Jasmina Tumbas
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Marina Abramović, Lepa Brena, and Esma Redžepova
Socialist nation, Orientalism, and Yugoslav legacy
in “I am Jugoslovenka!”
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Chapter 2 unfolds the complicated position of Orientalism in Yugoslav culture, discussing individual performance works by artist Marina Abramović and singers Lepa Brena and Esma Redžepova. Focusing on their varied relationships to questions of emancipation in Yugoslavia, the analysis of the intersection between feminist emancipatory strategies and Orientalism offers insights into how Yugoslavia’s brands of “multiculturalism” and transnationalism were uniquely tied to the country’s socialist paradigm of an egalitarian society. All three women were “firsts” in their fields, achieving breakthroughs previously unattainable for women in the Yugoslav context. While Abramović changed the history of performance art in the elite echelons of the local and global art world from the late 1970s, Lepa Brena conquered popular culture. She began her career in the small kafanas (bars or restaurants that played live music) of Yugoslavia and by the 1980s was a megastar touring sold-out stadiums in neighboring socialist states; her success was unprecedented and lasting. The case of Redžepova complicates the embodiment of Yugoslavia as she is the most famous Romani woman singer in the world, representing her socialist home worldwide in more than 20,000 concerts, a third of which benefitted humanitarian causes. While Brena and Abramović presented as white East European women making it big beyond the Yugoslav borders, Brena as a pop-folk icon and Abramović as a communist expatriate and acclaimed performance artist, Redžepova embodied a much less white, more exotic, and discriminated-against people in Yugoslavia, namely the Roma population.

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“I am Jugoslovenka!”

Feminist performance politics during and after Yugoslav socialism


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