Written by: Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) wrote in her essay „A Room of One’s Own“ (1929) that „a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.“ The question then arises: is this assertion still truly accurate?

Women artist’s studio, Gårdaskolan © Art Box

In 2006, I received an unusual invitation from the organizers of the FemFest feminist festival in Zagreb. They suggested presenting my stories as wall posters and installations within the theme „A Room of One’s Own“. The concept aimed to provide a quiet and undisturbed space for female readers/users of the restroom to engage with poetry and prose. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s idea of women needing their own space for creativity, the restroom, by definition, guarantees privacy. I agreed, and my early short stories adorned the restroom walls. This experience, along with my artistic endeavors in various residencies and research projects worldwide, fueled my focus on the visibility and representation of female artists, addressing gender issues through creative strategies. „A Room of One’s Own“ became a significant part of this exploration.

Konstepidemin, Gothenburg © Art Box

The project „A WOMAN ARTIST’S ROOM OF ONE’S OWN explores diverse spaces—studios, residencies, libraries, cafes, and even kitchens, bedrooms, and ‘quiet rooms’—where women (artists/curators/writers) seek solitude for contemplation, reading, creation, exploration, and writing. It delves into how female artists’ workspaces shape their artistic identity. Despite diverse experiences, the common thread is the need for a physical and mental context, a symbolic „room of one’s own“ a la Virginia Woolf, addressing historical barriers limiting women in art. The term represents a space for undisturbed creation, reflecting autonomy, intellect, and creative freedom.

Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić, Art Box artist-in-residence, Novi Sad © Art Box

Acknowledging the issue’s complexity, we conversed with women artists across socio-cultural backgrounds, refraining from definitive conclusions. They vary in media, themes, visibility, mobility projects, activism, and cultural context. Yet, the shared desire for a space fostering peace, concentration, creation, and collaboration unites them, often found in their studios or residencies.

Felicia Fortes in her studio  © Art Box

Swiss artist Ariane Lugeon resides in Belgium and has lived in Denmark, participating in residency projects in Iceland and Sweden. New Yorker Laurie Rosenwald maintains creative studios on both continents, spending summers in her Swedish art studio and the remainder of the year in her New York studio. Swedish artist Vanja Larberg currently shares a studio with several vomen artist but has found her creative space in her own kitchen. In contrast, illustrator and animator Maja Fjällbäck primarily uses that shared studio space. Felicia Fortes‘ studio is in a burgeoning artistic enclave in Gothenburg. British artist Elizabeth Sercombe temporarily creates in the attic of her building in Majorna. Dutch artist Simone Hooymans experiences working and living with her family in an artist-in-residency, Kunstnarhuset Messen, in Norway. For artists from Novi Sad, Jelena Đurić and Maja Erdeljanin, an art studio is an essential part of their artistic practice. On the other hand, Marija Maca Obrovački, a woman poet with a disability and a member and activist of the Center Živeti Uspravno, who wouldn’t have her independence today without the assistance of the mentioned center, deals with multiple forms of marginalization and issues.

Felicia Fortes’ studio  © Art Box

Laurie Rosenwald is an author, designer, painter, and educator from New York. Her illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair, among many other publications. Over her career, Laurie’s work has included animation, product design, and both online and print media for companies like The Atlantic, Bloomingdale’s, the City of Paris, Coca-Cola, Fiorucci, Ikea, JWT, Knopf, Neiman Marcus, Nickelodeon, Ogilvy, Random House, Shiseido, Sony, The Sundance Channel, Virgin, Warner Brothers, and The Whitney Museum. Her most recent book, How to Make Mistakes on Purpose, which was the subject of her TEDx Talk and is accompanied by a touring workshop of the same name, gives people a chance to “create through intentional acts of randomness − a way of working that helps individuals get unstuck and discover new skill sets“. „Inspiration has never existed for me. Every day I wake up and either write or paint something − that’s just what I do,“ says Laurie Rosenwald.

Laurie Rosenwald in the artist-in-residence studio in Sweden © Art Box

Ariane Lugeon, a Swiss native born in Biel, has been residing and working in Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and Basel. She is a self-taught artist with over 20 years of experience as a multidisciplinary artist in textile art, installation, performance, and photography. Through her art, Ariane „transforms emotional states into tangible expressions using textile fibers, creating an interactive experience with the environment“. This allows „observers to recognize and feel as though they are looking into a mirror“. Thanks to her involvement in various residency projects in countries like Sweden and Iceland, she has had the opportunity to work independently as well as in shared spaces with fellow artists. Drawing from these experiences, she underscores that, to achieve concentration and foster creativity, she needs peace.

Ariane Lugeon in the artist-in-residence studio in Sweden © Art Box

Dutch artist Simone Hooymans received her education at the Academy of Visual Arts in Arnhem (Artez) and Breda (St. Joost). She is a visual artist, specializing in creating drawings and animations, and currently resides with her husband and two sons at the international artist residency known as KH Messen in Norway. Within the residency, she serves as a graphic designer. Through experimental animations and video installations, Simone combines hand-drawn worlds with digital techniques. Drawing inspiration from landscapes, climate change, and a constant quest for understanding the world around us, Simone Hooymans’ works explore the complex relationships between people and nature in various ways. Besides her role as a graphic designer, she is also responsible for media and communication at the residency, where her studio is located. Her daily rhythm involves a dynamic balance between family responsibilities, artistic work in the studio, and duties at the residency.

Simone Hooymans in her studio in Norway © Art Box

„My daily life at the residency involves a dynamic blend of family life, studio work, and contributions to the residency,“ she said. „My children are growing up amidst international artists, exposed to a variety of artistic skills. As a mother, I believe I am instilling in them an awareness of a global world and fostering a broad understanding of artistic possibilities. My family and artistic life seamlessly coexist, emphasizing that art is an integral part of our lives.“

„To dedicate time to my animations, I must remain true to myself, exercise discipline, and protect the studio time when the kids are at school. Distractions are not an option; I require complete focus,“ Simone continues. „I consider it a luxury to be constantly surrounded by intriguing artists, and engaging with them is profoundly fulfilling. The first audience for any finished animation comprises the artists residing in the residency at that moment. Their feedback and inspiration not only enrich my work but often lead to lifelong friendships.”

KH Messen, Norway © Art Box

Illustrator, artist, and graphic designer Felicia Fortes studied art, literature, and illustration at the University of Gothenburg. She is recognized for her editorial illustrations in publications such as Dagens Nyheter, Göteborgs-Posten, Kommunalarbetaren, Tidningen Arbetet, Faktum, and Skriva. Felicia was shortlisted for the 2021 World Illustration Awards and is longlisted in 2023. As a graphic designer, well known for her work at the Gothenburg Film Festival, her wall paintings featuring girls navigating everyday relationships can be enjoyed throughout Gothenburg. Together with her husband Dragan Mitić, she runs a creative production called „Kobajagi,“ which develops scripts for film, television, and radio, designs and creates illustrations, and lectures on dramaturgy, writing, idea processing, and creative processes.

Felicia Fortes in her studio  © Art Box

Felicia has a studio on Ringön and shares office space at Reportagebörsen with a group of freelance creators. Ringön is an area best known for its shipyard past, but in recent years exciting things have begun to happen there. Creatives and entrepreneurs of all kinds have brought a new feel to the area, and these days you’ll find everything from craft breweries to sustainable fashion pioneers.

Ringön, Gothenburg © Art Box

„Ringön is a natural habitat for our work,“ can be heard among the residents of this unique district, which speaks to the harmony between creativity and the environment that Felicia has chosen.

Felicia Fortes’ works © Art Box

Elizabeth Sercombe, a British writer and artist, who until her forties was working as an academic and business consultant, views her studio as a „practical necessity“, „a form of recognition“, „a poetic symbol“, and „a resistance against patriarchal norms“.

„As a poetic symbol, the studio also acts on me like the ting of the wand of the Fairy Godmother; it has a mythical power,“ Elizabeth says. „This was most noticeable when during my first residency at Konstepidemin I would be introduced to people as ‘Elizabeth, our International Guest Artist’, which over time, started to actually change my identity from ’not-an-artist’ to an artist. Of course, this would have not happened without me actually working very hard to grow as an artist, but it also enabled and fuelled it to have the identity present in this term spoken over me repeatedly, as if nourishing a poetic self and identity that I could hardly bring myself to believe was there.“

Konstepidemin, Sweden © Art Box

Functionally, it provides her with an undisturbed space crucial for concentration, fostering an environment that holds and intensifies her creative process. The studio also symbolizes her personal space as a woman artist, resisting societal expectations that often infringe on women’s lives. Moreover, it acts as a poetic symbol, shaping her identity and reinforcing the significance of her work. She believes that having a designated studio, particularly in a recognized artistic community like Konstepidemin, adds cultural weight to her endeavors. For Sercombe, „the studio’s material and poetic existence serves to counteract patriarchal norms“, allowing her to push artistic boundaries and create impactful work.

Elizabeth Sercombe’s studio © Art Box

Working in the Summer in her attic, Sercombe draws inspiration from books and influential figures like Judy Chicago and Virginia Woolf, among others.  Months of nomadic existence before the pandemic challenged her artistic routine, yet ultimately led her to a spacious residential Guest studio at Konstepidemin, which gave her the space to embark on a transformative project, „Artist: Existence Visibility Voice“.

Books have played a significant role in shaping Sercombe’s artistic perspective, and she mentions how literature, including works by Pierrette Fleutiaux and Judy Chicago, influenced her understanding of self and art. While facing challenges, including a lack of a permanent studio, her recent discovery of a temporary studio space in her apartment building’s attic signifies a hopeful return to a more stable and permanent creative environment.

„When I was doing my academic research (on a contemporary writer, so I did not need to be in libraries or dusty archives) I did nearly all my work in a local café in Devon, almost always listening to music, and I was able to produce my whole PhD and subsequent monograph in that environment. But to get to my truest artistic vision I need undisturbed space and quiet,“ Elizabeth says.

In an exciting development, Elizabeth Sercombe is currently anticipating the possibility of a new studio residency at Konstepidemin, a prospect that would greatly contribute to the continuity and growth of her artistic practice. This potential studio at Konstepidemin holds promise as a dedicated space for her creative endeavors, emphasizing the importance of such spaces in fostering artistic exploration and expression.

Elizabeth Sercombe in her studio in Majorna © Art Box

Vanja Larberg is a visual artist and urban planner with a keen focus on „capturing everyday moments through words and images“. Her ongoing project, „Evening Archive,“ was most recently showcased at the Bibliothek at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg.

Vanja at the Bibliothek at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg © Art Box

Since 2005, she has utilized a studio space situated in an old school within the urban district of Gårda, which she shares with fellow women artists. This studio is based at Gårdaskolan, originally known as Nya Gårdaskolan, a historic school constructed between 1900 and 1901, later expanded until 1922. It is situated on Fabriksgatan in the Gårda district of Gothenburg.

Gårdaskolan © Art Box

In the early stages of her practice, the studio played a crucial role in creating an environment where she „felt confident in taking her work seriously“. In recent years, she has been creating most of her drawings in the kitchen at home and printing art books in a common print workshop nearby.

Vanja Larberg in shared studio © Art Box

As a trained animator and self-taught illustrator, Maja Fjällbäck is passionate about visual storytelling and creating tangible things with her hands. Her educational background includes a degree from the University of Gotland in converging media, with a specialization in animation and experimental film, and most recently, a degree from HDK in Image and Storytelling.

Maja Fjällbäck in shared studio © Art Box

„It is a continuous struggle to find time and space for my work, both physically and mentally—juggling the demands in my head and within the family. Taking my work seriously means leaving my crying son at daycare and overlooking dirty dishes and laundry,“ says Maja. Several things aid in creating mental space for her work: maintaining a formal business, having a dedicated studio, leaving home, and setting deadlines. Running a business „not only enables me to take on assignments but also legitimizes my work, making it feel tangible. Leaving home makes the process easier, and the studio provides the mental space required. I can confidently declare to myself and others, ‘I’m going to work!’ It’s also an internal battle, dispelling the myth that creativity is always enjoyable and confronting the difficulty of finding focus.“

Maja Fjällbäck, work in progress © Art Box

The experience of mobility also applies to Novi Sad artist Maja Erdeljanin, who has conceived and organized numerous exhibitions, colonies, symposia, artistic projects, international exchange programs, and collaborations with artists from Austria, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain.

„So far, I’ve worked in several studios: a shared one on Petrovaradin Fortress, in my room in my parent’s apartment, in the attic of the building where I lived, in a studio on the other side of the city, and in the last decade, in the apartment where I currently reside,“ says Maja. „In it, one room serves as a studio, and the rest of the apartment is a living space but also a place to store paintings. This has proven to be the most functional solution for me because I have a day job. Skipping the commute to the studio saves valuable time. While I don’t have the freedom to mess up the space as in a real studio or to work on formats larger than two meters, which I miss a bit, I do have the ability to, even in the middle of the night and in my pajamas, go and do something if I wish. A studio or workspace is necessary, as well as a door, and if necessary, a key—a place where I decompress from reality, a place of complete honesty, waiting for me just as I left it, to continue working where I left off. It’s like a materialized map of my mind. Personal finances are even more important because they enable the luxury of feeling free. Even when we have full support from a partner, emotional and financial, and even when they handle cooking and shopping, having that physical and mental space and the time to devote to our thoughts and ideas daily—for self-fulfillment—is essential.“

Maja Erdeljanin in her studio in Novi Sad © Maja Erdeljanin

The significance of the artistic studio as a crucial aspect and condition of her artistic practice is emphasized by the painter from Novi Sad, Jelena Đurić. „For an artist, it’s essential to physically move away from the everyday living space. When it’s your profession, waiting for inspiration is a futile waste of time. I have the habit of going to my work every day because I need to deeply connect with myself and my thoughts in the space where I create. It’s a space where it’s just me and my canvas, the players. The outcome of our interaction is always uncertain, and that’s the privilege of this profession,’ she says.“

Jelena Đurić in her studio in Novi Sad © Jelena Đurić

The experience of Novi Sad poet Marija Maca Obrovački highlights the challenges faced by artists, particularly those with disabilities, in securing both a livelihood and the mental and physical space for their artistic pursuits. Her poetry is featured in the anthology of Novi Sad women’s poetry by Siniša Tucić, titled „Nevidljiva zebra“ („The Invisible Zebra“). As noted by Maja Rogač Stančević, „Although the title phrase is taken from Jasna Manjulov’s poem, it aptly describes the experience of numerous authors who often find themselves outside the systems of literary institutions and mechanisms for the distribution of privileges and recognition in the Serbian literary scene. Maca’s position as a person with a disability gives the concept of ‘invisible’ a new meaning. By typing with her elbow on the keyboard, albeit in an extreme way, she has fought for a certain degree of independence in her writing.“

Marija Maca Obrovački, work in progress_Novi Sad © Marija Maca Obrovački

Instead of a conclusion:

The project emphasizes the necessity of dedicated physical and mental spaces for women (artists, writers, curators, researchers, etc.) to pursue their artistic, theoretical, and curatorial endeavors without disruptions. Addressing the traditional portrayal of women in art and the marginalization of „feminine“ themes and strategies, the project aims to support diverse artistic and research practices among women. Additionally, it sheds light on the scarcity of functional and sustainable residential programs, particularly those managed by non-governmental organizations, in Serbia. The project underscores the importance of local support and increased mobility for local women in the arts, including young and marginalized groups.

Ariane Lugeon in the artist-in-residence studio in Sweden © Art Box

Throughout history, women have often faced the perception of being the inferior „Other,“ experiencing limitations in education, financial independence, and personal spaces for thought and creation. While some argue that this has changed in modern society, differences persist across gender, geography, economics, religion, and more. Therefore, the „Own Room“ theme extends beyond gender, encompassing immigrant culture, the LGBT+ population, diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the art of people with disabilities, and other intersections. This prompts questions about the impact of movements like #MeToo and cancel culture on women and the practical implications of gender equality statistics.

These are the issues the project aims to explore in its next phase.

Felicia Fortes’ works © Art Box

The project was made possible through the support of residential centers in Sweden and Norway, with partial funding from the City Administration for Culture in Novi Sad.

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