition held at the CDA Gallery in late 2015), and the second is the increased interest on the international contemporary art scene in artists from former socialist countries, the Balkans or Eastern Europe. Sanja’s work was recognized immediately, and together with Mladen Stilinović, Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos, Tomislav Gotovac, Vlado Martek, Dalibor Martinis and Goran Trbuljak, she participated in a series of international exhibitions, biennales and other similar contemporary art events. In addition to exhibiting her older works, she continuously works on new projects, often greater in scope and duration, collaborating with other photographers and designers. Despite the fact that today, at the peak of her international career as an artist, she does graphic design only sporadically and only with regard to issues that interest her, her graphic design opus is fascinating, not only because it sheds an interesting light on her artistic practices, but also because it exudes inventiveness, irreverent critical thinking, often humor, and a deliberation of the very nature of design as a medium.


 Marko Golub • Dejan Kršić


(Translated by Leo Štedul for Language Lab)

[1]         “One of the important ideological preconditions of the new artistic practice was the democratization of art. The critique of institutionalized art, the critique of the so-called ‘autonomy’ of gallery and museum spaces is a critique of the market logic of the production of art works, these were some of the radical political issues we were addressing. We could say that politicizing art was an important characteristic of our practice, which is why it was logical for us to change the language of artistic expression. This is why we used these media, they offered us opportunities for a wide distribution of art outside of the art system, outside of galleries and museums, they had the potential to be democratic, works could be multiplied, they did not have the aura of an original art work on which high modernist art was based, they were ‘non-art’ in a sense as they did not have aesthetic canons inscribed in them, they were ‘empty’, so to say.” — Sanja Iveković in e-mail correspondence with M. Golub, 2018.
[2]         See
[3]         This poster was, after the first year, when it was designed by Tomislav Žiro Radić, designed by the Croatian graphic design greats: Arsovski, Bućan and Zoran Pavlović.
[4]         The poster for this exhibition was designed by her then partner, the artist Dalibor Martinis, displayed at his exhibition Counterfeits, Misinformation and Frozen Images – the Design of Dalibor Martins from the 1970s and 1980s.
[5]         From 1968 to 1970, the President of Matica hrvatska was the artist’s father Hrvoje Iveković, and the first editor of the magazine was art historian Igor Zidić. In the wake of the political turmoil of 1971, the magazine was prohibited in December, and the following year Matica hrvatska was abolished.
[6]         The young designer Boris Ljubičić also participated in this task.
[7]         The dates are uncertain as different data is found in different sources. Fedor Kritovac in ČIP (“Ipak i TV dizajn”, No. 278, 1976) writes they were aired in 1975-76. They were exhibited on the first Zgraf in 1975, which makes it most likely that they were designed in 1974, possibly in 1973.
[8]         Marijan Susovski, Inovacije u hrvatskoj umjetnosti sedamdesetih godina, p. 23 [footnote 13, p. 40], GSU, Zagreb, 1982.
[9]         This partial adoption is perhaps also reflected in the fact that Sanja pointed out that it was not Pavlović who decided which book or edition series she would work on, but the editors. Such interference of powers should be unimaginable in a large system that has pretensions to be the Croatian version of the world’s biggest publishers.
[10]       As the first editor of this edition series was Vjeran Zuppa, who also came to the Institute from SC, bringing with him the BiblioTeka series, this concept was probably very familiar to him because the magazine Teka (whose 12 issues from 1972 to 1976 were masterfully designed by Mihajlo Arsovski) published the so-called ‘kartoTeka’ — in the flaps of the covers of each issue a card was inserted with brief texts presenting the key theoreticians of the time, Jacques Derrida, Émil Cioran, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault …
[11]       The series Babilonska biblioteka — niska fantastičke književnosti u izboru Jorgea Luisa Borgesa, was originally published by the eminent Italian publisher and designer Franco Mario Ricci. The first ten books published by the Institute from 1982 to 1983 took the over the format and design of the original directly. The second series of five books (C. H. Hinton: Scientific Romances; Nathaniel Hawthone: The Great Stone Face; G. K. Chesterton: The Eye of Appolo; Arthur Machen: The Shining Pyramid; Herman Melville: Bartelby) was published in 1988 with a somewhat more modest design and in a slightly smaller format, with the graphic design of the covers done by Sanja Iveković.
[12]       The Women’s Infotheque was established in November of 1992 and focused its activities on the collection, creation and dissemination of information on the feminist movement in the region and the world. With this goal, the first feminist library and archive open to the public were established, the first feminist magazine published in continuity Kruh i ruže (since 1993 founded), and publishing and press-clipping activities from Croatian media dedicated to texts significant for the analysis of society from a feminist viewpoint were initiated.
[13]       See:
[15]       “In performing this juxtaposition, the artist should not be seen as an almighty critic of the evil world of media representations, but as a subject aware that she is already part of the ruling regimes of vision, that she has already been living a “double life. “ — Ivana Bago in the text “Becoming a Woman Artist” from the catalogue of the exhibition Uknown Heroines by Sanja Iveković, Calvert 22, London, 2013.