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Anna Novakov


Project: Inner Cities: Milena Pavlovic-Barilli’s Roman Series

Serbian-born artist Milena Pavlovic-Barilli (1909-1945) was the only child of Danica Pavlovic and Italian composer and poet Bruno Barilli. She spent much of the 1930s working and exhibiting in Rome during the years of Benito Mussolini’s invasion and annexation of Ethiopia. Mussolini’s colonial expansion brought with it an unprecedented wave of architectural projects. Many of these projects were promoted through vast photographic documentation of Mussolini himself – whose bare-chested masculine virility was considered a brand of potency for each new building, town or housing development. Pavlovic-Barilli was unmarried, childless and a foreigner at the time that Mussolini decried “War is to man what maternity is to a woman.” Her paintings and works on paper expose the crippling status of women that were encouraged to stay at home, bare children, rejecting feminism and any affiliation with the international New Woman movement. Her Roman oeuvre consistently depicts solitary women set against a backdrop of broken radiators, isolated staircases, cracked chimneys and other architectural references. The theme of the fragmented urban landscape, internalized as a domestic dreamscape is revisited in every work. The paintings, rarely seen outside of Serbia, read like a visual diary that captures the eroding status of women within public spaces in Italy. My study, the first done by an art historian outside of her home country, analyzes the Roman series within the context of political and social upheaval of the pre-war years.


Anna Novakov is a tenured Associate Professor of Art History and Chair of Art and Art History at St. Mary’s College of California. She studied art history and literature at the University of California Berkeley and holds a doctorate from New York University in Art History and Art Education. She has authored many articles and exhibition catalogues on women cultural production during the interwar years. She is editor of Veiled Histories: The Body, Place and Public Art (Critical Press), Carnal Pleasures: Desire, Contemporary Art and Public Space (Clamor Editions) and the forthcoming Good Housekeeping: The Artistic Legacy of Le Corbusier’s machine a habiter (Mellen Press). Her current scholarship explores visual and literary art in Yugoslavia during the interwar years.