Selma Selman, Viva la Vida

December 17, 2018 | Ana Simona

November Gallery is presenting the first Belgrade solo exhibition of Selma Selman, a young Bosnian-Herzegovinian artist, activist and philanthropist of Roma origin who currently lives and works in New York. Her artwork is recognized on the international art scene - she was performing on festivals in Berlin, Luxembourg, New York, and exhibiting in Sweden, Canada, Hungary and Germany, Austria, USA, and Italy.

She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2014 from Banja Luka University’s Department of Painting, where she studied under the supervision of Veso Sovilj, and worked with renowned Bosnian performance artist Mladen Miljanovic, who represented Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 55th Venice Biennial in 2013. She also studied at Central European University, Roma Graduate Preparation Program in Budapest (courses in Sociology, Anthropology, Academic Writing) in 2014, and at the Syracuse University, MAF-Transmedia she studied Visual and Performing Arts in 2015.

In her work Selma embodies the struggles of her own life as well as her community, employing a plethora of media such as performance, painting, photography and video installations. In her various and rich artistic practices the artist is questioning her own identity, both individual and collective: gender, national and ethnical one. Selman defines herself as an artist of Roma origins, and not a Romani artist, a subtle, yet critical distinction in her work. Her aim is to break down the prejudice which essentializes her community to the lowest common denominator denying them of the right to self-expression. She utilizes her personal background as the lens through which she can understand the universal human condition and its idiosyncrasies.

Within her artistic practice, Selma deals with questions and topics such as identity, inherited socio-cultural prejudices and stereotypes, as well as emancipation, human rights, equality and ranges of humanity in the society we live in. Inspiration and legitimacy for her work the artist finds and draws from her own experiences and the life of her family.

The exhibition in November gallery presents the selection of drawings, video works, photography as well as paintings on the metal. On the exhibition will be presented video works: Do Not Look Into Gypsy Eyes, Haram, photography Viva La Vida that breaks rooted stereotypes about Roma women. Do not look into Gypsy eyes is a saying that embodies society’s fear of the hyper-sexualized "Roma" woman. A Roma woman is considered exotic, erotic and exciting, so, as the artist says in her video "she can put a spell on you", her eyes will seduce you, and curse you. This work about the stereotypes and prejudices of the Romani woman, and how a Roma woman can or cannot identify with it. "As a member of this community, as a woman and artist, I want to provoke the audience to attention against discrimination and the commodification of the female body."

On the other hand, drawings and painting on the metal objects, mostly collected from the street, took deeply personal story of the artist creating a unique "urban pastoral" like her personal diary about existence, struggle for life, but also about how we can overcome given frameworks with certain effort and give life a new meaning. Metal artworks, that consist of recycled metal painted over with various motives like family portraits or the van, have a deeper significance for the artist, bearing in mind that her family just like the majority of the Roma people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia make ends meet by collecting and reselling metal. About this series of metal artworks Selman says: 

This installation, “Paintings on Metal”, is a group of ten paintings that are materialized on discarded iron, aluminum or brass scraps. Each piece represents a part of my life, whether a portrait of a family member, a self-portrait or scenes from my community. Metal was and still is an integral part of my life and the source of existence for my family. I have been around metal since my childhood. The surface of these paintings is simultaneously my artwork and the means of survival for my family. 

An important segment of Selma’s activism is the recently initiated pilot project Get the heck to school (or March to school) through which the artist raises money to help schooling of Roma girls so they could get elementary education, and motivate them to enroll in secondary schools and university. So far she has helped 5 girls from Bihać to receive a full annual scholarship and provided 35 children with daily meals. Selman explains her motivation and aim regarding this project: 

During my childhood in a Roma ghetto, education was and remained one of the biggest problems. Working with children gave me the opportunity to be close to them and find solutions to how to motivate children to go to school regularly. It was a big challenge because I was not able to help them financially; the only source I had was my knowledge, but it was not enough because I could not convince some of the children to continue education. Education is the only solution that can help them to find a way out of poverty. I was working very hard with all the children to make them believe in themselves and make them stronger to accept themselves as Roma. I could not stay all the time in the village and take care about their education, so I decided to do a work which could influence them. I was thinking a lot about how to do it and I found the solution. I made this piece of work that will remain with the children wherever they should go. I put out one banner in the city and one in my village on my house. I decided to use these places because I thought that it was important to see this obligation every day. If they are at home, they can see that they should go somewhere, and if they are in the city, they can also see where they must go. It means that I made a circle between the city and home and showed them that the most important goal is to go to school. Today the banner in the city has been removed because I am not allowed to do that in public space, but the transparent on my house is still out there and the children still can see it and react positively or negatively to it. 

The gallery symbolically opened the exhibition "Viva la Vida" on 10th of December, Human Rights Day. All the artworks presented by this exhibition except video works will be offered for sale and the organizers will print special T-shirts with Selman's drawings in order to collect funds from the sale and donate them to artist’s organization by which she helps educating Roma children as well by her own example encourage them on this path. The importance of Selman’s art is in raising awareness about big social issues of the problem in Roma community, prejudices about Roma women, but also in setting a good example to Roma people, encouraging them to use their experience and identity for creative expression.







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