Marina Abramovic Biography

Marina Abramovic describes herself as the "grandmother of performance art", her career has spanned more than four decades and she is seen as the foremost performance artist of her generation. Her explorative nature and is a product of a strict upbringing and her ability to identify and define the limitations of art.

Marina was born in Belgrade, Yugosalvia on November 30, 1946 to parents who held prominent positions in the Communist government. Her father, Vojin, was in the Marshal's elite guard and her mother, Danica, was an art historian who oversaw historic monuments (Griger, 2007, 2). After her father left the family, her mother took strict control of eighteen-year-old Abramovic and her younger brother, Velimir. Her mother was difficult and sometimes violent, yet she supported her daughter's interest in art (Kaplan, 1999, 6). While growing up, Abramovic saw numerous Biennales in Venice, exposing her to artists outside of Communist Yugoslavia such as abstract expressionist, Robert Rauschenberg.

Abramovic studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from1965-1970 and completed her masters at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. It was in the early 1970s that she began creating performance art, initially creating sound installations, but quickly moving towards works that incorporate the body. She taught at the Academy of Arts, University of Novi Sad through the mid-1970s. In her early work, she often compromised her body for the sake of her art. For example, she ingesting drugs intended to treat schizophrenia in Rhythm 2; invited viewers to threaten her body with a variety of objects, including a loaded gun in Rhythm 0; and she cut her stomach with a razor blade into the shape of a star and reaching a state of hypothermia on a block of ice in her piece Thomas Lips. She has suggested that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Communist dictatorship and the restrictive implementations set by her mother (Stankovic, 2009, 566). Accordingly, the rebellious performances took place in small studios, student centers, and alternative spaces in Yugoslavia, ended by ten o'clock, the strict curfew set by her mother.

Marina created these pioneering works when performance art was an emerging art form in Europe. While on a trip to Amsterdam in 1975, Abramovic met the German artist Frank Uwe "Ulay" Laysiepen. Pioneers in love and with purpose, Abramovic and Ulay traversed Europe in a van, lived with Australian Aborigines, and in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and spent time in the Sahara, Thar, and Gobi deserts. Their artistic alliance was a concert of affection and attachment, physically pondered in Relation in Time, in which they remained sitting back to back with their hair tied together. In Imponderabilia (1977), the couple stood naked in a narrow doorway, forcing spectators to pass between them. Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977) involved the passage of breathe from each other's mouths to the point of near suffocated (Turim, 2003, 100). Light/Dark (1977), in which they alternately slapped each other's faces in protest. When Abramovic and Ulay decided to end their artistic collaboration and personal relationship in 1988, they embarked on a piece called The Lovers. Each started at a different end of the Great Wall of China and walked for three months until they met in the middle and parted. Since the experience, they have had little contact and continue to work independently.

After the separation from Ulay, Marina returned to making solo works, working increasingly with video art. In 1989, she began making a number of sculptural works, Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience participation and interaction. In addition to her performances, Abramovic taught at the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin and the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1990-1991, as well as the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg. Beginning in 1994, she taught for seven years as a performance art professor at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig, Germany (Wescott, 2003, 131).

Devotion to her art and the use of her own body as a medium, manipulated and at times abused by the stroke of a knife, paints a far reaching message of universal understanding that Marina continues to act and reenact on a global stage.


Grigar, D. (2007). Digital performance: A history of new media in theater, dance, performance art, and installation. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 15(7/8), 4. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Kaplan, J. (1999). Deeper and deeper: Interview with Marina Abramovic. Art Journal, 58(2), 6. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Stankovic, N. (2009). An institutional travesty: Risk as a strategy in Marina Abramovic's performance role exchange. Third Text, 23(5), 565-570.

Turim, M. (2003). Marina Abramovic's performance: Stresses on the body and psyche in installation art. Camera Obscura, 18(54), 98-117.

Westcott, J. (2003). Marina Abramovic's the house with the ocean view. TDR: The Drama Review, 47(3), 129-136.

--Rachel Davenport, 2010.

Marina Abramovic