Walk through the New cemetery titled “Women from Soul and Mind” was organized on Saturday, August 25, with a goal reminding on important women from history and their immeasurable contributions and it was discussed about “How Female is Cultural Heritage?”. The walk was a joined endevour of the two mentoring programs “Creative Mentorship” and “Share Your Knowledge” while the guidance was provided by Belgrade Cemeteries and led by Violeta Obrenović, art historian funeral and memorial culture.
Discussion on “How Female is the Cultural Heritage?” was organized afterwards and moderated by PhD Milena Jokanović, Art historian and cultural manager while the speakers were PhD Katarina Zivanović – curator of the Museum of Yugoslavia, Helena Hirschenberger – PhD in Project Management in Conversation and Restoration at FTN Novi Sad, Gordana Grabež – Operative Director of the National Museum in Belgrade and PhD Aleksandra Jovanić – co-author of the exhibition “Brave women traveling through time”.
The participants of the mentoring programs had the opportunity to come in contact during the walk with the great contribution and creativity of outstanding women’s from the history that rests there. It was talked about Milica Jakovljević, better known as Mir Jam, and her commitment to recognizing women in every skill, her journalistic work and about gloomy fact that has a powerful message on the fight for women’s rights, next to Mage Magazinović, only one of three women among the top 100 most important Serbian journalists in the monograph of two centuries of Serbian journalism. They also talked about Anka Obrenović, a Serbian princess who was also the first woman who translated foreign works in post-Ottoman Serbia. As the most enlightened woman in the Balkans in the 19th century, she organized the first salon in her home in Belgrade and strongly defied all the social rules that spoke about what a woman needs and what she should not do. Katarina Jovanović, as a historian of literature, a publicity, philosopher, journalist, translator and humanitarian worker, has indebted Serbia, by helping her both in the homeland and outside, in the most difficult moments of Serbian history. Serbian library in Zurich bears the name after her – Library of Katarina Jovanović. In a very modest place, almost without a clear signs is memorial plate of Katarina Milovuk, professor and director of the High Women’s School, humanists and journalists, and above all a strong fighter for the rights of women of that time. Katarina Milovuk was the founder of the Serbian National Women’s Association, the Social-Political Union of Women’s in London, the Belgrade Women’s Society and the Women’s Music Society. On several occasions, Milovuk demanded sharply to give women the right to vote on the end of the nineteenth century. Often, by her personal example of reduced clothing, she made it clear that women do not serve to “show” and that the integrity of women is worth the fight. It was also talked about the well-known Nadežda Petrović, the most famous Serbian painter and humanist who, with equally fighting Delfa Ivanić, founded the Kolo of Serbian Sisters, in order to strengthen the position of women in the then Serbian society. As a woman who brought the modernist approach to art in Serbia and made a huge contribution to the modernization of the Serbian patriarchal society, Maga Magazinović was another one in a row inspiration for our participants. Great enthusiasm caused Serbian heroines and sergeants of the Serbian army during the Balkan Wars and the First World War, such as Natalija Bjelajac, who was wounded for twelve times during the wars, caused great enthusiasm, Milunka Savić – women with the most decorations in the history of warfare and given with the real nickname “Serbian Joan of Arc”, Sofija Jovanović, a woman who, for her sergeant skills and steel spirit in the wars during 1912-1918, was awarded with 13 decorations. The stories of these brave, strong and capable women reminded us how important it is for the fight for the rights of women to live in each of us, both because of respect for women from the past and their contributions, and more importantly because of the generations that will follow us.
After the walk of the “Woven from soul and mind” and the recollections of bright women from the past, the question was raised at the right moment: “How influential is a female cultural heritage?” PhD Katarina Živanović, Helena Hirschenberger, Gordana Grabež, PhD Aleksandra Jovanić and PhD Milena Jokanović tried to answer on that question, while the participants of the mentoring programs actively participated in this dynamic and action inspiring discussion.
A fairly justified, important segment of the discussion was the terminology of the word “heritage”, which is characterized as gender sensitive, in contrast to the more popular expression of “inheritance”, which basically has an Old Slavic word that means father – fatherland – inheritance. The third term used is a cultural good, which also has a gender neutrality note. The story of the term is just one of the indicators that the struggle for gender equality is profound and requires commitment and effort, as well as raising awareness of the importance of every detail, because the changes we are trying to create are systemic, leak at the first glance of irrelevant elements is capitulation even before the beginning of the battle.
At the core of this topic, the contents of today’s interpretation of cultural heritage have been found. Interpretation is at the core of how we experience our history and societal development and most often it is a process of selectively shaping a desired history at power centers like state institutions, these most often being cultural institutions funded by the state. Heritage is much more than interpretation, thus it can also be undesirable. Heritage is of a dissonant character, so it can be viewed from multiple angles as it depends on who does the interpretation. So museums perhaps have the biggest role in determining how much female cultural heritage there is. Katarina Živanović Phd stated that the process of erecting a full-time exhibit at the Museum of Yugoslavia is going on for ten years already and that many efforts are being undertaken so that the woman’s emancipation exhibit in the period from 1940 to 1960 is part of the full-time exhibit. These engagements testify on the great responsibility of the curators themselves. Their responsibility is so great because people go to museums to get answers to questions and not to study history. The focus should be on the phenomena themselves and not on history. This policy was confirmed by the Museum of Yugoslavia taking through taking out the term “history“ so that it could present its expectations to the audience and highlight that one will not be able to find clear boundaries where Yugoslavia begins and ends but that they will learn what Yugoslavia was and, even more importantly, who were the people that lived in it and what did they engage with. “The Woman’s perspective“ is an exhibit put on by the Museum of Yugoslavia showcasing women heroes, combatants and officers of the people during World War II. The “AWF“ (Antifascist Women’s Front), founded in 1942 and dissolved in 1953 already was an important initiator of female emancipation. The governing notion was that the AWF was dissolved because women had won their rights, while there is also the more justified belief the reason for dissolution was the immense political power it held. Even though there was significant struggle for women’s rights, these particular years are considered crucial. Already in the mid-50s there is a process of getting female combatants back into reproductive roles, especially through magazines that were celebrating Serbian heroes just before and then started pushing fashion and other topics that were, according to societal beliefs, more characteristic of women in that period. Milena Jokanović PhD stated the family example of this retraditionalization process – a grandmother holding a higher military rank at the end of the war returned to the reproductive role and thus stagnated due to this different set of obligations and then regressed in military rank. The grandfather had a lower rank at the end of the war but that ascended in relation to his abilities and not having obligations in the reproductive process so, in the end, he had a higher rank than grandma. The information over his merits, available through historical archives, help speak on the complexity of this problem while grandma isn’t mentioned at all in this context. Lost memories hurt the most and motivate us to put effort in fighting forgetfulness and fighting for the only correct interpretation of our history that is founded on the togetherness of our female and male ancestors. The case of what happened to March 8th, a holiday with the basic goal of adding to and further initiating the fight for women’s rights, becoming its abject opposite – a “holiday for mothers“. Gordana Grabež agrees that museums are bear great responsibility for raising awareness and nurturing relations towards cultural heritage, adding that it is important that the “elitizing culture“ approach on museum visitors with an already existing relationship with what museums represent be eliminated, as was the case with the National Museum and the recent, widely popular and open campaign for visiting the finally completely renovated National Museum. There is the question of whether the issue of cultural heritage is an audience issue? The answer to that uncovered that the education museums can provide is the most positive means of building a quality attitude towards cultural heritage that will make that same heritage all-encompassing and gender equal at the same time. Katarina and Gordana together concluded that the museum exhibit are supposed to entertain but also simultaneously bring concern to the audience and make it aware about the issue of relating to our society and ourselves. Katarina added that there is a need to fight for the exhibits on the woman’s sides of history to be equally highlighted as the exhibits presenting the all-present masculinized Serbian heroic discourse at their core. The discussion bore also ideas on the betterment of the full-time museum exhibits but also the secondary levels of interpretation like the special museum tours and workshops for kids. There is currently no planned bringing of students by professors in school programs and there is resistance to change in the actual history teachers themselves and even more in parents. This thus requires more efforts for change in such attitudes. Additional museum tours create space for explaining the circumstances, for example, through the fact that Nadežda Petrović was an exceptional Serbian painter and humanist they were able to find out that the first wave of Serbian feminism begins with Nadeždom Petrović as well.
Alongside the responsibilities of the museums themselves, there is great responsibility in the cultural and scientific sector. Known as the fairly non-profit sectors of Serbia, they are also known as sectors where most employees are women. Testifying to how much this isn’t a coincidence is the fact that sectors dominated by the spirit of competition and trade profitability, like industry and commerce, traditionally belong to men. Milena Jovanović PhD there made the comparison to how the position of operating director of the National Museum belonging to Gordana Grabež, a woman, is more than expected, unlike providing the same position in commerce to a woman. Helena Hirschenberger spoke on how women choose science as there is an impression that it is easier to balance one’s private life and a career in science, unlike a balance achieved with a career in the private sector. Again, she highlighted how science is underfunded and that even with the generally dominant position of women in Serbian science today, further evidenced by Serbia’s high global ranking in numbers of women in science, the University of Belgrade had only two female rectors in the last 30 years and that the deans are mostly men. SANU provides further evidence that prestigious position in science belong to men with only 10% of their members being women. Gender inequality is no longer an issue of sector exclusivity but an issue of high position exclusivity. Helena reflected on her own work here, highlighting that the Laboratory for Examining Materials in Cultural Heritage does mostly gender neutral jobs – material examination. Cultural institutions, primarily museums, send requests to the Laboratory to examine certain materials made or possessed by significant people in history. But when one pays attention in noticing that almost all the material examined are those made or owned by men, gender inequality becomes more than apparent. On first glance the gender neutral process contributes to a gender unequal result. It is important to impose topics of female cultural heritage so contributions can be made to reaching gender equality.
A bleaker question was posed “do women even exist in the discourse of cultural heritage?”. Many women were left in the shadow of their husbands and fathers and their contribution is almost negligible, the example for this being architect Milica Čolak Antić and Milica Kostić who designed the at the time Upper Women’s School, today called Nikola Tesla but that this was much less widely known next to the popularity enjoyed by her husband, architect Kostić. There are many such examples and they all place responsibility to our generations for our attitudes and questions on how will we remember notable women of our society. Aleksandra Jovanić is an example of a modern woman that does not want to let our notable women of history be forgotten. As co-author of the “Brave Women Travelling Through Time” project, Aleksandra claims foremost that when the project research got started it became obvious just how many notable women in our history contributed to the development of Serbian society. Today it is essential how almost the most important goal of the project was to not let fighters for women’s rights and feminists of today be uninformed on the brave women of the past and be uninspired to keep fighting for integrity and a better position of women in our society.
The lessons learned within the “How much women’s cultural heritage is there?” pointed towards the existence systemic gender inequality and refreshed the spirit of fighting for development of consciousness in women as well as in men. The responsibility for the position of women lies foremost within women and in the idea of not stepping back when facing challenges imposed by the still patriarchal society of Serbia and by systemic gender inequality. Establishing gender equality is the responsibility of all women and the most determined and the most unfaltering are those that are foremost aware that the fight for establishing and preserving the integrity of women is a fight Milica Jakovljević, Anka Obrenović, Katarina Jovanović, Delfa Ivanić, Katarina Milovuk, Maga Magazinović, Natalija Bjelajac, Milunka Savić, Sofija Jovanović and many others are still a part of and whose place we must still build on and almost selfishly preserve in our cultural heritage.