The Beauty is Found Within in Macedonia: An Interview with Lilika Strezoska

 

Macedonia is a country that seems to be treated with either indifference or outright mockery by Western writers, primarily in the wake of the recent move to ‘beautify’ its capital, Skopje, and the continuing conflict with Greece over its name. Like so many other ex-socialist states, Macedonia suffers from the treatment of the most dominant voices reducing it to one story. The result is that one of southern Europe’s most intriguing and charismatic countercultures continues to go under the radar of most publishers and readers.

Despite this ignorance of Skopje, there is a confidence among its local artists. They continue to work on their projects without compromising to attract broader attention. There is an inner resilience that recognises the strength of their work and that the validation of it from outsiders isn’t necessary. It is a really beautiful quality to see. More pressingly, it translates not only into a distinct style but a blossoming of voices.

One artist that really attracted my interest while visiting Skopje this summer was photographer Lilika Strezoska. A comfort comes over you while studying her disjointed yet graceful photos. Her work manipulates beauty and re-imagines it in a completely unique approach. Whether it is her stunning use of colour or her ability to breathe personality into each image, she captures something that is both universal and pure Macedonian magic.

I spoke to Lilika about Skopje, her work, and her upcoming move to Berlin. Make sure to follow her on Instagram here!

 

So often, Skopje is mocked for both its architecture and the continuing disputes with Athens over Macedonia’s name. Few people are giving it credit for both its dynamic youth culture and its amazing music scene. How do you feel that Skopje inspires your work?

The downtown area of Skopje of today is the frightening final result of our political issues, and anyone who would like to see how the limited mindset won over the contemporary progressive momentum, should visit Skopje.

I have never been inspired by Skopje itself, every photograph that happened in Skopje is just a collection of emotions provoked by the people I am surrounded with. What really gets me in my city is the brief sunset moment that happens on Ilindenska during summer when the streets are empty. Then you can feel that Skopje is still alive, it still breaths underneath.    

Obviously, your work very much is intertwined in fashion, yet I get the impression that does not sufficiently summarize your work. The real focus in each of your photos is the model. You give them depth and character in each of your shots. You seem like you have a really strong bond with them. How do you select your models?

I am not very curious about fashion, and that is why I never thought of my photographs in a fashion-related way. Even when I had a collaboration with Magnetik Group – a fashion retailer in Macedonia – and Macedonian singer Karolina Gocheva, I tried to be as bare as possible. What I am trying to convey is that I am interested in the person and what the person does with respect to the motives that I am shooting, in contrast to just the photo shoot itself. In that way, it was challenging for me to maintain that balance.

I had a tendency to photograph almost everyone. People I met on the street, in coffee bars, while waiting somewhere in a queue, or I would spontaneously take them with me somewhere for a couple of minutes to take photos and get the photograph I wanted. There is an abundance of approaches to completing a portrait. The type  of photograph should not be influenced by the stereotypical photography layouts. There is no rule of thumb to  what makes a good portrait of a waitress in comparison to a singer.

My best work flows out of individuals that awake an interest in me. For me to create a good photograph, being captivated by something in the person I am shooting is essential. The opposite of this, is how photography taught me the difference between being patient with someone and wasting your time.

In my years as a photographer, I noticed that in each of the portraits I take, I see little fragments of my soul. They are scattered around the person. When looking at them it is almost like looking in me, which, at times, can be quite disturbing. Not so long ago, while I was photographing a very dear person of mine, in a split second I realized that the intimacy I was searching for developed instantly. That kind of bond with the model sparks my creativity further.

In terms of community, what other Macedonian photographers are exciting you?

I’ve always admired the work of Dimitar Apostolov (Zewlean Icarius). Since I started photography, I remember endlessly studying his photographs. The black and white photographs by Dragi Nedelchevski, or to be more precise, his series “Life in a Box” where he documents his family life. In addition, related to the fashion aspect of my photography I follow the work of Goran V. Popovski, who I consider to be one of the more creative and brave fashion photographers.

 

Soon you’re moving to Berlin. How do you think this will change you as an artist? Is it frustrating the lack of attention the Macedonian art scene gets?

One of Berlin’s biggest lures is its ability to provide anything. Once you sense the freedom Berlin has to offer, you always want to come back for more. For me, having that freedom all the time is important. I think moving to Berlin will help me to be more confident as an artist.

I think that being an artist anywhere is challenging nowadays. However, there are places in this world where they try to make it more rewarding but sadly Macedonia is not one of them. Most of the time, you are left on your own to figure out the puzzle of how to promote, place and protect your art. Usually by the time you do figure it out, you are already tired and disappointed.