Let’s face it: these days, labeling any form of art as “feminist” is becoming as much of a marketing strategy as a cheap cliché. Luckily, Jovana Semiz is here to give us a raw portrayal of freedom and individuality beyond boundaries and classifications. Part of a new wave of ex-Yugoslav photographers reframing reality on their own terms, Jovana’s unique style radiates youthful energy, recklessness and boundless freedom. Her portrayals of contemporary Serbian youth are savage yet delicate, provocatively sexual and powerfully intimate. Motivated by her individual desire for freedom and self-expression, her photographs are reminders of the borderless nature of youth culture when individuals are portrayed beyond references to mainstream movements and labels.
We spoke to Jovana Semiz about her work as a reflection of freedom as opposed to socially constructed notions of freedom and equality. Make sure you follow her on Instagram for a youthful and energetic portrayal of Serbian youth beyond mainstream contemporary gender and art discourse.
In your photographs, you mostly portray women in intimate settings. Do you believe that even nowadays, these are the spaces where Serbian women find the most freedom? How would photographing women in public settings be different?
Through my photography, I try to highlight female intimacy as influenced by several factors, not just the party settings. One of the main factors influencing the portrayal of intimacy is the character of the person that I meet, as well as their attitude and my relationship to them. Surely, parties are where people feel most relaxed, and it is much easier for me to photograph women that I know personally, however, I notice the expression of women’s freedom in many other contexts beyond the intimacy of parties.
Similarly, how would photographing Serbian men through the female gaze be, as opposed to mainstream depictions of masculinity?
In essence, I am not avoiding photographing men. I think I give them the same importance. With men and women alike, I try to put emphasis on what is interesting to me and worth photographing. Far from photographing just women, I have actually been planning a project that will only be related to men and the portrayal of masculinity.
Your photography emphasizes the importance of the female gaze. Do you believe that the female gaze is intrinsic in the female photographer, or was there a turning point in your photographic style?
Through women, I try to compensate for the freedom that I lost during the period of my life where I limited myself to doing what I was expected to do. So, situations that you do not encounter every day became very dominant in my photographs. For some time, I have been thinking about jumping out of my comfort zone, so I try to present them, and myself through them, in a different light. That’s why I think that everybody should present a woman the way they see her, and surely what I see in them is not their only portrayal and the only way to describe them.
What do you believe to be the specific power of photography in the fight for gender equality in contemporary Serbian youth culture?
I believe that the fight for gender equality is starting to overload and saturate the youth, and is acquiring a whole other purpose. However, this is something that needs to be felt between a man and a woman, and not something to be forced into. Then, a complete picture of gender equality becomes distorted, as well as the very definition of equality itself. Art can contribute to a clear understanding of this, but it must go through a long period of time to acquire importance and be recognized by the mass of people who are currently preoccupied with irrational thinking. Gender equality is being defined by women who turn it into a fight against men, and feminism these days is also getting out of control. Yet, here we are, talking about equality? Actually, because my emphasis on women has nothing to do with that topic, I am currently focusing on myself, and doing art that I use for describing myself. I look at every person as an individual, and not as a group of people that are fighting for rights. If women or men want freedom or equality, first they have to find that in themselves.