Emma Fick: Snippets of Serbia

Kultur!Kokoška presents the illustrations from the series called Snippets of Serbia and an interview with the artist behind them.

Emma Fick, an American born artist, has spent years living and traveling in Serbia. She portrayed her impressions in a series of illustrations called Snippets of Serbia. In her work she skillfully catches the essence of everyday life, the mentality of people, as well as different situations and characters that those who live on the Balkans hardly notice anymore, but which usually leave a significant impression on a foreigner. Snippets of Serbia actually represents an extraordinary guide through this country, its people, culture and traditions – here you can find culinary delights common for this part of the world, representations of salespeople and their colorful wares on the green market, a guide through different customs, such as “Slavas” and the Orthodox Christmas. Also, she made portraits from the public transport, illustrations of cities and monasteries, impressions on different people and situations – everything presented through the eyes of a stranger.

Emma didn’t come to Serbia by chance, though. Actually, her family history is connected to this country and its people – during the World War II, her grandmother’s aunt was married to a Serb who managed to get her family of Jewish descent from Vienna, where they lived, to Belgrade, and then paid for their trip to America, saving them from what was happening in the Europe. Generations later, in 2013. Emma first came to Serbia to teach English but she ended up making this illustrated guide of her experiences and impressions. During her voyage she even managed to find the grave of her great-grandmother who had lived and died in Serbia.

Kultur!Kokoška: To begin with, how did you start practicing art, and what does that way of expression mean to you? 

Emma: I was always a creative and artistic kid. It came naturally to me, and I was lucky to be in a family that valued and encouraged artistic expression. I’ve never studied art formally so I’ve never given it that much academic or formal thought, which in many ways has allowed me to be freer with my artistic experience. It’s a pretty healthy mix of technical skill that I hone in on and practice to perfect, and an exercise in letting my brain get completely into a meditative art state. Artistic expression is a balance of calculated concentration and relaxed freedom.

K!K: Could you tell us a bit about your work process – do you carry a notebook and draw on the spot or do you live the moments and then put them to paper from memory?

Emma: The process is pretty complex and it is a bit boring to explain all the small parts. The whole ritual is very important to the final product. People like to imagine me flitting around with a sketchbook and painting on the spot as I’m struck with heavenly inspiration, but that’s just not how it goes. I take pages and pages of notes and scribbled sketches, and those get condensed into more linear notes. Then I spend a lot of time reading and researching the subject matter, and finally I construct the composition and accompanying text. Of course there are organic elements to it; sometimes I see something for a split second and know that’s going to be an illustration. But even in those cases, I often have to sit with the image for a little while to place it in its larger context, and match it with text that explains why I chose that image, and why it’s important.

K!K: What was the biggest cultural shock you encountered while living in Serbia?

Emma: I guess the notion of time (more fluid and relaxed here) and the mix of professional and personal life—here, a “meeting” can be a long lunch with many glasses of rakija, whereas in the States there are generally very strict boundaries between “work” and “play.”

K!K: – how big is the difference between everyday cuisine in Serbia and in the US? Also, which dish left the biggest impression on you?

Emma: I am so glad you asked this question! Food is completely different in Serbia than it is in the States: the taste, the rituals, the importance to daily life. Everything. I am very interested in food culture everywhere I go, but Serbia takes it to a whole new level. The dish that left the biggest impression on me, but not in a good way, was karađorđeva šnicla — it’s just  too much!!

K!K: Is there a place in Serbia that inspired you the most, and if there is – what was it and why?

Emma: No, I like different places for different reasons. I love bustling cities and quiet serene villages. All for their own reasons.

K!K: What kind of feedback do you get from foreigners when it comes to Snippets of Serbia, how do people react?

Emma: Overwhelmingly positive!

K!K: Last question, how would you describe the Snippets series to a completely uninformed observer – in five words or less?

Emma: Small illustrations of daily life.

All pictures have been used with the courtesy of the author.
!Kokoška urges you to check out other illustrations as well on her website and  facebook page .

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