Motifs, Symbolism, and Symbols in the Aesthetics of Women in Black
During the 16 years of its vigils public open spaces, marches, protests, performances, publishing, and education, Women in Black has symbolically represented all the horrors of war, crime, nationalism, militarism, and delusions as well as the values of truth. The elementary forms of their authentic aesthetic, adapted appropriately, are still alive today.
In this text, we will not some of the motifs, symbols, colors, drawings, and compositions which are repeated and show the presence and nature of symbols in the art of Women in Black.
Black and Mourning Clothes
Black is magical, unknown, melancholy, irrational, agonizing, but also spiritual and substantial.
By choosing black – a color that represents the absent, fixed, and silent women’s body clothed in black – as their permanent symbol, women activists negate and discard the customary meaning of black and the cult of death, simultaneously sending a clear and visible message against death, misery, the brutality of war, collective craziness, and denial and forgetting of crimes. This black calls for complete, concrete, and organized resistance to the politics of war, nationalism, militarism, and patriarchy.
The Peace Signs and the Olive Branch
In antiquity, olive branches were considered symbols of wisdom, peace, wealth, and celebration.
The Škart Artistic Group combined the olive branch with a stylized women’s symbol in a black field. This symbol was adopted by other Women in Black groups throughout the world.
Fatima’s Hand is a frequently used symbol. It began in Israel. It is simple and has a peace dimension, in its contents and expression. For Women in Black, it symbolizes peace, global women’s solidarity, and perseverance. Sometimes, this motif is combined with antiwar messages.
The Circle (Standing in a Circle, Circular Performances)
In the aesthetics of Women in Black, the circle is a symbol of human connection and togetherness, feeling empathy for and solidarity with all victims of war and violence.
Rainbow Colors and Peace Flags
Women in Black uses rainbow colors, which produce light. Many civilizations identify colors with light.
Women in Black’s rainbow flags are used in this way, but do not only make a chromatic impression.
Rainbow colors symbolize peace and light, harmony and agreement, but also ideas about difference and diversity, the addition of colors, the need to live and respect individual life, to change things, and to begin to improve.
The Pistol, Military Greatcoat, and Helmet
The pistol, military greatcoat, and helmet, as militarist symbols, are part of the aesthetics of war. In appropriating and deforming these objects, Women in Black makes an ironic statement about the militarism with which surrounds us to ruinous affect. The idea is that these subjects are made useless. They are used to promote and support antimilitarist statements, principles, and practice.
Stylized Drawings – Picasso and Matisse
Often in Women in Black’s publications and posters, stylized drawings of famous or unknown artists are used.
For example, it is known that Picasso, after 1945, popularized many variants of the motif of the white dove of peace. Most often it was the simple figure of the woman-dove. This became a recognizable image on Women in Black t-shirts.
A recognizable and frequent motif of Matisse is the female nude. It is reduced to a important, symbolic form, which seems suggestive, but is really just refined and simplified. In their statement, ‘Always Disobedient,’ Women in Black uses the motifs from one of Matisse’s compositions, originally made on a Japanese screen, of female nudes holding hands, forming a Kolo (circle) that symbolizes women’s support and solidarity.
Kuvarice (A Traditional Form of Embroidery Whose Name Literally Means ‘Female Cook’)
Kuvarice were embroidered cloths which were hung in the kitchens of our grandmothers. Every morning, the kuvarice reminded them of their role as cooks, mothers, and guardians of patriarchal morals. Women in Black recognized kuvarice, appropriated and reproduced them, imitating the style, but subverting the contents. Besides emotional aesthetics, they directly transmit anti-patriarchal messages.
Lastly, when we speak about the unique art and recognizable aesthetics of resistance which Women in Black promotes, we cannot overlook the banners and slogans which are carried during protest vigils. By rule, they do not show joy, but rebellion, human drama, and tragedy, that are the basis for artistic interpretation. Additionally, numerous messages were created and written on paper, fabric, clothing, asphalt, walls, and wood, with colored fabric, tempera pain, chalk, markers, and embroidery thread, in Latin and Cyrillic scripts, in different languages (including Albanian, Hungarian, Arabic, English, and Serbian), in different types of letters (block, capital, enunciated, cursive, and printed), in black and white or color, and in different formats (from the size of stickers to banners to be carried by one, two, or even ten people), sometimes artistically imperfect, but sometimes flawless.
We must also note our collaboration with artistic groups, including Dah Theater, The Institute for Engaged Theater, Škart, The Center for Cultural Decontamination, and Stani Pani Collective. Combining different experiences with poetry, graphic design, architecture, performances, street spectacles, theater, pantomime, and sounds which disturb and admonish, these groups have brought us new ideas. With Women in Black, they created an active, contemporary aesthetic of antiwar resistance.
Nevenka Marinkovic and Snezana Tabacki