© by Iva Kontic
 

SHE UNDER THE PLUMTREE

2016-2017 |  series of photographs - book - performance

“She Under the Plumtree” explores the definition of femininity and the construction of female identity in contemporary society and culture of the Western Balkans. The work focuses on the over-sexualized and sexist representation of women and gender relations within Pop-Folk music which dominates the current musical and cultural scene of the region and, in particular, of Serbia where this music genre and phenomenon originates from. Considered the local mainstream, the Serbian pop-folk repertory outlines a female profile modeled by the strongly patriarchal anthropological tradition from which it was born. The song and musical video-clips portray women as reduced to a stereotype, to a body which is functional, adjusted to what man supposedly desire, while men live a primitive masculinity which coincides with female expectations. This feminine identity constantly reconfirms itself inside the contemporary context through the mis-en-scene of a controversial imaginary in which the female image and body are imprisoned inside a paradoxical representation. The flamboyant pop-folk singers, half-naked and wearing excessive makeup, are constructed to please the male eyes, while the lyrics of their songs narrate indirectly of their social submission. To the songs of the female singers go hand in hand with the male interpreters who sing about the triumph of virility and simultaneously reduce the woman body to an object. Trash, transgression, and vulgarity reflect and correspond to the temperature of the female-male relations that exist within the everyday reality of Serbian and neighboring Balkan societies. In “She Under the Plumtree”, the two artists try to play with and subvert this standardized representation of the female universe and the visual normative through which a woman should indulge the male universe as described through the realm of Pop-Folk. From a vast musical repertory of Serbian pop-folk “patrimony”, several songs are chosen for emblematically describing or emphasizing the modality of the reduced and objectified female.

Pop-Folk music is a genre that mixes the folk music from Serbia and the surrounding region, and the contemporary music genres like pop, dance, and hip-hop. It derives from the turbo-folk music of the 90s, also originated from Serbia and widely popular in the region. While turbo-folk was born from the urbanisation of folk music and was often correlated with the ruling political ideologies of nationalism, populism, and traditional values dominating the local society in the 90s, pop-folk came about in the post-2000 decade of the social “democratisation” and is a more modern version which follows the global mainstream trends, both musically and aesthetically. The aesthetic of kitsch and vulgarity which characterized the turbo-folk style and culture, in pop-folk, has assimilated the forms of more sophisticated representation, communication and high-end production typical for the Western culture. Consequently, pop-folk is less seen as a reflexion of the specific politics, typically associated with “Milosevic era” and the retrograde, rural and traditional, but it has entered all the layers of the local population to become a mainstream lifestyle and the dominant culture in Serbia and surroundings.

She Under the Plumtree is composed of several parts - a series of photographs, a book, a performance and a soundtrack, which can function as independent works or can be combined in a mixed-media installation.

 

The series of photographs (C-print, 70 x 50 cm) is based on the performative re-enactments by the artists who, through their dressing up, interpret the two “types” of feminine - or two models of the turbo-folk singers - as proposed by the selected songs. The photographs represent a sort of allegorical illustrations inspired by the songs’ narratives, which are recontextualized inside an everyday scenario and describe the cliché poses or stereotypical activities of an ordinary woman. Each visual “illustration” integrates the lyrics of the song it references.The photographs are accompanied by a book - a pseudo-anthology which recollects over one hundred lyrics of pop-folk songs translated into English. Divided into three main categories - Desired, Wishful and Related - the selected pop-folk repertory is representative in regards to the image of woman promoted and normativized within the society which this musical genre delineates, influences and generates at the same time.

“She Under the Plumtree” includes a  performance by the artists dressed as their pop-folk female “alter-egos” who read out all the words from the songs in the book, which either describe women (read by Maja) or describe what women should desire (read by Iva). The reading session is alternated by a soundtrack made of the melodies extracted from various pop-folk songs.

 

She Under the Plumtree

Biennale Giovani Monza, 24 June 2017