Ovartaci – born Louis Marcussen – apprenticed as a naturalistic craft painter before emigrating to Argentina in 1923. She travelled the country for six years before returning home in a frayed state. Upon her return, Ovartaci’s family admitted her to the psychiatric hospital in Risskov, where she lived and worked for the next fifty-six years. The artist took the name “Ovartaci” – essentially “Chief Lunatic” – as a play on “ovar,” a term of leadership in the hospital such as “Chief Psychiatrist,” and “taci,” derived from “tossi,” a colloquial term for a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Assigned male at birth, after years of requests for a sex change surgery and her own crude attempt, the hospital finally facilitat- ed her female gender affirmation surgery.1 Ovartaci’s drawings and paintings feature groups of animal-like creatures with slim, elongated features. They often appear in mythological scenes that suggest earlier lives in Ancient Egypt, or in pagan circuses. Ovartaci also sculpted large dolls, costumed in both painted and fabric clothing. Dreams of escape run throughout her work, most overtly in her many drawn plans and cardboard and wood models of a helicopter that could fly beyond the hospital’s walls.
In the last years of her life, the artist began self-identifying as a man. Most of the recent critical literature on the artist refers to Ovartaci by using fema e pronouns, as we have done in this text, a choice not meant to deny the validity of other views.