From gunpowder to oil on canvas – the journey of Ruzica Josifovska

Interview by Tihana Bertek translation in English by Dushica Lazova

The painter and professor from Kavadarci, North Macedonia, Ruzica Josifovska (1938) is one of the five women to receive the fierce women WoW Award. Throughout her longstanding work in public schools teaching fine arts, Ruzica has inspired many young artists, for what she received many awards and acknowledgement. Even though retired, she keeps painting (using eco materials), she follows the cultural scene, she’s active on the social media and organizes arts workshop for elders.


  • How did your artistic journey begin?

My artistic journey began during World War II when I was only three and a half years old. We had nothing back then – we were persecuted from all sides, our houses were torn down, and everything was in ruins. My first drawings were made using gunpowder. We would disassemble the bullets, take out the gunpowder, and make drawings on the concrete. Then my brother would ignite the gunpowder. Those were my first drawings, ingrained in the concrete. Our main toys were bullets, guns or whatever had been left in the fields after the war. Those were my beginnings.

When the war was over, we used to draw crosswords at school. While I was at school, the teacher used to send my drawings on various art competitions in Belgrade, and I would always win some awards. That was my incentive to continue expressing myself through art.


Photo Dragica Nikolovska
  • What are your favorite art subjects and have they gone through any changes during your carrier? 

In my childhood years, my favorite topic was my immediate environment. I was constantly observing it and putting my observations on paper. When I was studying at the High School of Fine Arts and Design „Lazar Lichenovski“ in Skopje, I was working on the school assignments and learning about art history. Later, I started expressing myself after a contemporary fashion in my artworks but the audience lacked interest in those topics, so I switched to classical realism using oil on canvas technique. I explored different art movements and techniques but stuck with realism. Macedonian architecture and folklore have been a strong inspiration for me so, for a time, I was painting mostly folk traditions (e.g weddings). Throughout my life, I kept making portraits of my close family. The Yugoslavian political regime back then dictated artists to include themes referring to the National Liberation War and the country's progress in their works. During that period, I would hold biennial exhibitions with over 40 artworks and manage to sell all of them.


  • What is your opinion on educational programs in today's high schools in regards to fine arts?

During the last couple of years, Arts as a subject in primary and secondary schools seems to be losing its value. In the past, there used to be two classes per week, double period classes, and art sections, whereas today, it’s all reduced to a bare minimum. There are fewer classes, and the art sections have become obsolete.


  • Recently you had your own retrospective exhibition in Kavadarci. What is it that inspires your work there?

At the retrospective exhibition, there were artworks spanning all of my artistic periods. The old Macedonian architecture, customs, and folklore have been an everlasting inspiration for me. The same could be said of the Macedonian natural wonders. I have a number of works on that theme. Apart from natural wonders, architecture, and folklore, I also paint churches and monasteries as yet another Macedonian treasure and make portraits of Orthodox saints.

Photo Dragica Nikolovska


  • You have received an Order of Labour awarded by Josip Broz Tito personally. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

As an Arts teacher, I used to send my students’ artworks on all sorts of contests and competitions in SFRY and abroad. In every one of these contests, my students would win some kind of certificates such as golden, silver, or bronze medals, various plaques, diplomas, etc. When they invited me to Belgrade, I had no idea that I was going to receive an award. When I got there, they told me I was being awarded the Golden Order of Labor because I’ve been representing Yugoslavia around the world. It was a rich and formal event that pleased me very much. Not only did my students receive awards, but I received one too.

Apart from the Order of Labor, I’ve received many important certificates including a golden plaque for notable pedagogical achievements in the teaching and socio-educational field, and a plaque for an outstanding educator on his/her work in realizing the educational objectives from the Republican Pedagogical Council.

  • In the ‘80s you were a member of the SFRY Parliament. Could you tell us how this happened and what was your experience like?

Back then, when they were choosing Parliament representatives, the chosen individuals weren’t expecting to get such an offer. I had been recommended by a number of organizations and that’s how I got there. I became a member of the education, science and culture committee and a member of the board for international and foreign relations. Working closely together with so many organizations and institutions was a rich and memorable experience.

As an active member of the Women’s Antifascist Front, I used to stand up for the social needs of Kavadarci. For instance, with the help of my dear comrade Vera Aceva, I managed to act on the opening of the first statefunded kindergarten center in Kavadarc which, in turn, has helped women develop themselves professionally and gain their economic independence.


Photo Dragica Nikolovska


  • You have always worked with young people and today you are organizing workshops with elders. What fulfills you the most while working with young people, and what while working with elderly ones?

In the city where I live, Kavadarci, young people show a serious gift for artistic expression and music. It’s a real pleasure working with such young individuals. Not only are they talented, but they also have enormous creativity and intelligence. I still offer free private lessons for young people to help them canalize their artistic expression and guide them in their upcoming education. The older ones already know the direction they’re headed, so I simply enrich their knowledge with artistic elements and principles.

I worked for 40 years as an Arts teacher and am extremely proud of all my students and the awards they’ve won in both primary and secondary school which sometimes helped them get a scholarship as well. I’m also very proud and happy for my five grandchildren, three out of whom have studied Art at university. One of them is Igor Josifov who completed his studies in San Francisco and today is a world-famous artist.



The annual event Fierce Women WoW Awards is part of the Women on Women project activities which is being implemented mutually by partners Mesto žensk in Slovenia, Prostor rodne i medijske kulture K-zona in Croatia, Tiiiit! Inc. in North Macedonia and Outlandish Theatre Platform in Ireland. The activities are co-financed by the Creative Europe program of the European Commission.