Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović

(born Belgrade, Serbia 30 November 1946)

Marina Abramović (born Belgrade, Serbia, 30 Nov 1946) is a pioneering conceptual and performance artist whose work explores body and endurance art. Her work also investigates the relationship between performer and audience, notably by involving the participation of observers to uncover fresh notions of identity. Active for 50 years, she considers herself as the ‘grandmother of performance art’. Her output has consistently pushed the boundaries of what it means to create performance as a visual form.

In this guide, we’ll share some of Marina’s most powerful performances and artwork, along with a brief history of her life and career.

The life of Marina Abramović: A summary

In this section we’ll explore Marina Abramović’s life including her childhood and family life growing up in Serbia. We’ll also look at how she has developed as an artist influenced by both politics and a desire to push the boundaries of performance art, and delve into some of her key work including the controversial Rhythm 0. 

Early life

Abramović was born in Belgrade, Serbia (then in Yugoslavia) eighteen months after the end of the Second World War, to parents who were both decorated Yugoslav partisans and served in the post-war Yugoslav Communist government led by Tito. She was brought up by her devout grandmother until the age of six, before returning to her parents’ care. Their marriage was deeply unhappy and Abramović’s mother controlled Marina’s life on strict lines until her mid-twenties – for example, not permitting her to be away from home after 10pm.


As a child, Abramović enjoyed painting and developed an early interest in art. During her school years, she took piano lessons and, like most young Serbians of her generation, mastered more than one foreign language. In 1965, aged 19, she entered Belgrade’s Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1970. Postgraduate work followed at Zagreb’s Academy of Fine Arts, in Croatia, with her completing her studies in 1972. 

From 1973 to 1975, Abramović taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city, from where she launched her solo career as a performance artist. Her marriage to Serbian conceptual artist, Neša Paripović (b. 1942), between 1971 and 1976 influenced Abramović’s imperative to develop her own distinctive performance art. 

Career highlights 

From 1975–88, Abramović collaborated with the West German artist, Ulay (1943–2020), in performances that focused on issues of duality. Their collaborative works set out to annihilate each of their egos to strive for a single artistic entity. After several years of tension, Abramović and Ulay decided to bring their relationship to an end by making a spiritual journey: each walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, meeting in the middle where they bade each other farewell. The performance was called Lovers. 

Among Abramović’s high-profile collaborators is the pop singer and songwriter, Lady Gaga, known for her image reinventions and musical versatility. Abramović worked with her on the singer’s third album Artpop (2013). Lady Gaga has collaborated on projects supporting the Marina Abramović Institute, including participation on a ‘A Method’ video and a non-stop reading of Stanisław Lem’s science-fiction novel Solaris 

Later Life and legacy 

Abramović served in the 1990s as a visiting professor at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and the Berlin University of the Arts. She also spent time at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Braunschweig (1997–2004), where she directly influenced and encouraged a younger generation of performance art practitioners – as well as taking the opportunity to develop her own work. In 2007, she founded the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art (MAI) to support further exploration and promotion of the genre.  

She has received many prestigious international awards, including a Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale (for Balkan Baroque); the Lorenzo il Magnifico Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Florence Biennale; and the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts, Oviedo, whose previous winners include Pedro Almodóvar, Bob Dylan and William Kentridge. 

Her output has consistently pushed the boundaries of what it means to create performance as a visual form. Through a series of major solo shows over the last 25 years, her practice has been formally accepted by the institutional art and museum world, with her work featuring in numerous major national galleries worldwide. 

In autumn 2023, she will be the first female artist to mount a major solo exhibition in the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where Abramović is an Hon. RA. Abramović’s most recent work focuses on her understanding of the transition from life to death. 


Abramović’s best-known performance art

Many of her earliest art performances investigated the limits of self-discovery of herself and her audience. In looking for emotional and spiritual transformation in her work, she repeatedly subjected herself to physical and mental extremes, including exhaustion, pain and life-threatening danger.

Rhythm 10 (1973)

Among the most celebrated early examples of Abramović’s performance art are Rhythm 10 (1973) and Rhythm 0 (1974). Premiering at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival, Rhythm 10 was a ritualistic experiment of the limits of the physical and mental endurance of the body. Using 20 knives and a pair of tape recorders, Abramović played a version of Russian roulette by jabbing a knife between the spread-out fingers of one hand, while simultaneously recording the whole event. Each time she cut herself, she would take a fresh knife and repeat the procedure until the supply of knives was exhausted. The tape recording of the event was then played, with Abramović attempting to replicate the movements she had made initially.

Rhythm 0 (1974)

The premise of Rhythm 10 was developed further in a sequence of works in the early 1970s, most famously in Rhythm 0 (1974), in which Abramović investigated the limits of the relationship between performer and audience. In Rhythm 0, Abramović played a passive role, with the audience taking the active part. Choosing from 72 objects in front of the artist, members of the audience were permitted to use them on Abramović in any way they wished, without consequences. Some objects might give pleasure, others pain or harm. It was recognised as a test of human vulnerability and aggression. Over the six hours’ duration of Rhythm 0, the piece progressed from something relatively passive to something more brutal and extreme. As the artist commented, “What I learned was that … if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you … I felt really violated.”

Rhythm 5 (1974)

Rhythm 5 (1974) explored the energy of extreme bodily pain by means of a large, burning, five-pointed Communist star into whose centre Abramović leaped. She considered it an act of physical and mental purification, as well as a political act. At the flaming star’s centre, she lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen and had to be rescued from the encroaching flames. From this, she concluded that there is a physical limit: “When you lose consciousness you can’t be present, you can’t perform.”

Balkan Baroque (1977) 

Another strong political statement was Abramović’s Balkan Baroque (1997): her powerful response to the war in Bosnia during the 1990s. It referenced the ethnic cleansing that took place in the Balkans, with Abramović sitting among a pile of animal bones which she attempted to scrub clean. Removing the blood stains was an impossible task – for Abramović, a powerful metaphor for the impossibility of how this war, indeed, any war, cannot be purified of shame.  

The Artist is Present (2010)

One of the artist’s most famous later solo artworks is The Artist is Present (2010), presented at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Abramović sat motionless for eight hours a day over a three-month period, interlocked in silent eye-contact with hundreds of individuals, one by one. Her former collaborator, Ulay, made an unexpected appearance at the opening night, while celebrity sitters included Björk, Lou Reed and Alan Rickman.

The ENO is thrilled to welcome Marina Abramović to the London Coliseum in autumn 2023 for her opera project, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, which celebrates the life of the legendary singer. You can read more about Maria Callas in our introduction guide, or if you would like to learn more about opera and the ENO, visit our Discover Opera page.


Marina Abramović is 76 years old. She was born on 30th November 1946 in Belgrade, Serbia, which was then part of Yugoslavia.

Although Abramović was born in Serbia, she now lives in Malden Bridge, New York State, in a house which is in the shape of a six-pointed star. The artist bought the house in 2007 for approximately $1.25 million.

Despite several controversial performances, Abramović’s profile was really raised in 1997 when she won the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the Venice Biennale for her piece, Balkan Baroque – which was her response to the Balkan war of the 1990s.

Abramović has described herself as the ‘grandmother of performance art’ and has been at the forefront of this artistic genre for over 50 years. Known for pushing the boundaries of visual art as well as testing the limits of her own physical and mental endurance, much of her work has been challenging and controversial, and she remains one of only a handful of artists who has continued to perform late into her career.

Marina Abramović’s work is typical of a generation of artists who were trying to avoid traditional creative methods. She originally began using sound as a medium but quickly moved towards using her own body and, as a result, reducing the distance between her as the artist and her audience. Abramović is considered a pioneer in performance art, still influencing artists today.

Marina Abramović is known for her challenging and provocative performances, the most extreme of which being Rhythm 0 which she performed in 1974.

During the six-hour performance, Abramović allowed the audience to choose from a selection of objects – which ranged from a feather to a gun – and use those objects on her in any way they wanted.

The artist risked genuine assault during the performance and said it “pushed her body to the limits.” It remains one of her most extreme performances.