Milica Rakić – Red, If You Didn’t Exist…

A revolutionary of the code name Red is the central protagonist of Milica Rakić’s experimental film Red, If You Didn’t Exist, We Would Have to Invent You. She is a thwarted fighter and activist, a woman transitioning between two times and two worlds, trapped between non-freedom and a possibility of a new revolution. We follow her rebellious and disobedient monologue which clearly demonstrates her refusal to take part in the imposed pacification of the women’s movement, i.e. an order unacceptable to her which has erased the importance of female emancipation. As Stevan Vuković points out in his text about the film, this is a heroine, mediated by voice over narration and alter ego, who embodies a new woman, born and bred in the People’s Liberation Movement, however forsaken already in the post-war period of the establishment of government in the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.

The first thing we hear, watching the interior of a bourgeois villa from the thirties, is a woman’s voice informing us that the villa is on sale, again, this time at a reduced price. The same voice introduces us to the protagonist Red, the villa’s owner, saying that “It is highly questionable if (the villa) will ever find a buyer, because the owner was a revolutionary, a communist, anti-fascist, feminist, warrior, shock-worker, labourer, socio-political worker, but first of all a woman true to her ideals.” The past tense narration introduces a kind of Proustian outlook of a complex and non-linear time flow and uncertain chronotope, additionally highlighted by editing together live action and documentary, i.e. archive scenes from the period of restoration and establishment of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, topped by another female voice reading segments from the archives of the Yugoslav Anti-fascist Women’s Front from the 1947-1949 period. Pre-war socialist feminists, including Red (we learn that in the villa she used to run an illegal print mill and embarked from there to the People’s Liberation Movement, returning with the rank of major), assumed that Marxism and feminism could be reconciled. However, it turned out very soon that this marriage is an unhappy one and that class struggle surpassed women’s rights. Therefore, Red truly threw down the gauntlet to the idea that socialist theory and practice could transform in line with her vision of women’s liberation. We learn her opinion about this from a dialogue between her character and the alter ego played by a man in the role of a high-ranking politician. She says: “You used my death to extinguish the Anti-fascist Women’s Front!” Also, her thoughts about the capitulation of former feminists and the weaknesses of the newly established regime are corroborated by the archive material with reports on the flaws in the AWF’s work from 1947.

Equalling her own death with the extinction of the movement whose active member she was, Red points her finger at the new government, saying: “… a real men’s company, to which women were still subordinate wives, good mothers, floating creatures wrapped in cosmetics.” Her rebellious gesture of defying the setting and the authoritarian regime was not extinguished in a sort of posthumous lamenting passivity, but rather insisting on a future disobedience from new revolutionaries, because in the closing scenes of the film, Red calls for a (new) women’s march.

The exhibition set up in the Black Box in a way presenta a step out of the physical film shot frame and represents the imaginary interior of a 1930s bourgeois villa in which Red is giving her posthumous monologue. On the walls and in the space we see Red’s collection of art, made mostly between the 1950s and 1960s, testifying to a consistent affirmation of her own aesthetic experience. Aware of the need to act publicly, Red intensely socialised with artists and supported the establishment of the Yugoslav cultural identity which passionately believed in the socialist project, bearing in mind the formal complexity of such an ideological and ethical choice. Her artistic selection was made at a time of destalinisation and liberation of cultural production in Yugoslavia, but also in the Eastern Bloc with an understanding of modernity, whose backbone is no longer collectivism but rather individualism. Red’s collection is made by embracing the innovative experiences of contemporary European art and maintains the qualities of international mainstream, demonstrating that she wasn’t a slave to proscribed topics, that she followed the deconstruction of socialist realism and re-establishment of modernist ideas. She ignored Krleža’s hypothesis that Murtić’s painting was “a dangerous deviation of taste” (Krleža, O tendenciji, Exceptional Plenum of the Yugoslavian Writers’ Alliance, Belgrade, 1955), as well as Depolo’s disappointment with “the hollow period” of contemporary art (J. Depolo, U znaku mrlja. Pismo s Biennala u Veneciji, Vjesnik, Zagreb, 1958), without taking an interest in subjecting art to an ideological imperative, just like she didn’t subject feminism to the new social order. Exploring the issues of the modernist paradigm in a broader European context, with the works of Vojin Bakić, Jagoda Buić, Sonia Delaunay, Marijan Jevšovar, Edo Murtić, Ksenija Kantoci or Josip Vaništa, she created a specific art collection which represents an existential and spiritual experience of her own time.

In addition to Milica Rakić’s works, we are presenting:


Exhibition concept author: Leila Topić
Exhibition curators: Zorana Đaković Minniti, Dina Pokrajac, Leila Topić

Milica Rakić (1972) is a multimedia artist focusing on the influence of language and culture on the shaping of identity, interpreting ideological codes in a historical and contemporary context. She holds a PhD from the Faculty of Visual Arts in Belgrade. She has presented her works at thirty solo and over four hundred group exhibitions in Serbia and abroad (Albania, USA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt, Iran, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, China, Hungary, Macedonia, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Turkey, France, Croatia, Montenegro, Spain). A member of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia, with an independent artist status.