Nominee Threshold Award Autonomous Practices
Meet Maja Simišić! Maja was nominated for the 2021 Threshold Award Autonomous Practices with her graduation project ‘Re-imagining a Happy Place’. In this interview, Maja tells us about her work and future plans.
Can you tell us a bit about your graduation project and how it came about?
It all started because of my inner struggles around the question ‘what is home?’ I am Serbian but partially grew up in Germany. We moved back and forth between Serbia and Germany every four years for my mothers work. Now, my family is settled back in Serbia, but I moved out to study abroad. So there has been this constant struggle to find a place to settle down, to call home. At the end of the day, I think it is about identity, belonging and struggle. Home does not need to be a geographical place, it can also be a place in our mind.
My graduation research revolved around how ex-Yugoslavian immigrants create homes in new spaces, despite separation from their physical home. I put together a group of ex-Yugoslavian people that still live in diaspora today. I approached this from three different angles: objects, spaces and performances/rituals. Based on this research I created five performances that took place on June 13. The performances each depict the story of one of the ex-Yugoslavian people I spoke with. The performances took place on the streets of random family neighborhoods in Rotterdam. So I moved between these different locations and the audience moved with me. This was very intense, but it also created a nice performer-audience dynamic. The audience became part of the performance in a way.
I documented the performances and made a compilation that ended up becoming a 40 minute movie. I also added subtitles to all of the conversations that were held in Serbian, so that everyone can understand what is being said. I later exhibited the movie at my own studio and had another discussion about it with a group of people.
Which themes or societal concerns are you addressing in your work, and how?
As I mentioned, my project started with an exploration of the question ‘what is home?’ When I started talking with people, and people started opening up, traumas became a central theme in the research. Until that point I did not think about traumas and their role in my project. I realised we are not always aware of the transgenerational traumas we carry within ourselves. My ancestors went through war and they have seen terrible things. And I feel like this is something I still carry with me, and I believe a lot of other people as well.
By making these very personal stories public through my performances, I also wanted to break taboos and break the cycles of trauma to open up a conversation and make people feel empathy for each other. And that is actually what happened as well, which I am very happy about. During my performances I played recordings of my conversations with the people I had interviewed. And even though this was in Serbian, and a lot of people could not understand what was being said, people could still relate and some started to cry. They could make a connection because they recognised certain things that their grandmother does as well, for example, or one of the people resembles their family members. After the performances were over, people kept talking and sharing their emotions. That was really special.
Another thing I would like to add here is something that I came across towards the end of my research. It is called ‘emotional activism’. I strongly identify with this approach and would maybe even say it is the theory behind my project. I would call myself politically engaged or socially engaged. I keep track of what is going on in the world and take part in protests. But at some point in the past I started to wonder if protesting is really making a change. Then I noticed that what I was doing with my graduation project is actually a form of activism as well. I decided to call it emotional activism because it heals through talking and being vulnerable towards each other. I know this sounds very utopian, but I believe that when we can be better towards ourselves and towards others, we can eventually be better towards the world too.
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
I definitely want to continue working around the topic. I notice that I have been running away from my heritage and my family’s past. But running away has not helped until now. I realise it is more useful for me to embrace this transgenerational trauma and work with it. So I am also working on processing my own trauma through this project.
Besides that, I would like to do a master's that helps me give my own meaning to my background in Fashion Design. I do miss the conceptual side a bit and I would like to work on that. Also, my grandfather in Bosnia recently passed away, which really devastated me. But he left me his house in the mountains. I would like to see if I can work on projects there and maybe start a summer residency programme with other artists. I am also very open for other collaborations and whatever comes my way. So there are a lot of different things going on!
To read more about Maja’s work, pay a visit to her Graduation Catalogue Page. Furthermore, her journey can be followed on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. The winner of the Threshold Award Autonomous Practices will be announced during a festive ceremony as part of the Graduation Show. Keep an eye on our Graduation Show page for more information.