These extraordinary ladies will tell their life stories to the exhibition visitors, the stories of their destinies and achievements. Let’s not forget them, because they were truly great
Who are the women who paved the way for women’s rights, freedom and creativity in Serbia? Do we know enough about their work, achievements and struggles they had to go through? What Serbian public knows about this part of our cultural heritage?
The Great Women of Serbian Culture exhibition is open at the House of Jevrem Grujić in Belgrade, 17, Svetogorska Street, until March 27. It was officially opened by the Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia, Maja Gojković.
The exhibition presents 18 exceptional women of Serbian history whose professional background and personal achievements influenced Serbian culture and society. The exhibition is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia, the Secretariat for Culture of the City of Belgrade and the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality. The authors of the exhibition are Branka Conić, the Director of the historic House of Jevrem Grujić, Gordana Bekčić, Director of the Office for Cultural Diplomacy and Ružica Opačić, art historian.
“Often marginalized and forgotten, these 18 women paved the way for generations of women to become painters, writers, doctors, scientists, philosophers, women rights activists”
Branka Conić, co-author and Director of the House of Jevrem Grujić shared her impressions and idea behind the project: “Often marginalized and forgotten, these 18 women paved the way for generations of women to become painters, writers, doctors, scientists, philosophers, fighters for women’s rights. They were nurses and warriors, with medals and ranks, in many ways the first of their kind in their cities, countries and Europe.”
Gordana Bekčić PhD, Director of the Office for Cultural Diplomacy, the exhibition’s co-author, said: “The patriarchal, traditional culture in which these women grew up made them not only great but also revolutionaries and heroines in their communities. Most of them were born in the mid or late 19th century. In their commitment to their professional achievements, they had to fight against stereotypes and rejection. Without these great women and others yet waiting to be presented and revealed we would not have the privilege to be free, independent, and equal with our male fellow citizens.”
Ružica Opačić, the art historian, said that those great women also dedicated part of their lives to teaching and thus they shaped generations of young women, educating them to be a part of change and avant-garde, as well as the pillars of their families.
Who are these ladies?
Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja was the first Serbian poetess, whom Vuk Stefanović Karadžić called “my daughter from Fruška”. Petar Petrović Njegoš said the following about her: “I am a poet, she is a poetess, if I were not a monk, she would be my princess of Montenegro”.
Poleksija Todorović is the first woman to paint an iconostasis and together with her husband Steva, she painted many icons – he would do the figure, and she would do the details.
Draga Ljočić is the first doctor of science in Serbia and also the first woman to enrol in college at a time when admissions were only allowed for men. When Draga demanded to be paid as much for her work as her male colleagues, she was permanently dismissed from her civil servant job.
Beta Vukanović was one of our first cartoonists, who started the first painting school with her husband Risto, and brought the spirit of European painting to Serbia. She continued drawing and painting for 75 years.
Unforgettable are the stories of painter Ljubica Cuca Sokić about her life in Paris at the time when Braque, Picasso and Matisse also lived there. She always used to say that she loved Dorćol more than Paris. Sokić was a good friend of Bela Pavlović, the lady-in-waiting of Queen Marija Karadjordjević from Jevremova Street, and the two of them shared a famous studio in the attic of the Ilija Kolarac Endowment along with Zora Petrović and Beta Vukanović.
Milena Pavlović Barili exhibited side by side with Frida Kahlo and conquered the world with her art, while in her country she unsuccessfully sought a job as an art teacher.
Isidora Sekulić was the first woman academic in Serbia, who spoke six foreign languages. Because she was unfairly criticized, she burned some of her work.
Jelisaveta Načić was in charge of the luxury and beauty of our capital. She was an architect who designed buildings that are admired to this day such as the Church of Alexander Nevsky, the King Peter the First Elementary School and the iconic staircase that leads to the Kalemegdan Park. Because she advocated for all captured Serbs to be released after the Balkan wars, she was imprisoned in the Nežider camp, where she met her greatest love. Her desire for education was so strong that she spent all her dowry on it.
“Numerous lectures, plays, performances and themed evenings, inspired by the life stories of these women, will take place while the exhibition lasts”
The destiny of the forgotten Serbian painter Vidosava Kovačević was quite tragic. Her creative streak was interrupted at the age of only 24 when she died. During eight years of painting, she crossed the path from realism to impressionism and expressionism, leaving a legacy that many artists have not managed to generate during decades of work. However, a prince saved her artwork from oblivion – Pavle Beljanski, a gentleman, a diplomat, an art lover and a collector, a keeper of hidden treasures.
Desanka Maksimović was indignant when she heard that a monument was being erected in her honour in her hometown, so the authorities had to persuade her into thinking that the monument was actually dedicated to poetry, but only resembles her.
The music of the first Serbian female composer, Ljubica Marić, was performed by the world’s largest orchestras. She was also the first woman to conduct the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Soja Jovanović was the director of the first feature colour film, ‘Pop Ćira i Pop Spira’ and the first theatre play after the Second World War.
Maga Magazinović was often called ‘the Serbian Isadora Duncan’ and a woman who brought “freedom to Serbian culture”. She also opened the first dance school in Belgrade, from which the famous ballet dancer Luj Davičo later graduated.
Mina Karadžić was the inspiration for the famous poem by Branko Radičević – “Pevam Danju, Pevam Noću” and the author of the most important scrapbook in our history, which remained an important testimony of the cultural elite of that time.
Anica Savić Rebac was one of the most educated Serbian women. At only 12 years old, she translated the works of Byron, and actively corresponded with some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, including Thomas Mann.
Nadežda Petrović worked as a nurse during the Balkan Wars and in the First World War when she tragically lost her life. She is one of the first contemporary painters to discover photography as a new medium of her work.
These extraordinary ladies will tell their life stories to the exhibition visitors, the stories of their destinies and achievements. Let’s not forget them, because they were truly great. Numerous lectures, plays, performances and themed evenings, inspired by the life stories of these women, will take place while the exhibition lasts.