Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist Page — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

In Study of Focus, Kristina Benjocki intends to reframe the contested history of former Yugoslavia by weaving tapestries based on enlarged details of history textbooks. The textiles and educational history textbooks examined by this work are approached as parallel yet interrelated materials.

Benjocki observes that tapestry weaving traditions in former Yugoslavia and history writing practices each assume a variety of approaches to illustration, narration, interpretation, and appropriation of historical events. For example, in the first half of twentieth century, female tapestry weavers in the former Yugoslavia applied symbols and ornaments, such as “German Boxes,” “Russian Bombs,” and “A Little Soldier” as a way of telling (hi)stories they witnessed.

The tapestries in Study of Focus are based on images and texts from history textbooks published in Yugoslavia between 1952 and 2002, specifically those sections that deal with the interpretation and illustration of the Second World War. The work takes the form of close-ups of pages from these book chapters, on which pen strokes, stains, hair, spilled coffee, and other evidence of their use can be seen. Considering history writing as a material process, Benjocki zooms-in on the otherwise overlooked margins of the book pages, and the frays of the historical narrative. By doing so, the artist sets out to emphasize details that are not part of the endless flow of information that establishes what is considered history.

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Kristina Benjocki’s “Study of Focus,” 2014.  Kasper Bosmans
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Kristina Benjocki’s “Study of Focus,” 2014. Kasper Bosmans

Kristina Benjocki (b. 1984) studied at the University of Arts in Belgrade, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She has also been an artist-in-residence at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. Her research-driven artistic practice encompasses the moving image, sculpture, textile, and photography. Benjocki’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka (Croatia), the American University of Beirut Art Gallery, and Stroom in The Hague.

artist contribution


Reframing the contested issue of Yugoslav history by weaving textiles based on excerpts of history textbooks, I make interpretations of past events into palpable material. Study of Focus looks into both tapestry traditions and history textbooks of the former Yugoslavia as parallel yet interrelated phenomena. Both tapestries and history textbooks assume a variety of approaches to illustration, narration, interpretation, and appropriation of historical events.

  • inv nr 1 mg_5708/ p.198. Chapter: “Preparations for the Uprising, Communist Party during the April Struggle”
    inv nr 1 mg_5708/ p.198. Chapter: “Preparations for the Uprising, Communist Party during the April Struggle”
  • inv nr 2 mg_5740/ p.175. Chapter: “The Biggest NOR Battles”
    inv nr 2 mg_5740/ p.175. Chapter: “The Biggest NOR Battles”
  •  inv nr 3 mg_7378/ p.121. Chapter: “The Election Terror”
    inv nr 3 mg_7378/ p.121. Chapter: “The Election Terror”
  • inv nr 4 mg_5755/ p.65. Chapter: “The Withdrawal in Banat and Bačka. The Transfer of Resistance Movement to Srem”
    inv nr 4 mg_5755/ p.65. Chapter: “The Withdrawal in Banat and Bačka. The Transfer of Resistance Movement to Srem”
  • inv nr 5 mg_5714/ p.219. Chapter: “Uprisings in 1942”
    inv nr 5 mg_5714/ p.219. Chapter: “Uprisings in 1942”

Image 1: March 30th 1941, Defense measures proclaimed by the Central Committee of Yugoslav Communist Party Preparations for the uprising, Communist party during the April struggle.
Image 2: Women carrying wounded.
Image 3: The political assembly of Milan Stojadinović. Questions: Can you tell the government from opposition supporters? Can you describe the two sides? Can you name the main problems of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia?
Image 4: J. Soldatović, a monument to Partisans in Žabalj.
Image 5: Metal worker and Partisan battalion commander Stevan Filipović shouting in defiance before his execution by Nazi collaborators on the main square in Valjevo, 22nd May 1942.

Since the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s violent disintegration, national narratives and symbols have become central to each one of the newly formed identities. National symbols are a subtle but integral part of the interiors of governmental and religious buildings, and some are used as the backdrop for commercials and popular culture. The symbols and ornaments of traditional textiles can be traced to Slavic mythology and Orthodox Christianity, and they bear a complicated relationship with Islam dating back to the time of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. The first effort in categorizing national symbols was published in 1902. In the following years female weavers used Mita Živković’s catalogue “Album of Pirot Kilims” to give shape to the new symbols and ornaments: “German Boxes,” “Russian Bombs,” and “A Little Soldier” as a way of telling (hi)stories they witnessed.

Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij. Courtesy the artist.

Similar to the ideological implications of the post-Yugoslavian revival of traditions, history textbooks narrate and illustrate historical events in relation to the ideology of the time. Not only has photography often been regarded as a veracious image, but it has also frequently been treated as a technique in which nature makes an imprint of itself. Being the stencil of reality, photography registers the past, and at the same time, it produces evidence of it. By looking at the margins of photographic reproductions found in history textbooks from Yugoslavia published from the 1950s to 2002, I made a register of the material changes they embody. I looked into the various approaches to interpreting and illustrating World War II and used the accumulated information to make a laborious textile installation. 

  • inv nr 6 mg_5726/ p.289. Chapter: “Communist System. Economic Development during the Communist Governance”
    inv nr 6 mg_5726/ p.289. Chapter: “Communist System. Economic Development during the Communist Governance”
  • inv nr 7 mg_5719/ p.224. Chapter: “Resistance Movement in the Second Part of 1942”
    inv nr 7 mg_5719/ p.224. Chapter: “Resistance Movement in the Second Part of 1942”
  • inv nr 8 mg_5771/ p.187. Chapter: “The first AVNOJ meeting”
    inv nr 8 mg_5771/ p.187. Chapter: “The first AVNOJ meeting”
  • inv nr 9 mg_5772/ p.187. Chapter: “Self-management and Social Democracy in Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”
    inv nr 9 mg_5772/ p.187. Chapter: “Self-management and Social Democracy in Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”
  • inv nr 10 mg_7378/ p.113. Chapter: “The Final Struggles for Liberation”
    inv nr 10 mg_7378/ p.113. Chapter: “The Final Struggles for Liberation”

Image 1: Car factory in Kragujevac.
Image 2: The 1st Croatian Partisan “battalion” Božidar Adžija at Plitvice Lakes, June 1942.
Image 3: From the first AVNOJ meeting.
Image 4: Comrade Tito on military parade.
Image 5: The chart of occupation and resistance forces.

The study of the physical structure of each page history is printed upon, is the focus of the work. Each page reveals a record of different aspects of the time, yet the direction, perspective, and the sequence are no longer recognizable. The inclusion of blotch marks, notes, and lines left by the previous readers reflects my interest in history as a material process. By working with the margins of the page, I emphasize information that cannot be recovered and fed back into the endless flow of information.

Kristina Benjocki

Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Kristina Benjocki. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Kristina Benjocki. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Kristina Benjocki. Courtesy the artist.
Kristina Benjocki, “Study of Focus,” 2014. Ten woven tapestries, 165 × 247.5 cm each, wool and metal. Installation view of “This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time” at SMBA, Sep 13–Nov 9, 2014. Photo: Kristina Benjocki. Courtesy the artist.