Marija Šoln, an artist from Belgrade, has been active on the street art scene for ten years, also doing classic easel paintings. During and after studying wall painting, which she had graduated at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade, Šoln had the opportunity to travel outside Serbia and Europe, and although through these processes she learned about others and most of all about herself, the need to always return home arose for her, as she states – a certain amount of “dependence” on Belgrade. She sees the city to which she always returns as a plethora of inspiration for all those like her who deal with sociological topics. This is exactly how Šoln describes her work – as a sociological study infused with lyricism.
As a logical step, she joined the local project “Exceptional Women of Serbia”, which is dedicated to those Serbian women who have been unfairly and unjustly forgotten and neglected by history. The project was initiated by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and it was realized in cooperation with the GRAD – European Centre for Culture and Debate, the Street art Belgarde initiative, the Street Art Museum Amsterdam, and the Belgrade Center for Women’s Studies, with the support of local municipalities. Together, they announced a competition for painting eleven murals in ten cities in Serbia and thus contributed, as Šoln says, that those of us who deal with street art become involved in the process of forming modern monuments to historical figures who very much deserved them. So, recently, the wall of the building in Solunska street 18 in Belgrade has been decorated with a mural of Gina Ranjičić, a Romani poet from the end of the 19th century, whose author is Marija Šoln.
The competition included eleven phenomenal personalities, women who in their ways changed their world, pushing the boundaries of what was expected and desirable, and through the struggle for their ideals, they have remained an inspiration for many to this day. The story of the female Romani poet, the pioneer of Romani poetry in our country, stood out in particular, her incredible life, creative energy, her verses that stand side by side with the greatest names of Serbian poetry.
Šoln had not previously encountered the name of this Romani poet, and being aware that the story of Gina Ranjičić is shrouded in mystery, with little available information about her life, and even less visual data, she tackled the creation of the portrait. As such, she (Gina Ranjičić) was the subject of “improvisation”, which is a challenge for me as a painter, not to show things as they are, but as I feel them. In this sense, Gina caused a flood of emotions in me, a strong identification, and imagination, in so that I became one with her. šoln knew that it was the only mural she would apply for in the competition because, as she continues, that was the only honest course of action. After all I hold the position that only what is honest has a chance to be good.
There are no authentic photographs of Gina Ranjičić, and considering that she lived at the end of the 19th century, only one engraving exists that did not fit the idea Šoln came up with. However, in the very realization of the project Šoln had the help of two other women. Marija Đukić posed as Gina Ranjičić in front of Mina Šarenac, all according to the Šoln’s design, according to which Gina greets her reflection in the mirror. The reflection and Gina are not the same, she bears the scars of the life she bravely chose to live, welcoming the reflection of Gina that the society of that time expected her to be.
Symbolism and figuration
Continuing the conversation, Šoln says that street art has its roots in the distant past, but if we talk about this form of art as we know it today, we can say that it is divided into certain categories. From artists who go out and draw ‘illegally’ on the wall with a pure urge to create, to the other extreme, which includes murals that require engagement and technical production at a higher level. As a creator, I must emphasize that I consider all directions and choices legitimate, as long as they are honest and do not advocate any kind of discrimination or hatred.
However, Šoln adds that when it comes to large surfaces, especially those in exclusive locations, it is important to use the same approach because, in addition to implying an engaged relationship and technical precision, such art also sends a certain message.
When all these segments come together, we can discuss whether something is a work of art or not. Otherwise, it may happen that you only have a painting on the wall that is very skillfully arranged or a message that is artistically inadequate to the task. The difference between a painting and a work of art is huge, and it should always be remembered because not every painting is a work of art just as not every painter is an artist. Painting is a skill, and art is a gift expressed through that skill. The public space should be respected, which means that the drawing itself must correspond first to the shape of the wall, then to the exterior in general, taking into consideration the most common viewing point, so that the accents and what is important in the work turn out in harmony with everything.
Šoln is aware that gallery exhibitions bring certain freedom because it addresses certain audience, the one who chose to visit the exhibition. Art on the street addresses every passerby, those of different preferences, statuses, levels of education, and cultural awareness. She points out that for this reason, the mural as an artistic expression has an extremely difficult task, trying to reach as many people as possible while making sure that it does not lose its quality by straying into the extremes of banality and dilettantism. In addition, murals often try to warn us about something, they talk about taboos, and as such, they are trying not to look like campaign signs and, at the same time preserving their own artistic richness. Symbolism and figuration are often intertwined in her artwork.
Šoln believes that this project opened a certain chest in which writings about “some women” were hidden, whose creative energy turned out to be beyond the time in which they lived, but those responsible for writing down history did not think they deserve a place in it.
Today women also write history, we will see what future generations will think about this time of ours. I want to believe that we are reaching a point where the difference between men and women is purely biological, but unfortunately, modern women still have a lot,of issues to solve for future generations, and this I see as the legacy we owe them. Sitting on the scaffolding all day, I’m used to still hearing shouts from the ground: ‘Good job guys’, to which I always happily reply ‘boys and girls’ and I don’t see anything problematic there. Slowly it’s being solved. What changes harder is that when I get off that scaffolding, “female” responsibilities await me on the ground.
According to Šoln, women can excel in everything, but only when they manage to be everything else – mothers, housewives, and wives, just like generations before. Women are increasingly fighting for their own space, both in art and in everyday social roles. That is why the mural dedicated to Gina Ranjičić, in addition to being a reminder of her character and work, also carries a message about overcoming social expectations imposed on women, so the artist concludes with the question: “Are you ready be more than