In continuing with this month’s theme of honoring strong women both past and present, I recently read Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic’s memoir that was released late last year. Coincidentally it was also just last year that I was first exposed to Abramovic and her performance artwork through her documentary The Artist is Present. I was blown away by how complex her creative process as a performance artist is, her uniqueness and her strength both as a woman and an individual. I would highly recommend watching this documentary in conjunction with reading her memoir.
Much of Abramovic’s life was influenced by growing up in a dismal post-war Yugoslavia with her strict, war hero parents, Danica and Vojin. She was punished daily for even the slightest infractions, such as not keeping her bed neat, and her parents’ volatile marriage contributed to her obsessiveness as a child and desire for order and symmetry. I was surprised to read about how self-conscious she was when she was in her early and late teens. Although her family was quite wealthy, her mother always refused to buy her the newest fashions and she was stuck feeling like a tall out-of-place, clumsy loner. Even though this isn’t a particularly unusual characteristic for someone in the early stages in their life, it is always interesting when someone who evokes so much power and confidences reveals that they were not always this way.
Walk Through Walls spans Abramovic’s entire career as a performance artist, starting back when performance art was not yet a discipline in itself. She was part of a pioneer group of artists searching for ways to fight for, and express, their freedom in ways that were, to her, greater than just a 2D creation on canvas or paper. Her thoughts on what art meant to her evolved quickly over the years as she was exposed to different mediums and her mind was always actively imagining and creating.
One of the most fascinating and influential times in her life was when she and her long term partner Ulay bought a van and lived out of it for three years. They traveled all across eastern Europe performing at various art shows, doing what are now some of their most famous exhibitions. Can you imagine living that way? At one point they parked the van at a farm and were granted permission to stay and as long as they helped the farmer take care of his sheep he provided them food; she would literally knit their clothes out of the wool from the sheep. They had no phone, no connection to the outside world, and were sometimes without money for gas to even drive the van. It was just she, Ulay, and their dog, Alba. Actually, that sounds kind of nice when you think about it 🙂 But they were on the verge of something historic, and although she is arguably the more famous between she and Ulay, her first years performing with him were vital to both of their careers.
Whenever I post a book review on this blog you can pretty much guarantee it’s because I love the book, with few exceptions. But each book is so unique as you know, and so I want to emphasize how special this one truly is. I find Marina Abramovic to be such an inspirational person, and considering the climate of today’s world, I think these are the women we should continue to highlight and praise. With that being said, I cannot recommend this book enough.