Katarina Zdjelar: Pogled je most [The Gaze Is a Bridge], dedication to Nasta Rojc and the painting Self-Portrait with a Rifle (1912)


Katarina Zdjelar: Pogled je most [The Gaze Is a Bridge], dedication to Nasta Rojc and the painting Self-Portrait with a Rifle (1912)

28.05.2024 - 28.05.2024 / Dvorana Gorgona

We cordially invite you to the screening of artist Katarina Zdjelar’s recent film, Gaze Is a Bridge (Pogled je most, 2023), on Tuesday, 28 May 2024 at 7 p.m., at Gorgona Hall of the Museum of Contemporary Art. 
The talk with Katarina Zdjelar, Ana Opalić, Leonida Kovač and Jelena Vesić, moderated by Martina Munivrana, will be held after the screening.  

Katarina Zdjelar, an artist with a Dutch address, combines various media in her art practice, such as moving images, sound and performance. Through these strategies, she explores narratives, meanings and associations that are modified across different languages and cultural meanings, in various temporal frames and places of their performance, shaping the diversity of scenes and visual experiences. Her recent video work The Gaze Is a Bridge (2023) was filmed during her visits to Zagreb, where she realized her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in December 2022. The video is inspired by Nasta Rojc and her painting Self-Portrait with a Rifle (1912)[1], as well as the work and personal story of photographer and video artist Ana Opalić. Their biographies, determined by the right to choose freedom and love, taking place in two different periods almost a century apart, intertwine with each other. It is precisely this temporal gap that highlights how our society and community have evolved in awareness and openness, how sensitized we, as a society, have become to others and to the different, and how much (if any) progress we have made in the context of accepting diversity and the right to freedom of choice and, at the same time, questions our personal positions and awarenessess.

In the introduction of this text, it is important to point to the biographies of the artists. According to Shoshana Felman, the life of every woman contains, explicitly or implicitly, a story of trauma that cannot simply be confessed, it must be testified to: “Insofar as any feminine existence is in fact a traumatized existence, feminine autobiography cannot be a confession. It can only be a testimony: to survival. And like other testimonies to survival, its struggle is to testify at once to life and to the death – the dying – the survival has entailed.”[2]

The biographies, intertwined precisely in efforts to secure their own survival and the choice and personal position of existence and belonging, are the fundamental starting point for connecting the two temporally distant life stories and bodies of work.

Nasta Rojc (Bjelovar, 1883 – Zagreb, 1964) is one of the most important Croatian painters, with avant-garde tendencies, with an oeuvre mostly consisting of nudes, portraits, self-portraits and landscapes. Although she was included in national surveys of 20th-century painting in Croatia, the role and oeuvre of Nasta Rojc were marginalized for years. Recent art historical readings and theoretical discourses, which do not rely exclusively on the modernist canon but interpret it as only one of the possibilities, have provided theoretical frameworks for the interpretation and re-evaluation of Nasta Rojc’s work within the international historical and social context. Besides her work as a painter, Nasta Rojc was very engaged socially and played a strong role within the institutional system. Her unconventional life was marked, among other things, by a traumatic education, resistance to bourgeois canons and rules, a formal marriage with her friend Branko Šenoa, the founding – with Lina Crnčić-Virant – the Club of Women Artists in 1927, bringing together Croatian and Yugoslav female artists. After the end of World War I, she met her life partner Alexandrina Maria Onslow, a British Army officer, and the renowned British suffragette Vera Holme, with whom she stayed in England and Scotland in 1925 and 1926. Upon the return to Croatia, Nasta Rojc and Alexandrina Onslow were among the first to live openly in a same-sex domestic partnership in Zagreb.

Ana Opalić (Dubrovnik, 1972) is a photographer, cinematographer and musician, a versatile artist and an activist for LGBT rights. Her photographic opus consists of several series and cycles in which the landscapes of Dubrovnik play a very significant role. Her latest series of photographic records, titled Diary Entries (2009-2020), is dedicated to her life partner, Martina Zvonić. Through portraits or snapshots of shared moments, Ana Opalić captured fragments of their life together over a span of ten years. Since 2019, their adopted daughter Meri, a little girl from Africa, has appeared in the photographs, making their rainbow family complete. Ana and Martina are also co-founders of the Croatian queer pop band “U pol’ 9 kod Sabe”.

The video The Gaze Is a Bridge begins with a hand holding a photograph of Nasta Rojc’s painting Self-Portrait with a Rifle.

Self-Portrait with a Rifle shows the painter in a hunting suit, with a rifle slung over her right shoulder, while her left hand rests in the jacket pocket, rejecting the concept of bourgeois femininity. Her gaze is penetrating and self-aware, sharp and provocative, addressing the viewer. The palm of another person’s hand is placed on the hand holding the photograph. The camera then reveals the faces of the main protagonists of this video, Ana Opalić and her life partner Martina Zvonić. Their faces subtly overlap in the frames, illuminated by soft daylight. Ana and Martina alternately utter various associations with the photograph of the painting, starting with the sentences:



On the other side


The gaze is not enough


The gaze is a bridge

Over what

To the other side


Giving up




As if, in the manner of American linguist Suzette Haden Elgin, they are creating their own personal language so that others can see the painting and its meaning through their perspective. In their game of linguistic associations, they name what they see, adding some new meanings to the painting that are not written in official narrative interpretations but are based on their prior knowledge of the artist and her work in the context of their own biographies and positions. Dialectics between the protagonists is articulated in the gap between universally applicable abstract language and the concrete and physical voice. Their wordplay stimulates their personal interaction, showing emotional connection, tenderness and understanding. In the wordplay, the emotion of love and tenderness expressed in gazes and smiles is distinctly dominant. As in her previous works, Katarina Zdjelar creates a visually captivating video, infused with a thoughtful combination of images, light and sound. Their dialogue is interrupted by a voice saying “mama”. Then the photograph of Nasta Rojc’s painting enters the frame; the wordplay is interrupted with the image of little Meri, the adopted daughter of Ana and Martina, who is watching the mentioned photograph. Zdjelar subtly introduces in the video the figure of the girl, whose image is accompanied with the sound of a guitar played by Ana Opalić. The figures of Ana, the girl Meri and the boy Niru, Katarina’s son, interweave. In this emotional weave of characters, music and the atmosphere of home, a space opens up for questioning one’s own relationship to the intimate and personal space of belonging.

The sounds of the guitar, the children drawing, their mutual interaction, their connecting gazes introduce us to the next segment, taking place in the National Museum of Modern Art, where Nasta Rojc’s work Self-Portrait with a Rifle (Self-Portrait in a Hunting Suit) is housed. In the main corridor of the exhibition space, we can see the children Meri and Niru running towards the end of the room. In the next frame, museum technicians, the children and Ana Opalić approach the camera, carrying Nasta Rojc’s original painting and placing it on an easel. The final frames show the confrontation with the painting, confrontation with Nasta’s penetrating gaze and Ana’s gentle and supportive gaze, as well as the curious gazes of the children. Their gazes meet in a non-verbal dialogue between the past and the present. The gaze is a bridge!

The video work The Gaze Is a Bridge raises many questions and, in the manner of Katarina Zdjelar’s previous works, this work questions personal and collective positions, questions autobiographies and their meanings, and questions the gaze and what it is. Laura Mulvey states that the place of the gaze, the possibilities of its variation and exposure are the elements that define film, emphasizing that there are three different gazes associated with cinema: the gaze of the camera, the gaze of the audience and the gaze the characters exchange on the projection screen. The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience.[3]

The gaze in Katarina Zdjelar’s video is a gaze of connecting autobiographies, of understanding, but also a gaze that challenges us to reach out and cross the bridge between the known and the unknown, between the present and the past, to establish a bridge of connection between us and them, me and you. To recognize ourselves in our fragility, alienation, vulnerability, in the struggle for personal positions and places that belong to all of us.

Martina Munivrana

(text written for the purposes of the exhibition in the Podroom gallery in the Cultural Center of Belgrade)

[1] In the book Anonimalia, normativni diskursi i samoreprezentacija umjetnica 20. stoljeća [Anonimalia, Normative Discourses and Self-Representation of 20th Century Women Artists], Leonida Kovač labels the painting as Self-Portrait with a Rifle. The mentioned painting is part of the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb, under the title of Self-Portrait in Hunting Suit.
[2] Shoshana Felman, What Does a Woman Want?Reading and Sexual Difference (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 15-16.
[3] Laura Mulvey, “Vizualni užitak i narativni film” [“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Film”], in Feministička likovna kritika i teorija likovnih umjetnosti [Feminist Art Criticism and Feminist Theory of Art] edited by Ljiljana Kolešnik (Zagreb: Centre for Women’s Studies, 1999), 65-77.