by Lina Manousogiannaki

© Selma Selman, 'Don't be like me', 160×130, Oil on canvas, 2016

Selma Selman is a woman. She is a visual artist, and a performer. She is a person who wants to use art as means for social impact. She is determined to bring change through her artistic practice. The projects she works on all spin around the ideas of identity, borders, superstition and social marginalisation. Her art has a humanistic purpose. Selma is inspired by the struggles of her own life, as well as those of her community, and she uses a variety of media to create her work. Selman utilises the pain of stigma in order to pass through her art messages against centuries of prejudice, isolation and deprivation of her people and the Romani culture.

She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2014 from Banja Luka University’s Department of Painting. She worked with renowned Bosnian performance artist Mladen Miljanovic, a great teacher from whom she learned a lot.  She is currently pursuing her MFA at Syracuse University where she is also teaching art.

© Mladen Miljanovic, 'Between Lines', performance - 41min, photo/video documentation, photo Dragan Slunjski, performance documentation from Motorenhalle Dresden- Germany, 2014

We met with Selma through skype to talk about her ideas, her works, her dreams. Trapped in my own prejudice about the Roma women who can curse you and destroy you or just grab you from the street while a child, I asked Selma: How does a Roma girl become an artist?

«The roman culture is very specific in a way but there is stigma about the Roma people so... We hear that the romani are not educated, they don’t go to school, and that we are begging, stealing, and all these stereotypes, which are shown on movies of Kusturica. This is what people know about us! The reality is opposite. We are people who work, who get educated, we are people who appreciate. In my art I am using my identity, my personal background, as a lens investigating human idiosyncrasies. I am using my strength in order to fight all these stereotypes and ideas against Roma people, and especially against Roma women. As a member of this community, as a woman and an artist, I want to sensitise the audience against discrimination and the objectification of the female body. This is the inspiration behind my video 'Do not look into my gypsy eyes'... 

© Still image from the video 'Do Not Look Into Gypsy Eyes', HD Video,5’04”,2013

It is a comment on the exaggerated perception of Romani women. You know, I was walking down the street and a woman with her child were passing me by and I heard the woman say to her kid that if he wasn’t obedient the gypsy woman would grab him.» That rang a bell in my head... It made me think of my grandmother’s obsession with danger everywhere on the road and passing gypsy tracks specialising in grabbing kids from the sidewalk.»

Selma’s video of five minutes is a game with the camera and the personification of the stereotype. She becomes a gypsy woman; exotic, sensual, she is a modern Carmen; but she is a bit too “femme fatale”, dangerous and lethal. She is the kind of woman who will seduce and at the same time will put a spell on the victim... «In my art I never just talk about prejudice, I fight it while using art and life». Selma admits to the character and manages to expose an exaggerated approach in identifying Romas. «This is the 21st century! Is it possible to be so hang up on superstition and prejudice? Is it possible to be so hang up on false ideas and views?»

© Selma Selman 'Mercedes 310', photos, 2014. Photograps by Alisa Burzic

'You have no idea' is another performance by Selma, which focuses on identity. Selma repeats the same phrase over a span of 30 minutes. Through the alternation of tone, volume and mood, Selma is at the same time provoking the public while communicating a message. «This performance is like a mantra, I am provoking the people by repeating the phrase, I am not attacking them, I am not sending a message I am just talking about the reality of the world. We are all in the bubble but we have no idea what is happening. As a member of this community, as a woman and an artist, I want to sensitise the audience against discrimination and the objectification of the female body.»

© Selma Selman performance 'You Have No Idea' on 12th June 2016 on the occasion of the finissage of the exhibition 'HERO MOTHER - Contemporary Art by Post-Communist Women Rethinking Heroism'. Studio 1 & MOMENTUM Gallery at Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin, 14 May - 12 June 2016. Curated by Bojana Pejic and Rachel Rits-Volloch.

Selma is currently working on a new series of paintings, she is making a new video, and she is preparing a performance focusing on the deconstruction of the belly dance.  But the most important project she is working on is child marriage. «At the end of 2017 I will go to India, I will do research about child marriage and also about education. 'Go the heck to school' is a project which focuses on education. I have been working on it for some time now.» She wants to create a program through which she will support the Roma children of her community, who would like to do art, mostly focusing on girls. «Child marriage is a big issue in some parts of Bosnia. I try to raise awareness on the subject so I chose to visit India, because Roma have originated from India as believed in our oral tradition. I want to go back to the roots of my culture. I plan to talk with women there and exchange stories of their lives and mine. I want to show them the example, maybe even the possibility of a different life.»

© Selma Selman, 'Rope for Drying Clothes',  Oil on canvas 180×120, 2013

Selma is also working on a comic book, a story telling animation about her life. «In my comic I show how to fight child discrimination, how to fight the country in a general way, how to fight the system of a country, which tries to put you down. I want to demonstrate how educating one is important in this eternal battle which is called life. It is like an autobiography that I am giving the children of Bosnia to read. And children of India too! The novel will be translated into three languages. In my work I don’t only wish to focus on the aesthetic side; I want to push through it. To use it somehow and create something new!»


Selma Selman (personal website)