This exhibition represents a specific social context. Yet, at first glance, nothing unusual can be noticed on the set of photographs exhibited. For example, on one of them, the viewer can see the central boulevard Kliment Ohridski, with the Vodno mountain framed in the view, Skopje’s main Orthodox church, and a row of flower beds that separate the boulevard into two separate sides, Roma woman selling insignificant objects to the drivers of passing cars as they wait at the traffic lights, the drivers in dismay trying to avoid her offerings – some ignoring her completely, some swearing and shouting at her, while others immediately close their car windows as they approach the pedestrian crossing in order to avoid contact, refusing to acknowledge her existence.
This particular mise-en-scene can be seen on the streets of a number of European capitals, and there is therefore nothing new, unusual represented in it. But precisely this ‘everything-goes’ attitude, evident in this ‘everyday scene’ in the streets of a city, is what has inspired me to create this particular art project.
My return to Skopje, after 17 years of living in London, was marked by a number of new observations about the city itself. One of the facts that has outraged me upon my recent return, is the relation between: on one side, the presence of power and savagery – and on the other side, and as a reaction to this, a general sense of submission and surrender.
The closed circle of approved and accepted cruelty/torture between the ‘upper’ and the ‘lower’ groups of citizens is present in any domain of social life here. The particular image mentioned before – a photograph representing direct hatred toward the Roma sellers on boulevard Kliment Ohridski (or any other street), exemplifies the relation of power-submission related to the Roma population of Skopje.
The behavior to which this ethnic minority group is subjected involves brutality, savagery, cruelty, even sadism – to a more excessive level than the unjust relations existent in the other local inter-personal and socio-political relations.
The romanticized image of the Roma population (as a free-spirited, somewhat crazy and uncontrollable group of people) is not present in reality in the streets of Skopje. The Roma people that I have seen (since I have returned to Skopje) are generally law-abiding, subservient and well-trained in their submission to the brutality they are expected to accept and endure.
When as a citizen one is approached by a member of the Roma community, who is insistently begging for small change or selling some simple tissue papers or cleaning towels, one has to raise one’s voice, or use sharp, vulgar words in order to avoid being harassed and to avoid buying any of the goods on offer. One cannot even refuse the offered goods politely, with a calm voice, as cruelty is expected by a Roma seller, as this is the only tone that he/she is accustomed to. Like tamed, wild animals in a circus, the Roma citizens are accustomed to the cruelty/torture to which they are customarily subjected by their fellow ‘upper class’ citizens.
“Picture-Perfect Cruelty” is a self-portrait, a portrait illustrating that everyday ferocity, as I am mimicking a Roma woman. The photographs are a representation of my daily activates as a Roma woman, arranged in a diary-like form.
Violence and the abuse of power are strictly linked to the marginalization of certain members/groups of individuals within a particular society. Being an artist could likewise be described as a marginal existence, by never belonging to the established economical and societal norms of society. Nevertheless, this is a conscious choice that derives from the artists’ freedom to make their own choices. Being a Roma citizen is to by default be marginalized, since the day you are born. Through this artistic project, I was keen to learn what it means not to have the freedom to choose. I was keen to experience the full extent of the (verbal) humiliation received by members of the Roma community, which I have never before had to bear as a female artist and member of the white ethnic group.
I have placed myself into a position of discomfort, in order to face the troubled relationships that arise only when the socio-political and economic conditions of a particular society is deeply disturbed. This project replicates such general conditions of contemporary society. In so doing, it does not represent only a portrait of the Roma population and their undesirable and unbearable reality, but more importantly, it draws a collective portrait – a mirror image of who we all are.