Curator’s Network (Blog ArtSpy)
Identification as Exorcism
by Róna Kopeczky
31st of March 2016
Šejla Kamerić’s best-known piece is without doubt Bosnian Girl (2003), an eye-catching poster showing her portrait bearing an inscription which repeats a graffiti photographed in a former UN base located near Srebrenica.
Šejla Kamerić’s best-known piece is with no doubt Bosnian Girl (2003). It takes the form of an eye-catching poster showing her attractive black and white portrait bearing an inscription which repeats a graffiti that her photographer friend captured in a former UN base located near Srebrenica, where more than 8,300 Bosnian men and boys were executed by Serbian forces after the fall of the city in July 1995. The decision to use this graffiti, “No teeth…? A moustache…? Smel like shit…? Bosnian Girl!” [sic] clearly reflected the artist’s intention to identify with the victims in order to address the crimes committed against women during the war and the prejudices that they were confronted during and after it. „I had to write it on myself, I had to carry it along with me” — declared the artist, out and loud, about this piece we’ve all crossed path with.
In my interaction with Šejla’s work, I felt the urge to turn to my mother, a retired psychotherapist who took care of Bosnian refugee women displaced in France in the late 90’s. I asked her how the concept of identification is defined in psychology. “It is very simple” she answered immediately “it is a process through which someone identifies with something or someone else.” After a short silence, she added “It also belongs to the category of self-defence mechanisms”. Here was for me the next lens through which to examine the topic of identification.
Indeed, going through Šejla Kamerić’s works, another identificational thread unfolded: her clear relation to death and pain, her a way to exorcise them. Šejla’s reference to the colour red — either in an obvious manner in the title of the works and by the use of red elements in the piece of work, or in an indirect way through a symbolic evocation or semantic association to the colour — appears as a chromatic translation of sufferance. To my question focussing on her relation to this particular colour, Šejla answered that she has always felt deeply uncomfortable with it. She also pointed out that in her work, while blue corresponds to melancholy, red stands for sharper, physical pain causing reaction, a state of urgency.
Our discussion then turned to her piece entitled 1395 Days Without Red (2011). As its title announces it, the video totally lacks the colour red. As such, it acts as a haunting depiction of the Sarajevo siege in which the viewer follows a woman running for her life through the devastated streets of the city. The absence of red also evokes an urban war-time legend according to which people were advised not to wear this colour under the siege of Sarajevo, in order not to attract the attention of snipers. Responding to my question to tell me more about the piece, she recalled one of her friends who was deliberately wearing red lipstick day and night. Apparently she was convinced that if the sniper would see her beautiful lips painted in red through the optics of the rifle, he would not shoot. The total absence of red in the film certainly pays tribute to a life-affirming conviction embracing heroic naivety, thanatographic romanticism, and everyday encounter of pain and death.
We continued to unfold the thread of identification with her work Measure (2012), a red long-sleeve in fish-net optics, made out of cotton and nailed to the wall. Unsettling spectacle. The technique of crochet is an activity usually performed to kill time, but in this particular work the use of red cotton thread and the oversized sleeves aimed to kill pain rather than time. Turn loss into something. Identify and exorcize.