Painter Aleksandra Devic lives and works in Serbia and her powerful series of oils entitled Why They Stayed were inspired by the opening up of women’s stories via twitter #WhyIStayed. Using red balloons to entangle, imprison, trap and squeeze the woman pictured in the painting, the artist cleverly and forcefully depicts the feeling of pressure, of never ending conformity to please an unpleasable person, the bloody outcome of domestic abuse, the nude bodies expressing a vulnerability, and an overarching sense of shame and secrecy.
Using absurd motifs paired with images of entrapment, Aleksandra asks her viewer to consider not only the plight of victims of domestic abuse, but the way in which our experience of this problem or our view is filtered by our own cultural attitudes, whether we are a victim, or an observer. It was a great honor to discuss her work further.
Rosa: I understand this series was in part responding to not only the international crisis of domestic abuse, moments of observing such events, but also the raw images revealed via twitter with the hash tag campaign #whyIStayed. There is also the confrontation of your own view of this problem, and your consciousness that much of one’s attitude towards domestic abuse is cultural.
Aleksandra: Something that became interesting as I worked was the aspect of my emotions, and how they are a product of many things beside my personal experience. Something that seems acceptable behavior in one culture, might be against the law in another, and maybe a sign of virtue in the next. With that said, we must understand how our upbringing and the society we grew up in, subconsciously forms the way we experience abuse, attention, love as well as boundaries. between these realms.
Rosa: One of the aspects of your work that I admire the most is the way in which you use the impression of physical pressure to evoke emotional stress, how did you come to use balloons to exhibit this feeling?
Aleksandra: All of my conceptualizing happens over a long period of time and usually morphs trough a few major ideas. For this particular one, my basic idea was exploring the thin line between pleasure and pain, which grew into a more complex issue.
Rosa: Do you know people who have suffered abuse? I think we all do. Is this a big problem in Serbia? It is a major problem in the United States, and often people who are educated or in the art world seem to think it happens to “other people.” Of course, we know that is not true, it can happen to anyone from any walk of life.
Aleksandra: I do not feel that there is enough awareness and compassion in Serbia. We see news headlines every few days, about a husband taking his wife’s life, yet no one is taking any apparent action. In fact, since the start of the year, there have been already 20 cases.
However, just a few days ago, while working on a new painting in the series, I heard the neighbor couple fighting violently, and at that point reality hit me hard, reminding me how and why it is important for me to get my work out there.
Rosa: I am so glad you did. Are there particular artists you admire? Contemporary? Historic?
Aleksandra: Edward Hopper with his strong emotions of isolation, and a photographer duo Robert and Shana Parke Harrison, particularly the strength of their exquisite composition and magical situations.
Rosa: What is the local art scene like in Serbia?
Aleksandra:There are many talented, hardworking, innovative artists, but just as many mediocre ones who know the right people, and get the opportunities. In a way, to the public, the Serbian art scene is relatively weak, but take it from an insider, it is rich and amazing, beyond belief.
And so we have meaningful art inspired in part, at least in the beginning, by twitter -this is a moment’s glance into the lives of women all over the world and the hash tag #WhyIStayed showing that perhaps these moments in social media can be transformed into work of importance by serious artists. Seconds of empathy, sadness, joy and beauty can inspire an entire lifetime of work.
#1 FACT: Most domestic violence incidents are never reported.
“Domestic violence is the use of physical, sexual, threatening or emotional force to frighten, intimidate and control an intimate partner. Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that occurs over time. This abuse often escalates and may become worse with time.
Abusive partners use combinations of behavior to control a survivor. Even if you have never experienced physical harm by a partner, but are afraid and controlled by your partner’s actions (shouting, throwing things or threats), you are being abused.”(via Women Helping Women)
If you are a victim of abuse, please find a private connection & visit here for a list of US based sites for more information about resources, help lines and crisis centers, including shelters.
This post is dedicated to the victims of domestic violence and abuse, no matter their gender, heritage, or age, and for their enduring bravery.