Social imprints of being a woman

20 October 2022 - no responses

Interview with the artist Ágnes Eperjesi on motherhood, gender, and women’s rights in contemporary Hungary


Ágnes Eperjesi (1965, Budapest) works in several mediums, from photograms, through installations, to projects mixing performance and public demonstration. In her practice, the artist examines the medium of photography and its hidden potential (cameraless photography, photo-object) with intuitive sensitivity, scientific methodology and theoretical underpinning. She is the author of numerous artist’s books and publications, which are visual and scientific summaries of her complex research-based art projects. Since the end of the 90s, female identity and women’s social roles have been at the center of her interest. Since the 2000s, performativity and activism have been integral parts of her creative practice (Advertisement-Free Zone, Private Protest, Words of Power – Political speech-performances in Parliament;). Eperjesi’s critical attention extends to social anomalies, abuse of power, sexism, and how it is leaked to the art world of her county (You Should Feel Honored). Besides building up a body of work profoundly based on the theory of photography, her projects draw critical attention to burning socio-political issues, power relations and gender questions arising in Hungary and beyond.

The following text is an excerpt from a longer interview conducted with the artist as part of wider research on motherhood, care work and women’s position in the art world. The whole interview has not been published yet. This expert focuses on gender-based discrimination, human right’s violations, and new rules on abortion in Hungary.


Viktória Popovics: How has becoming a mother affected your life and career? How did this specific female experience influence your early works? What was it like being a female artist in the 90s in Hungary?

Ágnes Eperjesi: At the beginning, I did not think of art as a career, rather as a tool to perceive the world and know it and myself better. The experience of motherhood has brought new perspectives into my life, such as the possibility for self-reflection and self-awareness, which have greatly influenced my artistic practice.  The human body has been an important theme in my art from the beginning, but I was rather interested in its physical specifics than in its biological sex. I became truly aware of the importance of being a woman when we wanted to have a child. My position on this issue was that my female body could carry and bear children. And I wished to have this experience.

At the beginning of the 90s (when I became a mother), I was not familiar with the concept of gender; no feminist theories had yet reached me, but instinctively I was very much interested in women’s everyday struggles in a male-dominated society, based on my own experience. Women’s themes in art started to become a topic in Hungary only later, thanks to the all-women exhibition series entitled Water Ordeal (1995), organized by Gábor Andrási. Feminist theories were introduced in an accompanying catalogue text written by Edit András.[1]

V.P.: During this period (1991-1994), you worked together with the artist Tibor Várnagy and you were also partners-in-life; indeed in 1993, your daughter was born. A collaborative work, Pregnant photogram (1992), also called “Latency”, shows the direct imprint of your pregnant body. How do you understand the “cameraless photography” – the genre of the photogram – as a specifically female technique?

 Á.E.: As a continuation of the Pregnant photogram in the series Newborns, I was interested in real-size documentation and inspired by the experience of having a little baby, whose size changed inconceivably fast.

I interpret the medium of the photogram as a metaphor: a metaphor of social imprints. Shooting an image is often understood as hunting; by contrast, the photogram is a metaphor for democratic and collective practices that follow from the technical components of the medium. I put the idea into words this way: the merely exposed, captured image is not an image yet, just the possibility or latency of the image. It takes the darkness, the red light, a shell, water, and heat to emerge, to be born. The form and use of the camera and the act of taking a photograph evokes notions of aggression and masculinity, but the image can only be born in a female element, the uterine lab. So, the medium of the photogram can be interpreted as an embodiment of feminine notions, which is a gender metaphor as well. [2]

I visualized and reified this concept at my solo exhibition Labor: Practice Demands Its Place in Theory (Óbudai Társaskör Gallery, 2015), where the semi-dark space in red light evoked the photo lab and the mother’s womb at the same time. The objects and installations referred to the Hungarian meaning of the title (photolab, laboratory), and the additional meanings of “labor”, namely “work” and “giving birth”. A female-related object was also part of the exhibition, titled Methodology. It was a red transparent box, full of photo-theoretical and feminist texts, important parts (at least for me) marked by post-it notes. The holes on the box made the books touchable for the visitors; at the same time, it could be associated with the female genitals and the examination by obstetricians or gynecologists. I call this piece a photo-theoretical sculpture.

V.P.:  You were one of the first artists in Hungary who thematized the problem of women’s social roles and housework in art. How is gender-inequality perceived through your art?

Á.E.: I became aware of gender through my own practice, while I was creating the artworks for the series Busy Hands and Tile Pattern Catalogue. I have been collecting transparent packages of domestic products since 1991 and realized that 95 percent of the cleaning and wiping hands pictured on them belonged to women. Since this “research”, which served the basis of a series of works called Recycled Images, I have observed gender stereotypes, invisible labor, and the nature of sexism with a critical eye. I am handling these anomalies more consciously, which helps me a lot to navigate life and create space for artistic reflections.

V.P.: In the art world, these stereotypes are often reproduced and affirmed, if we think of the statements of Marina Abramovich concerning her abortions, or the infamous sentence of Tracy Emin: “There are good artists that have children. They are called men.” Recently, you dedicated a work to these kinds of voices. What is the idea behind the enigmatic sentence A man who fathers a child is a FATHER?

Á.E.: Beside these examples from Tracy Emin and Abramovic, the inscription also refers, ironically, to a work by the Hungarian artist Pál Gerber, namely, “Women who give birth to children are mothers”. I mixed it up and cut the sentence A man who fathers a child is a FATHER into a metal shelf and stuffed pink fabric into the gaps of the word FATHER. I also wanted to subvert the techniques and materials assigned stereotypically to men (metal sheet, steel cutter) and woman (soft, pink fabric, handwriting). The verb ‘father’ has an additional meaning of beget (inseminate) and evokes the meanings of God the Father. The main inspiration for this work was the patriarchal thinking and machoism that defines today’s Hungarian political rhetoric and especially the amendment of the country’s constitution in 2020, which now states: “Family is based on marriage and the parent-child relation. The mother is a woman, the father a man”.

V.P.: Gender-based violence, bodily autonomy, the right for self-determination appears in many of your works, while claiming the right for abortion is now a critical issue globally, including Hungary. What is the role of art when the woman’s body is at stake?

Á.E.: In 2018, at the invitation of the art historian and curator Erzsébet Tatai, I exhibited the pregnant photogram, paired  with the iconic work of Barbara Kruger, the appropriated version of Your Body is a Battleground. (Aborted Attempt. After Sherine Levine, after Barbara Kruger, 2018). This was the first time I reflected directly on the question of reproductive rights and abortions. Both when I was pregnant and now, as I look back on that period, I consider my body not only a protective shell (for the fetus of course my womb was a safe place), but from my own point of view, I felt like a battlefield. (The red square on the photogram is an ortochromatic photopaper placed in a light-protective bag). It’s tragic that after three decades Kruger’s work has become extremely relevant again because of the strengthening of anti-feminism, coupled with political support, in many countries of Europe.

V.P.: By the way, Kruger’s poster has become a major symbol in Poland during the massive protest movement against the strict anti-abortion laws in 2020. Indeed, the artwork first appeared on the streets of Warsaw as early as 1991; a Polish-language version was created by Kruger herself. Do you believe in targeting or catalyzing social change with the tools of art? What are the possibilities of the artist to express solidarity?

Á.E.: To express my solidarity with Polish women, I used another symbol of the pro-choice movement, namely the red lightning bolt. I envisioned a participative work, which I conceptualized during an art residency in a metal factory in Hungary, where I participated as the only female artist. After discussions about the protests in Poland at that time with my male colleagues, the final action took place under a surveillance camera, only with two protagonists holding the lightning. In addition, they asked me not to show their faces; that is why I chose the title Closely Watched Metalworkers.[3]

V.P.: In September 2022, the Hungarian government tightened the abortion rules, which will make the process of pursuing a termination more bureaucratic. What was your reaction when you first heard about this?

Á.E.: After previous statements of our newly elected, first-ever female President of the Republic, Katalin Novák, I was not too surprised. The regulation has not come out of the blue, and it can be predicted that the tightening will continue, if government can influence attitudes in society deeply enough. At least the government’s aim is clear, and this tendency has been strongly present in their statements to the media since 2010. According to statistics, restrictive laws lead to unsafe abortions and increase the number of illegal procedures. I wanted to emphasize this aspect of the so called ‘fetal heartbeat rule’. For the demonstration which happened within the context of the annual International Safe Abortion Day, I made a protest board with no text on it, but a hanger forming a wing of an angel or bird. The title “Angelmaker” is an archaic and euphemistic expression in Hungarian, in contrast with the English term “infanticidal”, which is more direct. People seemed to like and understand the meaning of the board. I gave this work to the organizer of the demonstration, the Patent Association (Society Against Patriarchy). 


By: Viktória Popovics


[1] Edit András: Contemporary (Women’s) Art and (Woman) Artists on Water Ordeal, in: Edit András and Andrási Gábor (eds:) Water Ordeal, exh. cat, Óbudai Társaskör, Budapest 1995, pp 25-43.

[2] Ágnes Eperjesi: Expanded Photogram, in: Ágnes Eperjesi: Early Photographic Works, 7-19. Budapest: acb Research Lab, 2019.

[3] [EN/PL] Women’s rights are human rights. – BLOK MAGAZINE BLOK MAGAZINE

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