Turning Macedonia’s Fearful World Into Art

December 13, 2010
Velimir Zernovski discusses tackling prejudice and phobia in art – and insists that there’s never been a better time or place to be socially engaged artist.

This article is also available in: Shqip Bos/Hrv/Srp

Velimir Zernovski, a 29 year-old visual artist who lives and works in Skopje, Macedonia, focuses on contemporary issues that many in his country do not dare to tackle.

He stands out for his intense, focused treatment of topics related to current questions about human identity, and the continuing violence against the “different” and against those not seen as “normal”, according to society’s norms.

Through his art, Zernovski portrays fear, phobia, hypocrisy and the prejudice and stereotypes associated with Macedonian society, which still has no mechanisms to deal with issues resulting in violence and ultimately even murders.

According to him, an artist today cannot escape political, cultural, global, personal and urban developments and hide in an “independent” art world of his or her own.

“We all live in a complexly structured world. Through the constant exchange of emotions, ideas, words and physical relations we are building our own selves,” he says.

“Our identities are ever-changing fragile matter that never remain in one closed frame… By creating art we are actually working on our new identity,” he adds.

In Macedonia’s contemporary scene, Zernovski is one of the few artists to directly explore notions of identity and popular culture as well as sexuality and gender identity, including the LGBTQ community.

According to him, the lesbian and gay community “is one of the most vulnerable and marginalised entities” in society.

“There is no debate on this issue in current political discourse, and people are left on the margins of the society,” he says.

“People face discrimination on many levels; the political parties, media and institutions discriminate on a daily basis and no one is taking responsibility for it. There is no a legal frame to prevent this aggression and no political will in Macedonia for something to change.”

Zernovski says the fact that there is no live or active lesbian and gay community in Macedonia adds to the problem.

“Activists, artists and intellectuals have talked about these problems regarding the community for ages but people must conquer their fears and stand up for their rights,” he says.

For him, it’s unproductive for artists not to relate their artistic practice to the current context.

“It’s totally wrong if we live in a ‘romantic’ context in which ‘The Artist’ is a God-given, talented instrument, here to make life more acceptable and prettier,” he says.

“Artists are not here, especially now, to produce beautiful paintings to hang in your living room; our obligation is far more complicated. Every artist, no matter his/hers domain of expression, should take an active role in moulding society on different levels, either in a local or wider context.”

Zernovski performs through the media of drawing, writing, video, and public installations.

“At its base, my work has a deconstructive approach, transiting from one medium to another, usually starting from abstract matter that I’m trying to demystify, and by using the same symbols in different contexts I create a narrative.  

“When you see my installations, you might easily think that every work forms part of a bigger one; that there is no strict line between the works. Drawings transit into videos and videos transit into paintings, paintings into words and so on. It’s a never-ending transition.

“I’m interested in changing notions of urbanity and popular culture, as well as the ‘products’ coming out of this discourse. I’m investigating different mediums and how they address notions of identity.

“I explore contemporary drawing and how it relates to my verses and lyrics. The verses are not to further explain the drawings, nor the other way around. These drawings are to reveal the never easy quest of one’s authentic self”.

“The drawings gather memories, images that have affected my conscious deeply as well as intimate moments of self-discovery through a constant interaction with the world surrounding me”.

Zernovski says that the current situation in Macedonia provokes him to creativity. “There are so many things left unsaid and so many issues that we can work with, especially in our local Macedonian context,” he says.

“We are living in exciting times, and there is so much that we can react to, analyze, research and contribute to.

“We are witnessing the abuse of art in the building of some new national identity, marginalizing the independent scene and young progressive thought.

“I think that no artist/man/woman in the world lives in a more challenging political, social and historical discourse. It may look depressing and discouraging, but I find it inspiring”.

“It’s true that the intellectual community is marginalized from the current political discourse but we cannot exclude ourselves from it. Invited or not, our duty is not to be silent.

Since 2008, Zernovski has been co-founder and president of F.R.I.K. Cultural Initiatives Development Formation.

The organization promotes socially engaged art and the democratization of society, beyond prejudices and stereotypes.

“We are a horizontally structured organization, based and run by four of us: Biljana Dimitrova, Margarita Vasileva, Angela Manevska and me,” he explains.

“F.R.I.K. works to establishing an alternative space supporting the production, development and promotion of contemporary cultural theory, critics and practice – a space where cultural workers can present their own work and actively participate in cultural politics creation and explore human rights and society democratization beyond prejudices and stereotypes.

“Beside this, we’re exploring ways of using our abundant public spaces to present different artistic projects, a practise that isn’t usual in Macedonia.

“We are already involved in some international projects and collaborations and we hope that our efforts will have a wider impact on Macedonia’s cultural scene.”
Zernovski says his art is never finished, in the classical sense.

“I’m often doubtful when I work on a specific art work,” he notes.

“Saying this, I’m not trying to sound like some “Big Artist” who is working all the time and the art just happens. I’m more referring to the fact that what I’m trying to achieve through my work is to stress some critical points of the time, society or life that we are living in.

“And at the end, when the work is exhibited, screened, written or published, it’s still open for communication. As I’ve previously said, no work is finished, it’s always transiting, changing, becoming something else.

Zernovski presents a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje, opening on December 22.

Some of the works wore presented in Vienna, Paris, Ljubljana and Belgrade and published in foreign magazines, but this is their first presentation in Skopje.

“This year was quite busy and I had an opportunity to travel a lot and work with wonderful people around Europe,” he says.

“I’ve gathered lots of positive experiences working on new projects here in Macedonia and abroad, so I’m excited about the upcoming exhibition…. We are working on the installation with [curator] Mira Gacina and I’m expecting it to be a positive experience for both of us.”

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

This article is also available in: Shqip Bos/Hrv/Srp