Female artists from the middle and younger generations seem inclined towards topics that have to do with family relations, thereby questioning one's own position and identity. This is also the case with Zrinka Barbarić, an artist who is currently presenting her work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Split with her installation Majka (Mother). The artwork discusses the role of the mother in modern society and conceptually continues the artist’s work presented in 2015 at the exhibitions Servis (Maintenance) and Metamorfoza (Metamorphosis). Organic material remains crucial, but this time the subject has been developed in a more mature and elaborate way.

A recognizable element of Zrinka Barbarić’s art is its multi-layered relation to the physical space in which the artist lives and works, as well as the animal and vegetal life that surrounds her. In this aspect, she comes close to a series of prominent Croatian women artists, yet stands out with her extraordinary imagination and narrative skills. Her artworks are additionally characterized by the use of unusual combinations of materials and her autobiographic approach to the subject.

In a darkened gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, the artist has exhibited an installation that strongly reminds of an over-dimensioned cradle. Hidden from the view by a fine gauze canopy, the installation only occasionally allows a glance into its interior, where one can see ten sculptures of teddy bears resting in a nest of leaves. They are replicas of a gift that artist’s mother gave her when she was a small child, only this time created by means of unique combinations of dead plants and animals that the artist has found in her garden. Images of rats, birds, wasps, butterflies, and various flowers are embroidered on the curtains surrounding the installation, revealing the unusual ingredients featuring in the “recipes” according to which the sculptures were made.

Artworks by Zrinka Barbarić may be interpreted as diary entries and the installation Mother has been inspired by her own relationship with her mother, who gave her Nikša the Teddy Bear as the very first toy she considered her own and therefore kept it as a reminder of her childhood. Nikša has thus become the main motif of the exhibition as material evidence of the close ties between mother and daughter, as well as the artist’s first “baby”. Broadly speaking, the exhibition discusses the established opinion on motherhood as an inseparable part of female identity. It embodies the argument of feminist Camille Paglia, who claims that woman’s care for children is part of the cultural paradigm in all societies, whereby Western civilization, based and maintain on patriarchal power, has identified it with maternity.[1] In accordance with this concept, Zrinka Barbarić has built a cradle for her “children”. By deconstructing the traditional understanding of maternal identity, she has adopted the role of a mother for everything that surrounds her by using discarded and imperceptible things from nature, and endowing them with new life.

Every single detail, motif, and material used in her artworks come from her immediate surrounding and are imbued with powerful symbolism. The base of this installation is thus a nest made of leaves, since birds are known for their strong drive for homebuilding and parenthood. The choice of leaves is meaningful as well, since the artist associates it with warmth and home, as well as her favourite season – autumn.

Zrinka Barbarić’s unusual visual language and materials that she uses have secured her a special place among the younger artists, which she has justified with this recent exhibition. Her peculiar art is based on a poetic interpretation of intimate narratives, which become a space for questioning broader social phenomena. It is a procedure that, despite its symbolical language, demands considerable personal courage, which is needed in all good and particularly great art.

Antonija Mihovilović

[1] Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, 1990.

Zrinka Barbarić (1985, Split) graduated painting from the Split Academy of Fine Arts (class of prof. G. Žuvela) in 2009. She has numerous solo and group exhibitions: Premiere 10, Loggia of the Open Public University, Split; Portrait of cheaters (it happened once, or maybe not ...), Salon Galić, Split; Reading, City Museum, Omiš; Service, Vladimir Nazor Gallery, Zagreb and Metamorphosis, Lauba, Zagreb. She is currently employed at the School of Fine Arts in Split, where she teaches vocational subjects.