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Her Barbaric Luxury

Šejla Kamerić, Jasmina Cibic, Selma Selman

Artists: Šejla Kamerić, Jasmina Cibic, Selma Selman
Curator: Martina Marić Rodrigues


If you think you can grasp me, think again
my story flows in more than one direction[1]

When Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps The Rite of Spring premiered at the Parisian Champs-Elysées Theatre in 1913, the rite turned into a riot. What was the cause of this consternation? What nerve did Stravinsky and the choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky touch to provoke the audience to jump to its feet — and not in the usual, more positive sense of the phrase?

At the time, the Rite of Spring had no precedent in contemporary ballet. It introduced hitherto unfamiliar musical concepts and a new aesthetic of movement: challenging the Western obsession with symmetry and harmony, the music featured spasmodic, asymmetrical rhythms and dissonant harmonies. However, it was in all probability the dancing that was the true cause of the audience’s alarm; instead of pretty ballerinas moving elegantly and ethereally across the stage (in perfect keeping with the conventional idea of beauty at the time as soothing, as something which affirms the orderliness of the world around us), contemporaries reported that the movements of the dancers were “ugly”, “exaggerated” and “primitive”.[2]

Such radical breaks are rarely welcomed when they first appear, and the citizens of Paris felt that the ballet, by negating the rules and conventions of the art form, was negating their very civilisation. Stravinsky and Nijinsky had tampered with the aesthetic and moral principles of contemporary culture, and provoked what (in a particular segment of society) would probably also be felt today—fear.

The public reaction is best summarised by a headline that appeared in a French newspaper the day after the premiere: “Barbarity!

This event, which serves as a historical reference for Jasmina Cibic’s work Her Barbaric Luxury (2022), leads us into the context of this exhibition. An installation consisting of forged iron sculptures that are reminiscent of protest banners, Cibic’s work plays with the words written by the critics against the progressive novelty of the ballet. These words, which expressed resistance to the rupture of continuity as well as conformity to standards of femininity and gracefulness, are arranged and rearranged by Cibic. It is not insignificant that this rupture was brought about by cultural outsiders from the fringes (and beyond) of Europe, a fact that triggers yet another of society’s defence mechanisms: the feeling of superiority and the urge to maintain one’s own, central, position. 

It is in the claiming of space, and the challenging of established social patterns, that Šejla Kamerić, Jasmina Cibic and Selma Selman intersect. Through their unique practices and on the basis of their personal experiences, each artist draws attention to the mechanisms of exclusion, repression and distortion.

A strong metaphor for failed systems (even those created to provide protection) can be found in Šejla Kamerić’s piece Bosnian Girl. A special iteration of Bosnian Girl is on display at the exhibition, a limited edition of serigraphs on canvas in a variation of six colours (2007), created in cooperation with the German curator René Block after one of the first international shows that brought together artists from Southeastern Europe (In the Gorges of the Balkans, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, 2003).[3]

It is a somewhat provocative move to place Jasmina Cibic’s and Selma Selman’s more recent pieces (2020–2022) in the same context as Bosnian Girl, which has, since the moment of its creation in 2003 (on the anniversary of the tragic events in Srebrenica), accumulated many layers of meaning, stemming from the piece or imposed on it. With over twenty years of continuous appearances at exhibitions and in public activities, it has become a historical reference itself. It symbolises the conditioning of the female body—and not just by means of national ideologies, but also through cultural imagery of Western European communities,[4] which displaces the Balkan, locating it in the realm of the other, the inferior, the barbaric.[5]

Relentlessly evoking the specific moment and territory of its origin, Bosnian Girl also embodies something that is deeply rooted in the collective emotional core—the human right to dignity. And that is what makes this piece timeless and universal. “The eyes of the artist that look at us from behind the bars of those humiliating words were disillusioned long ago. They don’t look to excite compassion. Even less do they ask for help […] These eyes demand solidarity.”[6]

Jasmina Cibic likewise digs up issues of memory and national identity. Deliberately and analytically sifting through the remains of history, she finds events governed by a conspicuous political rhetoric, which she deconstructs in order to carefully reconstruct them into multimedia projects. In the second of her works on display, A Guiding Star on Our Journey to Transform (2021), we see one of the recurring themes of her work—the exposing of the power structures that systematically use culture and art in the shaping of their ideologies.

The circular forged iron sculpture features a quotation taken from the notes of the architects of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, one of the most controversial icons of Stalinist architecture and the epitome of the unwanted gifts bestowed by Stalin upon the Polish people. Under the slogan “a gift from the Soviet people”, the building was meant to promote the future, acting as a guiding star for the creation of a new man in complete anthropological identification with the grandomania of the building itself. Completed in 1955, it remained the highest building in Poland until 2022, known as the “patriarchal power vertical”.[7]

While Jasmina Cibic is the director of her works, Selma Selman is the protagonist of hers. As an artist of Roma background, Selma Selman breaks through frames of ethnicity and class, but in her work she nevertheless accepts these frames as necessary and unrelenting. Like Šejla Kamerić did before her, Selman joins a long tradition within feminist art in which the artist’s body becomes an instrument for the critique of multigenerational trauma. However, there is a noticeable difference: Selman is oriented toward tangible activity and concrete results for her actions. 

And so, in her performances she extracts noble metals from machine scraps (Motherboards, A Golden Nail, 2023), purchases her freedom (I Will Buy My Freedom When, 2018) and fulfils her mother’s desire to see the sea for the first time in her life, at the age of 47, after she finally managed to become a Bosnian citizen and receive a passport (Saltwater at 47, 2017).

At the heart of Selman’s art lies the transformation of values: she turns scrap metal into gold; the stigmatised manual labour of dissembling cars at the junkyard into prestigious art performances in gallery spaces; inherited barbarity into – cultural distinction.  

The works exhibited at Trotoar belong to a series of paintings on metal that Selman has been working on continuously, like a personal scrapbook. Painting on different discarded metal surfaces, objects with their own set of familial and hereditary connotations, she creates self-portraits and portraits of her family members, written messages and lines of poetry. The Self Portrait on recycled metal (2021) is accompanied by We Are Intellectuals (2020–2021), letters painted on the roof of a car, which draws us into a semiotic (and ideological) game. 
If, that is, we agree to play along.

-Martina Marić Rodrigues

Footnotes
[1] Adrienne Rich, Delta, Time’s Power (1985– 1988).
[2] Isar, N. Pathei Mathos and Skandalon in Le Sacre du Printemps. Postmedieval (2023).
[3] René Block has been working as a curator, gallery owner and publisher on an international level since the 1960s. Edition Block (est. 1966) was one of the first publishers of multiples and limited-edition artworks.
[4] Milica Trakilović, Unraveling the Myth, Tracing the Limits of Europe Through Its Border Figurations (2020).
[5] Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (1997).
[6] Boris Buden, Transition to Nowhere, Art in History After 1989 (2020).
[7] Michał Murawski, The Palace Complex: A Stalinist Skyscraper, Capitalist Warsaw and a City Transfixed (2019).

The exhibited works are part of the Cerin Antonić Collection.

About the Artists

Šejla Kamerić (b. 1976 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a visual artist whose practice involves film, photography, objects, drawings, and installations. She has received widespread acclaim for the poignant intimacy and social commentary that have become the main elements of her work. Taking up the subjects that arise from non-linear historical narratives, as well as personal histories, Kamerić places her focus on the politics of memory, modes of resistance in human life, and consequential idiosyncrasies of women’s struggle. By insisting on empathy as the founding communicative mechanism between herself, her subjects, and spectators, Kamerić warns of, and at the same time creates, places of power and political arenas.

Her work is part of several international art collections, such as TATE Modern in London, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Vehbi Koç Foundation Contemporary Art Collection, Istanbul, MACBA Barcelona, Contemporary Art Museum in Zagreb, Kontakt Collection in Austria, ArtTelekom in Germany, etc.

Kamerić has individually displayed her work at the GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen; Sharjah Art Foundation – Sharjah Art Museum; MACBA, Barcelona; Manchester International Festival MFI; Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Kunsthaus Graz, Graz; CAC Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb; MUMOK in Vienna, Röda Sten Centre for Contemporary Art and Culture in Gothenburg, Wip: Konsthall in Stockholm and Centre Pompidou in Paris; Portkus in Frankfurt am Maine; Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck as well as other art platforms worldwide.
In 2011, Kamerić received The ECF Routes Princess Margriet Award for Cultural Diversity and in 2007, a DAAD-Berlin Artist Residency Fellowship. In 2004 ONFURI Award at the National Art Gallery in Tirana and the Sloboda/Freedom Award, International Peace Center (Sarajevo Winter Festival) in Sarajevo.
Her films were screened in more than 40 international film festivals.
Šejla Kamerić

Jasmina Cibic is a Slovenian artist who works in film, performance, and installation. She represented Slovenia at the 55th Venice Biennial with her project “For Our Economy and Culture”. Her recent exhibitions include solo shows at: the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, Museum der Moderne Salzburg, The Highline New York, macLyon, Museum Sztuki Łódź, Museum of Contemporary Art Ljubljana, CCA Glasgow, Phi Foundation Montreal, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Gateshead, Ludwig Museum Budapest, Kunstmuseen Krefeld along with group exhibitions at MAXXI Rome, Steirischer Herbst ‘23, MOMA NY, Marta Herford and Guangdong Museum of Art China. Cibic’s films have been screened at the Barbican London, Whitechapel Gallery, CCA Montreal, Pula Film Festival, HKW Berlin, Louvre, Les Rencontres Internationales Paris, Aesthetica, Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Dokfest Kassel and Copenhagen International Documentary Festival. Cibic was the winner of the MAC International Ulster Bank and Charlottenborg Fonden awards (2016), the B3 Biennial of the Moving Image Award (2020), and the Film London Jarman Award (2021).

Cibic explores the intertwinements of state power, culture, and gender constructs. She examines the mechanisms of soft power—the instrumentalization of culture by political forces — during moments of historical social and ideological crises. Through archival research, Cibic seeks out artworks, architecture, and music in which political interests and the rhetoric of national power are expressed. She translates her research into films and immersive theatrical compositions that include photographs, performances, and installations.
Jasmina Cibic

Artist and activist Selma Selman (b. 1991, Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina) graduated in 2014 from the Department of Painting at the Academy of Arts in Banja Luka and obtained her MA at the Syracuse University, New York State in 2018 in the field of Transmedia – visual and performing arts. Her works embody the struggles of her own life as well as her community and employ a variety of media such as performance, painting, photography, and video installations. Her pieces are often inspired by her personal history, her family’s lifestyle, and the background she comes from, she aims to break down the prejudice that keeps pushing down her community to the lowest common denominator, denying its right to self-expression. Selma is the founder of the organization Get The Heck To School whose aim is to encourage and empower Roma girls around the world facing poverty and social exclusion.

She was a resident of Rijksakademie from 2021 to 2023, and exhibited at Gropius Bau, Berlin (2023 – 2024), Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart, Berlin (2023), Autostrada Biennale, Prizren (2023), documenta fifteen, Kassel (2022), Manifesta 14, Prishtina (2022), Kunstraum Innsbruck (2022), MO Museum, Vilnius (2022), Ludwig Museum, Budapest (2022), Kasseler Kunstverein, Kassel (2021), National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo (2021), acb Galéria, Budapest (2021), Queens Museum, New York (2019), Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin (2017), agnès b. galerie boutique, New York (2017) and 12-14 contemporary, Vienna (2016), amongst others.
Selma Selman

Cover image: Jasmina Cibic, Her Barbaric Luxury, detail, forged iron, 2022, photo: Damir Žižić