Every generation of children knows a rhyme or two about the importance of washing your hands and brushing your teeth. At the time when personal health is becoming a growing concern, Maja Rakočević Cvijanov draws our attention to the simple motive of hygiene, relying on Greek mythology for inspiration. In addition to being the daughter of Asclepius, the god of health and protector of pharmacists and doctors, the goddess Hygeia, to whom this exhibition is dedicated, was also in charge of cleanliness. Aside from her role, she was often portrayed by artists because of her outstanding beauty. Through a sculptural group of self-portraits done in terracotta, the artist focuses on the cathartic nature of the process of cleaning, creating a temple-like atmosphere in which the rituals of maintaining the hygiene of the spirit and the body are monumentalized. By using soil as a material – both processed and unprocessed – she reminds us about the ancient matriarchal goddess Gaia. Who is Hygeia and whose interests does the author of this exhibition have at heart? It is of she who cares for the hygiene of her home and the health of her family members, while trying to preserve the vitality and freshness associated with the “fairer sex”. Even though back in 1979 the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women set the standards for gender equality, the traditional cultural and social models of femininity and masculinity are not only still dominant but also determine the roles of men and women both in societies and within families. But, to publicly declare equality and apply the law isn’t enough to change people’s minds and habits. The media continue to develop female and male topics separately, focusing on needs such as caring for one’s appearance, achieving spiritual and physical balance by detoxifying the organism or emotions, or areas like home decoration and keeping the house clean, as exclusively interesting to women.
The role of Hygeia in a society means so much more than just ironing clothes and doing dishes. Values such as tolerance and antimilitarism, which are crucial to the progress and survival of our civilization, have been recognized owing to female activism in the early 1900s and form the basis for constructing a safe, healthy and prosperous society. With this exhibition, we wish to further stress the importance of equal participation of men and women in each segment of public and family life.