In the 21st century, I believe the Roma are the planet’s leading social, ecological and technological futurists

We invite you to read the interview which Manja Velichkovska has done with Selma Selman, one of the artists that are part of the program of this years' FIRSTBORN GIRL festival. We initiated this talk because of the opening of Selma Selman's exhibition "No Space" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje on the 23rd of August, 8PM. Selma Selman(b.1991 in Bihac,/BA) earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Banja Luka University’s Department of Painting (2014) and graduated from Syracuse University with a Master of Fine Arts - Transmedia, Visual and Performing Arts, NYC/US (2018).

Selman is of Roman origin. She lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the USA and across Europe. Selman’s works have been exhibited at: Kunsthalle Wien, AUT (2020); L'Onde Center for Art, Paris, FRA, (2020); 58th Venice Biennale, IT (2019); Queens museum, NY, USA (2019); Villa Romana, Firenze, IT (2019); The Creative Time Summit, Miami, USA (2018); 3. Berlin Herbstsalon, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, GER (2017); acb Gallery, Budapest, HUN (2017); agnès b. Galerie Boutique, New York, USA (2017); New Children Gallery, New Orleans, USA (2016); Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin, GER (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Banja Luka, (BH) 2014. This is her first exhibition in Skopje. 


M.V.:Selma, your art goes beyond the idea of mapping or defining one’s work. Primarily, it stands against the epitome of national (or European) art, but it is also a net of processes that seem to prolong our experience at multiple grounds. You keep the audience on a constant alert and the ability to do that is heroicDuring a performance, is finding the exact fine line in-between (belonging and not-belonging / accepting and rejecting / perceiving and being perceived) emotionally draining or do you feel relieved to have entered such a powerful journey?

S.S.:Through my performances, I expose the universality of all beings through the specificities of my personal experiences. Because of this universalist aspect – it is important that my work communicates to different kinds of audiences; both those who are part of the art world and those who are not. This may explain the oscillations of experience in the audience - which also results in me being both emotionally exhausted and relieved.


How does performing “You Have No Idea” feel each time? What has changed since the first time you did it?

Every performance is special because of the time, the space and the public I am surrounded by. I feel this performance has always strongly influenced people and I am constantly receiving really amazing feedback from people. I have not performed this performance since 2017, so I am curious to learn about how I will feel in the upcoming performance next year.


Your exhibition “No Space” that we are going to see on the Firstborn Girl Festival is a video installation that shows the possibility of visualising the physical work as a construction of impossibilities. It is an accentuation of the worker’s body in our capitalistic world by questioning physical realities and belongings. But, this is not the first time you have presented the concept of the BIG BODY by spotlighting it whole, or aspects of it. You have used a similar effect when you did the three-part video installation “Dance”, “Belly” and “The”, where you perform the belly dance by showing other peripheral elements of the dance. How does blowing-up certain aspects in relation to the actual dimensions of space contribute to changing perspectives and why is it so important in the context of shifting boundaries of possibility? 

In my art practise I want to make visible and accessible processes we use to perceive how we relate to ecology, society and technology. By placing people in a position where they can feel different kinds of emotions and thoughts simultaneously through simple performances – art becomes a useful tool for rethinking society and its processes.

What is common to both works is that I use my body, paradox and provocation to challenge the perceptual processes that construct the definitions of physical, social, technological and artistic possibilities.


All of your performances are unique, but “Salt Water after 47” differentiates as travelogue of migration. Here you tell the story of your mother’s first contact with the sea 47 years after migrating from Kosovo to Bosnia and not being able obtain citizenship. It is amazing that she suggested to you to film this moment. It is almost like if she didn’t get to taste the water what happened to her wouldn’t feel as real. It is a type of pinching yourself to see if you are dreaming or not, isn’t it? How has her story influenced your perception on identity and displacement?

Citing the inadequacy of Foucault’s concept of ‘biopolitics’ which concerns the increased administration of live bodies, Gržanič uses the concept of ‘deading’ as a framework for theorizing the production of systems of displacement which include unprotected immigration, impoverishment, and concentration camps which does not actually produce a dead body. In regards to this concept, I came up with a sibling concept I have named “life-ing”.

This concept refers to the activities performed by bodies whose short term focus is surviving immanent dangers threatening their physical extinction while envisioning, strategizing and escaping them to expand the scope of their life. These bodies are usually constructed by entrapping situations of unprotected immigration, impoverishment, and concentration camps.

In my work "Saltwater at 47", ‘life-ing’ describes the activities forming the life of my mother before she obtained her citizenship from Bosnia after 47 years. The work addresses the ways the abstract borders created by abstractions such as states can be re-formulated at the levels of personal dreams - both having effects on our relations to physical spaces.


You have talked before about your collection “Pictures on Metal” (that we’ll have the opportunity to see during the 8th edition of The Firstborn Girl Festival), as well as about both of your performances “Self-Portrait - AEG Vampyr” and “Self Portrait” and their thematic usage of metal as an element of survival. In the last two performances you destroy a washing machine and multiple vacuums, sorting their plastic and their metal pieces. Can you tell our audience more about what this practice represents to you?

My family has depended on converting metal waste into a resource to support the well-being of my family. I am utilizing this very same labor by showcasing working bodies earning a living through the realm of contemporary art. This work stems from a series of performances that I have been developing for over 4 years - integrating performance art with the physical skills that I and my family used to deconstruct machines to recycle their scrap metal. Earlier works visualized the destruction of a housework device that became associated with the enslaving of housewives for more than a century, but also a moment of catharsis when I could ease the inner tensions that both destroy and construct me.

The core of my process centers around synthesizing the improvised material practices that sustain my family with the practices and concepts of art. When I was first educated in traditional portrait painting, I applied my painting skills to paint on pieces of scrap metal that my family continues to collect to survive.


Since one of the focal points of this year’s 8th edition of Firstborn Girl is realizing the festival with zero plastic waste, I wanted to know - if people immediately associate your performances with the meanings of labour and survival, or with the different perceptions on what is considered to be valuable, given that we live in a society that is addicted to the consumption of plastic?

In the 21st century, I believe the Roma are the planet’s leading social, ecological and technological futurists. For roughly 100 years, we have been recycling waste to self-sustain as an oppressed minority within Western modernity – which is just now realizing the moral, socio-economic and ecological value of such a practice. I wish for more people to understand my work also as a way of rethinking the materiality of art while simultaneously retaining its powers of autonomy.


Your initiative “The No School of Art” helps in raising funds from purchases of your artworks that go towards scholarships for underprivileged girls, while your on-going project “Marš u školu”/ “Get the Heck Back to School” supports Roma girls through elementary and high school providing scholarships and daily lunches. With these two movements you choose to speak about children’s constant exposure to discrimination in education and you call them auto-feminist acts of activism. Can you explain the meaning of the term and its role in your own journey in combating injustice?

The project “Marš u školu” / “Get the Heck Back to School” aims to provide scholarship and school meals to Bihać Roma community children - primarily girls. Through fundraising events and sale of my artistic work, the project has supported over 50 students to date.

The project targets girls particularly, as traditional Roma communities would favour investment in boys’ education, as well as aim to eliminate the practice of early marriages which often prevent further education. Well accepted in the community, the project affects the perception of value of education and aims to improve the life of the collective, not only targeted children. It has raised the decades-old primary school graduation rate from 20 % to 90 %. It is the only project of its kind.

The core of this project hinges on reversing the most significant point of inequality - young women. It clearly defines the endpoint of the project - more autonomous, balanced and creative young women. This requires women to learn skills and knowledge that enable them to operate and explore their own possibilities independently.

I have constructed the concept of “AutoFeminism” of a feminism of possibility based on holomorphism - a new branch of math which has been successfully used to model and adapt to the most difficult problems in the natural sciences - those concerning liquids, airflow, aircraft engineering and the creative possibilities of ecologies.


So much of your work is based on direct interaction with the community, on traveling the relation between two continents, on relationships with your family and other people and most importantly – with the live audience. How has your relationship towards doing art and teaching changed during the coronavirus healthcare crisis?

Like many people, I started to be online more and use social media as a tool to show my works and share my thoughts. This is not much of a change for me because for the last few years, I have been teaching online. I think safe-distancing has affected how we read images, bodies and space. While much of culture prior consisted of a vocabulary that required in-person or on-site performances - I believe that exploring the possibilities of virtual communications technologies allows us to think, feel and produce in ways. I don’t think it’s necessary to erase older cultural practices with a ‘new generation’ - I think multiple cultural practices can co-exist and intermingle.


And, how has safe-distancing affected our perception on art and what do you think chronic virtual communications brought and took from us as viewers, readers, thinkers, artists, etc.?

With crisis comes opportunity.


know you are collaborating with the immensely valued and important for our context Suzana Milevska, who is curating your exhibition in Maribor and who’s work Tiiiit! Inc. follows.  How significant is to you to cooperate with others, especially with female curators, critics and artists?

I am excited to work with Suzana Milevska on curating my show - which is currently in progress. My show “No Space” was curated by my friend and great artist Ivana Ivkovic. The mutual support and respect we have for each other brought us together and has enabled us to make great things.

I think cooperation amongst female curators, critics and artists is incredibly important to develop. We cannot simply talk about a new world in the abstract - we must actively build it! Integrating our beliefs into our relations, experimenting with them and re-formulating them is integral to making both better art and a better world. This is an inherently risky project - and I think it’s important to publicly state that there will be bumps along the way - and stay focused on the larger goal.


Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Just a few days ago I opened my studio which will be a space for exhibitions and workshops. At the same time, the space will serve both as a media and arts library where anyone from the village, especially children, can rentlaptops or books. My plan is to make the studio a space where people will gain the most important knowledge about the culture and world. I also need to rest because I have been working very intensely for a long period of time. I plan to calm down, read and make new works.



Selma Selman exhibition is part of the WoW Program co-financed by the Creative Europe Program of the European Comission.

#ППЖ8 #womenonwomen #wowprogram
Mesto žensk, VoxFeminae, Outlandish Theatre Platform