Chapter III: Grandmother

By 15th of April, 2024 6 min read
Longevity Method / Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović, a pioneering figure in performance art, grew up in the former Yugoslavia. Her early years were shaped by a unique blend of experiences, as she spent significant time with her grandmother who was deeply spiritual and versed in traditional healing practices. This stark contrast to her more conventional upbringing introduced her to a world of spiritual rituals and natural remedies. These formative experiences enriched her perspective and profoundly influenced her artistic explorations of the body, endurance, and the human spirit, shaping her into the iconic artist known today.

Marina Abramović and big role of her grandmother

Marina Abramović relationship with her grandmother was a cornerstone of her early life, providing a deep well of inspiration that permeated her artistic journey. Her grandmother, a figure of spiritual depth and resistance to the prevailing communist ethos, introduced Marina to a world far removed from the political landscape of her family. This spiritual mentorship was grounded in the practical application of ancient wisdom, especially in healing and rituals.

Photo Credit: Marina Abramović with Aunt Ksenija, Grandmother Milica, and brother Velimir, Belgrade, 1953. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Personal Archive

Her grandmother’s approach to health was holistic and deeply rooted in nature, relying on the earth’s offerings rather than modern medicine. For common ailments, her methods were simple yet effective. When Marina suffered from a cold, for instance, her grandmother would create a paste of vinegar and garlic, rub it on her, and wrap her warmly to sweat out the illness—often resulting in Marina waking up the next morning feeling revitalised. Pimples were treated with freshly cut onion, applied directly to reduce inflammation and clear the skin quickly. For migraines, a raw steak placed on the head was her unconventional remedy, reflecting a deep trust in natural processes over pharmaceutical interventions.

These practices, taught to Marina by her grandmother, were not merely treatments but rituals that connected her to older, seemingly forgotten ways of understanding and interacting with the body. They underscored a philosophy of life that valued simplicity, the natural environment, and a spiritual approach to the physical world—principles that would later resonate throughout Marina’s groundbreaking performances and artistic expressions.

Introduction to natural remedies

Marina Abramović exploration of natural healing included a variety of methods that demonstrated both simplicity and effectiveness, avoiding modern medicine. An amusing anecdote from her experiences showcases the ingenuity of these natural techniques in a playful manner.

On one occasion, Marina’s grandmother prepared for a social gathering by using an unconventional method to temporarily smooth out wrinkles. She boiled potatoes, then, while they were still hot, wrapped them in a towel and applied the bundle to her face. The heat and moisture from the potatoes helped to tighten and smooth the skin, providing a natural, albeit temporary, facelift. Marina observed this transformation with a mix of amusement and amazement, as her grandmother’s wrinkles seemed to disappear within minutes, readying herself to make a grand appearance at the event. Her grandmother humorously noted that they would need to leave the party within an hour and ten minutes—the time it would take for her wrinkles to reappear.

This encounter highlighted the simplicity and immediate effectiveness of natural healing practices. Such methods relied on readily available, natural ingredients and were applied with minimal processing, offering a stark contrast to the often complex and chemical-laden treatments found in modern medicine. These practices resonated deeply with Marina, enriching her appreciation for holistic approaches to health and well-being and influencing her broader artistic exploration of body, nature, and the legacy of ancestral wisdom.

Legacy of longevity and wisdom

Marina Abramović grandmother not only imparted the secrets of natural healing but also embodied a remarkable legacy of longevity, living to the impressive age of 103. Her long life was a testament to the effectiveness of her holistic lifestyle and her deep understanding of natural medicine.

One of the most memorable and illustrative stories of her life involves a humorous yet poignant incident concerning her planned, yet unfulfilled, death. Demonstrating her typical blend of determination and wit, Marina Abramović grandmother decided one day that she was ready to die—but only under her terms. She expressed a desire to pass away on a weekend when the family could be home to say goodbye. True to her commanding nature, she orchestrated the day with care: she cooked lunch for the family, retired to her bedroom, lit candles, lay in her bed with her hands crossed, and closed her eyes, expecting to drift peacefully away. However, life had other plans. She woke up two hours later, hungry, much to the amusement and relief of her family. The moment turned into a family story of her ‘dying prospects’ that was recounted with laughter and love.

This episode, while humorous, underscored her profound connection to the rituals of life and death, showing an acceptance and control over her life that many found inspiring. It also reflected her strong will and the deep cultural respect for the elderly’s wisdom and their integral role in the family. Marina often reflected on this event, considering how it encapsulated her grandmother’s wisdom about life, death, and everything in between. It highlighted the importance of embracing life’s journey and the transitions that come with it, including the final transition of death, with grace and dignity.

This story is a poignant reminder of the wealth of knowledge and perspective the older generation holds, underscoring the value of listening to and learning from their experiences. Through her grandmother, Marina Abramović was not only introduced to the practical knowledge of natural healing but also to a philosophical approach to living fully at every moment.

Valuable lessons

Marina Abramović’s exploration of natural healing and the insights from her grandmother highlight a crucial message: merging traditional wisdom with our modern lifestyles can greatly improve our understanding and practice of health and longevity. These experiences serve as a powerful testament to the enduring value of ancient practices and the profound impact they can have on our well-being.

In our modern, technology-driven world, it’s easy to overlook the simpler, time-tested approaches to health that have been used effectively for centuries. These stories remind us of the efficacy and relevance of these methods, encouraging us to reconsider and reintegrate them into our daily lives for better health and wellness.

This is an invitation to blend age-old practices with the benefits of contemporary medicine, creating a holistic approach to health that respects both past insights and modern advancements. Integrating natural healing techniques into our health regimen not only enhances physical and mental well-being but also connects us more deeply with our cultural heritage and the natural world.

As we move forward, let us draw inspiration from Marina Abramović reflections and open ourselves to the possibilities that traditional healing practices offer. By doing so, we not only honor the wisdom of our ancestors but also pave the way for a healthier, more balanced approach to living in the present.