This year, Belgrade’s cultural spring will be ushered it with a powerful show one day after International Women’s Day. One of Serbia’s more prolific and certainly most courageous artists invites the public to explore her articstic record so far – and to participate in a struggle for dignity.

It is one of her surprisingly rare solo shows that will cast a light as well as question the record of Zoe Gudović, one of Serbia’s more prolific artists, performers and activists.

Zagrljaj sa ZZ – Hugging ZZ – provides an opportunity to meet both Zoe and Zed, her sometime alter ego she has developped as the Balkan’s first drag king.

Zed has always been more than entertainment.

Being the embodiment of the Balkan macho, Zed was always a form of protests against gender stereotypes in the region that have become increasingly restrictive and reactionary.

It was not just Zed with and through whom Zoe has always rejected and struggled against the arbitrary boundary separating art from real life.

Her performances have always heavily drawn on her own experiences, as a child growing up in poverty, a Lesbian in a homphobic society, an artists in a country whose representatives have tried to reinvent its past, present and future along lines that could be considered an art project were they not meant seriously.

(For more details about Zoe’s work so far, read her portfolio HERE.)

Zagrljaj sa ZZ, starting the 9th of March, one day after International Women’s Day, marks perhaps a bit of a halfway point in Zoe’s career so far.

„I see this project as an introspection of this personal moment of mine, built on the need to recapitulate the past, and try to see into the future, which is rather uncertain under the present social and political circumstances. Therefore, the focus is on summing up my work, life and being in activism, for the purpose of returning to my art potential“, Zoe says about her solo show.

It is a show that highlights her development as an artist and performer – and in her case somewhat inseparably as an activist – but unlike many shows of that kind it will not usher in a retreat into private life.

A Force of Nature

Anyone who has ever met Zoe can only describe her as a force of nature.

Forces of nature don’t stop.

They may just change direction, every once in a while.

Although, in Zoe’s case, the direction will always be clear and straightforward.

She is one of the few voices of the alienated, the downtrodden, the ignored. And a powerful and courageous one at that.

Her drumbeat has, in a very literal sense, led more than just one Pride Parade or feminist protest.

What It Takes Guts to Do

That at times when it wasn’t clear that there wouldn’t be a violent backlash.

Zoe was among the first activists and artists of the region to announce her participation in Sarajevo’s first Pride in September 2019.

Until the start of the march the organizers feared that there would be violent counter protests.

The sheer turnout, though, discouraged any homophobes who may have had planned anything.

But Zoe couldn’t know that when she left Belgrade to help Bosnians articulate their right to dignity. (And not just LGBT Bosnians at that. It’s always about all of us.)

It took guts to do that. Particularly if you had in mind to beat that drum of yours in a very prominent position within the parade.

„I’m one of the few artists in the region who isn’t afraid to call herself Lesbian“, Zoe told Balkan Stories in a chat leading up to this piece.

Another things it takes guts to do.

Back to Zoe’s Drum

It is hard to tell whether societies in Ex-YU have overall become more homophobic and reactionary or whether the homophobes, inspired by their respective religious leaders, have „just“ radicalized.

At any rate, in a climate like that an artist proudly standing by her homosexuality is a source of encouragement for many others – no matter who they love and why.

Which brings us back to Zoe and Zed and Zoe’s show. And, of course, Zoe’s drum.

„The central part of the exhibition will be a performative audio recording named Dialogue between Zoe and Zed. As Zoe, I have that female performative experience, and with the tension between the two identities, the dialogue is unpredictable. On one side would be the self-perception of my daily life, performing myself. On the other, the imagined character Zed, whom I have been giving life to. The dialogue would be projected onto the drum I have been using at the streetprotests, since I see it as a symbol of my personal (but also collective) identity struggle.“

Zagrljaj sa ZZ will be open at Kulturni Centar Grad at Braće Krsmanović 4 until March 15th.

„I am very glad that the exhibition is curated by Vladimir Bjeličić“, Zoe says „he has recognized the potential of Zagrljaj sa ZZ“.

For more details about the exhibition, see HERE.

Photos: Biljana Rakočević, Vladimir Opsenica, Bojana Janjić