Traversing Geographies, Complicating Memories

By Vesna Pavlović

My background, together with the current status of the photographic medium, has informed the themes important in my work. Cinematography studies at the University of Belgrade in 1990s, where I was the first female graduate, made a lasting influence on my photographic practice. In the next stage of my career, I worked as a photojournalist during a tumultuous political era in Belgrade. This experience contributed to the documentary aesthetic recognized in much of work to this day. Issues of appropriation, copy, and authorship have transformed the medium of photography in this era. I examine photographic representation of specific political and cultural histories. These representations include photographic archives and related artifacts, which I treat as material to produce new images and installations. I challenge traditional modes of photographic representation, expanding the photographic image beyond its frame, traditional format, and the narrative. Issues of appropriation, copy, and authorship have transformed the medium of photography in this era. Today, we are faced with the vast amounts of existing and newly taken images, found and computer generated, widely and instantaneously disseminated through multiple social media platforms. My photography challenges these conditions by exploring institutional archives, often suspended, forgotten, and in danger of disappearance.

I am interested in the moments of our collective history that we choose to keep, and which ones to forget. What is the promise and the agency of the archive? Our memories are in the continuous process of mediation. Photographs gain agency in translation. The black and white negative carries the grain which will become a pixel of tomorrow. The memory is in always in flux, never fixed, carrying a promise for a future remembrance. I am invested in Pierre Nora’s notion of the opposition of memory and history, ‘one being in permanent evolution, a bond tying us to the eternal present, while the other, remaining problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer’. My most recent series, Sites of Memory, expands on the long-term research about growing up in socialist Yugoslavia. It is a psychological portrait of the era of cold war, burdened with photographic representation of socialist propaganda. History appears fragile and slightly distorted in my images and installations. I engage with the past to offer multiple views of the past, which often appear unclear and obscured by the passage of time. Rippling effects on the images provide a personal perspective about unstable memory and obsolescence.

To view the works in the exhibition visit Vesna’s artist page.


Vesna Pavlović obtained her MFA degree in Visual Arts from Columbia University in 2007. Her projects examine the evolving relationship between memory in contemporary culture and the technologies of photographic image production. She examines photographic representation of political and cultural histories, which include photographic archives and related artifacts.

In the 1990s, in Belgrade, Pavlović worked closely with the feminist pacifist group Women in Black. She provided artistic witness to the disintegration of her native Yugoslavia through her documentary work. She is the recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Award in 2018, George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation grant in 2017, and Art Matters Foundation grant in 2012. In 2018, she was a Southern Prize Fellow.

Pavlović has exhibited widely, including solo shows at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Museum of History of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. She participated in a number of group shows, including the Untitled, 12th Istanbul Biennial, 2011, in Turkey; Rios Intermitentesproject of the 13th Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Cuba, the MAC –Metropolitan Arts Center in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Württembergischen Kunstverein, Düsseldorf, Germany; KUMU Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia; Zachęta, The National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, Poland; City Art Gallery, in Ljubljana, Slovenia; the New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, UK; the Bucharest Biennale 5, in Bucharest, Romania; Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, USA; Le Quartier Center for Contemporary Art in Quimper, France; NGBK in Berlin, Germany; Photographers’ Gallery in London and Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK; and FRAC Center for Contemporary Art in Dunkuerqe, France.

The book, Vesna Pavlović’s Lost Art: Photography, Display, and the Archive was published by Hanes Art Gallery at Wake Forest University in 2018. In 2020, Vanderbilt University Press is putting forward Stagecraft, photographic monograph including two decades of Pavlović’s work.