Art Review: Sanja Ivekovic @ South London Gallery & Calvert 22

Sanja Ivekovic is an artist whose works are inspired by both her native Croatia and the role of women in modern day society, primarily through video and photography. This is a significant retrospective of her work and is spread across two galleries — the South London Gallery (SLG) in Peckham and Calvert 22 in Shoreditch.

Considering the political subject matter she works with, it’s no surprise to find plenty of pieces at the SLG that are high impact. Among them is a magazine featuring 15 models wearing sunglasses, but beneath each headshot is a story of a woman who has suffered from domestic abuse. It’s a sobering expose on the contrast of how women are portrayed in magazines and often harsh realities.

Along similar lines is a video of the artist drawing lines on her face much like a cosmetic surgeon would. She then rubs off these lines leaving her face covered with smudges. It powerfully conveys the artist’s view of the ugliness that underlies cosmetic enhancements.

Contrasting with these hard-hitting works are some that fall wide of the mark. Ivekovic has paired photographs of missing teenagers with those of fashion models to demonstrate how the media has homogenised the appearance of women. But to our eyes they are very different, a smiling teenager triggers feelings of optimism and happiness while a pouting model is presented as an object of desire, and so we couldn’t draw the same conclusion.

The artist has also created a fashion shoot of heavily made-up women dressed in masks and camouflage uniforms. These are contrasted with pictures of men similarly dressed in war zones. It’s a statement on how men and women under similar circumstances are viewed the same, but a contrast with women in war would’ve presented a much more powerful view about how war and suffering are agnostic towards gender, even if society might not be.

The accompanying smaller exhibition at Calvert 22 is along similar lines to the SLG show but has a greater focus on the repression the artist experienced growing up in the former Yugoslavia.

Ivekovic’s work can be either potent or lacking direction, but at its strongest it’s a powerful insight into the roles of women in modern society.

Sanja Ivekovic: Unknown Heroine is on display at South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH and Calvert 22, 22 Calvert Avenue, E2 7JP until 24 February. Admission is free.

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