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Lesson 3: Representation

This lessons deals with the concept of representation and draws on feminist and post-colonial approaches to representation, meaning and ideology.

The questions in this lesson are based on the essay 'Representing the Self, Improperly ' written by Milica Trakilović. To read the essay, click here.

In this lesson you will be introduced to the concept of Representation as the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else.

In the To Do’s, by Barbara Collé, you will find reflection exercises and more general questions about the topic.
While meaning is never entirely fixed and always in circulation, some meanings do carry significant ideological power and can become culturally engrained and stereotyped, even carrying out symbolic violence.
I want to illustrate how this process of sense-making and articulation has developed for me in the hopes of encouraging you to look for your own analytical toolkits.
Milica Trakilović

Bosnian Girl by Šejla Kamerić


'Bosnian Girl' is a black-and-white photograph of the artist herself looking directly into the camera with a serious, piercing expression. Over her image, a large portion of graffiti text is positioned that reads ‘No teeth…? A mustache…? Smel like shit…? Bosnian girl!’ The text is harsh, arresting, and seems to stand in stark contrast to the stylised image of the young woman we are looking at. At the bottom of the photograph, there is a portion of text in small print that gives further information about the graffiti text: it was made by an unidentified Dutch soldier in the period of 1994-1995 on the army barracks in the town Potočari.
Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl. Public project: posters, billboards, magazine ads, postcards. Black-and-white photograph. Dimensions variable. 2003.
Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl. Public project: posters, billboards, magazine ads, postcards. Black-and-white photograph. Dimensions variable. 2003.

To do A

Writing assignment based on the essay Representing the Self, Improperly.

When two opposites are placed next to each other to highlight their inherent difference, they cancel each other out in a sense.

Milica Trakilović, Representing the Self, Improperly (2021)
Milica Trakilović writes in her essay that the photo and the text placed over it cancel each other out by their contrast. Why is that not enough, according to Trakilović? What message or meaning do you read in this contrast? And is something missing?

What step can (should) you add to not only negate but also change the message? How does the artist do that in this work? Can you think of another way?

In the example - the work by artist Šejla Kamerić - Kamerić literally puts herself in the picture, so that she is not anonymous as a maker. How do you do that in your work? How does this make anonymity disappear? How could you further implement this embodiment and responsibility in your work?
Although the picture is arresting, this is not a static image; it moves. In order to understand how this works, I consider in what follows how a stereotype can be taken up and turned around on itself.
Milica Trakilović

To do B

About your artistic practice (work in pairs)

Articulate which views, which have considerable ideological power, your work opposes. How can you see that these have become culturally embedded and stereotyped? Try to describe it as comprehensively as possible so that people who are not (yet) aware of these culturally embedded stereotypes can also get a good idea of the stereotypes and how you counter them with your work.
After 10 minutes, tell this to your partner.

Now choose one of your stories and divide it together into two different layers of meaning, exaggerating both layers. Make them as opposite as possible, make use of stereotypes and prejudices. You can use text, image, video, sound, movement, but make sure you combine two separate layers: movement and text or image and audio.
Discuss how the story and stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination are expressed. Include the concept of Transcoding in the analysis. How could you give the story a new meaning? You are free to pull it towards yourself and add another image, movement or text. Keep at least one element of step 2.

Look at the results together (or in the group). Can you point out which elements and combination shift the meaning? (And so if you have used mimesis)?
Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl. Installation view, Sarajevo, 2003. Photography by: Tarik Samarah.
Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl. Installation view, Sarajevo, 2003. Photography by: Tarik Samarah.

To do C

Working with stereotypes. Combining image and text.

Find a picture of yourself in your photo archive. Look at the picture and think about the prejudices you (often) hear or have received. Write down some of these statements. Now place these statements over the photo of yourself. What happens? Does the person portrayed (you in this case) become different as a result of the statements?

Now choose one judgement from the list. Search your photo library for 5 photos of loved ones (friends, family). Now search the internet for 5 photos of famous people you do not know personally. Then place the judgment over all ten photos.
Is there a difference between this statement with your own photo and with the other people? Is there a difference in your experience between the loved ones and the other people?
Are there any other issues as Trakilović can point out historical prejudices about Balkanism and Orientalism in Šejla Kamerić's artwork? Name these topics.

Now look at the pictures and texts you have and pick out a combination that you would like to work on, not just to have image and statement cancel each other out but to give it a new message.

Lesson 4: Participation