Marie Civikov | WARP #14

Marie Civikov | WARP #14 | the head, the hat, the soul, the soil

Marie Civikov artist in residence in her studio with textile art pieces or wearable painting in the background. credits: Jeannette Slütter/Temet studio
Marie Civikov in her studio, image by Jeannette Slütter Temet Studio

11.07 – 02.09

Text by Julia Fidder


This exhibition is Linked
to SEA Foundation’s
WARP series
– the 4-year research programme
on art and sustainability fold #11 on Voice



WARP #14 | the head, the hat, the soul, the soil

Her work is about giving voice to the unheard. About highlighting something that was not yet seen or discovered – not because it didn’t matter but precisely because nobody paid attention to it. It is about the female lines of family history, about a great-grandma who lived in Indonesia and about whom Marie Civikov knows very little. The accounts on her great grandmother’s life were written down by her grandmother who wrote down her life’s story as well as passed down old family pictures, depicting Civikovs great grandmother through different stages of her life together with her children and husband. In the written story, Civikov reads about her grandmother’s life, about the values that were held by the family, about the plantations and life in a colonized country and about her grandmother’s journey from Indonesia to The Netherlands. The thick deck of printed copy papers is held together in a plastic binder.  Although it is extensive, there is little to be found about her grandmother’s mother, Civikov’s great-grandma, Painem. Her story is to be found in between the lines, where we can find small glimpses of her character traits and day-to-day life.

Giving voice to the unheard

The stories and Civikovs own interpretations to the story about her great-grandmother now find a new place through her works. What started as a curiosity towards her family’s history can now be seen as an act of resistance, or redemption even, and of intergenerational healing. Through the life story that was written down by her grandmother but also through the inherited sewing machine the artist uses in her work, the voice of the women that came before her find space in her practice: ‘In this way, each piece has passed indirectly through my grandmother’s fingers, and thus through those of the generations that came before her, whose voices for a long time have remained unheard and underexposed.’ 

While in Indonesia her voice mattered and was heard, her Indonesian female identity prevented her voice from traveling far. Those who were responsible for reporting to the colonizers did not report on these voices – they were too ‘human’ and would reveal the Indonesian population was in fact advanced and not as underdeveloped as the colonizers tried to propagate. Painem was not voiceless, the story of women like her was unheard because their voices and stories were censored to fit into the narrative that was most beneficial to the oppressors. They were rendered invisible within colonial history. But in Civikovs work we can see counterforce; in Resistance for example, Painem is depicted almost lifesize; here, she gets the focal attention and her story is amplified. Through the use of the sewing machine, Civikovs work also literally takes shape. Where her earlier works were painted on canvases, the artist now takes away the physical framework. The borders of the work have obtained a newfound freedom and are taking on many different forms. Some of them are categorized by Civikov as ‘wearables’; they look as if they could ‘be worn over your shoulders like a shell from the past and hang loose in space like relics.’

Multivocality through Intercultural Identity

Besides her Indonesian heritage, Civikov also lets her Bulgarian heritage influence her work. ‘The part I have been focusing on so far covers periods of rising fascism in the 1920s in Bulgaria, Barcelona and Graz, on the one hand, and the colonial occupation of Indonesia, my mother’s “homeland” or where she’s been born, on the other.’ Through the incorporation of both cultures, a multivocality occurs within the dialogue between the two, it points at the possibility of multiplicity or multi-sidedness within one’s identity and voice.

While we might be seen as singular, we are constructed from many different things. ’Both my Bulgarian and Javanese roots define my identity, which to a large extent was also shaped by my life and work in the Netherlands. Fluidly, the varied influences on my DNA appear to blend into my work. East, West and the far East; everything might be more connected than a first impression of the unknown would suggest.’ The blend of cultures can be seen through the portrayal of family members, traditional clothing, and prints on the textiles Civikov paints on. But the cultures are also integrated through the use of symbols like the Cyrillic letter Ж, which ‘represents the unknown and the power of the feminine,’ which can be recognized in one of the works presented at SEA Foundation. 

Through her work, Civikov relates to being underexposed or unheard. How far does a voice reach? What wasn’t heard before echoed silently through time for Civikov to amplify and propagate. In her work it seems as if she has an ongoing conversation with her grandmother and great-grandmother, they find a peaceful place in resistance and through the artist’s interpretation we can hear what she imagines they had to say. It is a resistance against patriarchal and colonial oppression that rendered certain voices not worthy of being heard. It is a refusal to be silent or let be silenced and it is the underlining of the importance to listen.

Marie Civikov

In my work, I relate my personal family history to ethical issues of descent, history, ethnicity and family ties in both an (Eastern) European and Eurasian context. Emerging from creating a “wearable” form of my paintings, I currently work on loose canvases that take their shape with the sewing machine inherited from my East Indies great grandmother. In this way, each piece has passed indirectly through my grandmother’s fingers, and thus through those of the generations that came before her, whose voices for a long time have remained unheard and underexposed. In parallel, I am engaged in dissecting my grandmother’s life story in the Dutch East Indies colony. This has increased my curiosity for her Javanese mother, about whom relatively little is mentioned in this. Through my own interpretation, I bring her voice alive on canvases that are shaped as if they can be worn over your shoulders like a shell from the past and hang loose in space like relics. Visual aspects in my work related to my Bulgarian background are added to this and melt together.

Website Marie Civikov 
Instagram Marie Civikov


mondriaanfonds netherlands
Marie Civikov artpiece with the drawing of an Indonesian woman, her great grandmother, with the text she could not resist and also to learn dutch and some of the catholic religion. credit: Marie Civikov
Marie Civikov textile art painting featuring a palm flowers and face of her great grandmother. credit: Marie Civikov
Marie Civikov painting with pink in the background and hands holding a white flag. credit: Marie Civikov