Vlasta Delimar

 In 2001, Vlasta
Delimar rode a horse through the center of Zagreb, completely naked, just like
Lady Godiva. Some who were there to witness the performance commented that no
one was shocked or alarmed by this act. Perhaps they had grown immune to
artists running naked through the streets of Zagreb. After all, it was just
twenty years earlier that Vlasta’s good friend and mentor, Tomislav Gotovac,
walked naked down Ilica Street in that same city, shouting “Zagreb, I Love
You!” and kissing the asphalt as he went. Vlasta’s approach was perhaps more
demure, but equally brave and powerful. Throughout her work she uses her naked
body to convey a message about individual freedom of expression, and the power
of the human body to communicate with one’s audience.

Vlasta started doing
performances early in her career, in the 1980s, and told me that she liked it
right away. She enjoyed working with her body in space, and mentioned that in
performance you can use all of the senses – taste, touch, smell, sound, as well
as the tactile – which you can’t necessarily do with other forms of art. All of
these senses feature prominently in her works of art. For example, in Tactile Communication, first performed
in 1981 with her partner at the time, Željko Jerman (an artist from the Group of Six
artists, active in the 1970s, who is now deceased), involves communication with
the audience through the means of touch. Vlasta also said that performance gives her more opportunity for contact
with the audience, which is something that she likes very much. In speaking to
the artist, I got the sense that this was perhaps one of the most important
elements with her art – the communication and commingling with the audience,
the human relationships it creates and stimulates.

This is evident in
the annual project that she has been running for the past 9 years: My Land – Štaglinec, which is named after the village where her
father’s estate and former rope factory, which the artist inherited, is
located. Each year, she invites performance artists to join her there for three
days; during the first two, they prepare their performances, and present them
on the third. Sometimes, there is concept for the event, but regardless, the
artists always respond to the land and incorporate it into their work. While
they may arrive with preconceived notions as to what they would like to
present, these ideas invariably get changed and altered once the artists
encounter the land.

One relationship that
the artist formed and cherished throughout her life was her friendship with
artist Tomislav Gotovac. Following his death, the artist recreated several of
his performances, together with partner Milan Bozic. They even performed at his
funeral, appearing in the same clothes that he was buried in. In the final
years of his life, the three had spent a considerable amount of time together,
and even performed together as well. For example, one of Gotovac’s last
performances was staged together with the two artists and entitled
Two Men and a Woman
(Croatian Masterpieces)
On September 2, 2009, the three walked down Ilica Street, where Gotovac (who
was going by the name Antonio Gotovac Lauer by this point) had performed
Zagreb, I Love You! Nearly three decades earlier. The men were naked,
the woman (Vlasta) wore her signature black hat, a black shirt, and black
heels. She removed the shirt, and then the three started to walk hand-in-hand.
At the end of the performance they went their separate ways.

While her overt use
of the naked female body may conjure ideas of feminism, Vlasta insists that she
is not a feminist. In fact, while she generally has no problem with her fellow
man, she does have issues with feminists, who sometimes take issue with her
work. She told me about a piece that she did in 2003, a billboard where the
artists appears with her blouse open, breasts visible. The caption of the piece
read: “men should be trusted.” The artist informed me that feminists reacted
strongly against the piece, citing male violence against women as a reason not
to trust men. But Vlasta is full of love and respect for all human beings, and
her agenda is not a political one to liberate women, specifically, but to
liberate all mankind from the bonds that constrain us and prevent us from being
who we really are. It takes a strong woman to walk down the street naked, or
ride down it on horseback, and Vlasta’s faith in humanity is what seems to give
her the courage to do it. It is also her love for humanity that impels her to convey
these ideas to her fellow man (or woman) so that they, too can feel free.