NMMU: You were born in Mostar, but you grew up in Santa Barbara. How did you end up in California, was it difficult to get used to the new environment and what was it like growing up there?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: Adjusting to life in Santa Barbara was not difficult. Growing up there was really magical and easy for me, surrounded by nature and living in a secure environment, it was simply unreal. My brother was already studying in California and we were separated, so I was happy that the family was reunited and that I was also given the opportunity, during the war, to live and study there.

NMMU: Has anyone in your family ever been involved in fine or any other type of arts?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: There are prominent philosophers and directors in my family. However, the person who had an outsized influence on my life was my father, who was a pilot and a passionate collector – even though he was not aware of it. He travelled the world, and from each trip he would bring various interesting objects and pictures. So, I have always been surrounded by pictures.

NMMU: You were educated at prestigious universities in the USA and England. What was the subject of your postgraduate study at Goldsmiths University of London?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: The title of my thesis at Goldsmiths University of London was Final Girl Theory, which was inspired by the book Man Women and Chainsaws - Gender in the Modern Horror Film, by the award-winning American academic Carol Jay Clover, published in 1992. Final Girl is a trope in horror films (slashers, in particular), and refers to the last female character who remains alive to confront the killer, the one who is, supposedly, left to tell the tale. Carol Jay Clover studied slasher films of the 1970s and 1980s – a period considered as the golden age of the genre. She defined the final girl as the lone survivor of a group of usually young people, who are being chased by the Villain. She is the only one who gets a final showdown with him, either by killing him herself or someone saves her at the last minute, and she is afforded this “privilege” on account of her implied moral superiority (for example, she is the only one who refuses sex, drugs or similar behaviours, unlike her friends).

NMMU: You live between New York and Dubrovnik?
(what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of living in both cities?)
Where I live is hard to say, currently mostly in Dubrovnik. For now : ) In recent years, I spent more time in London and Los Angeles, but we are all familiar with disadvantages of small and large cities – one is too fast, the other too slow, something is always missing. I like small towns and I think I started living an old lady art dream too soon, that is, in a small town at the end of the world.

NMMU: What was the title of your solo exhibition held in 2007 at the V&A in New York and which works did you showcase?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: I had two exhibitions at the V&A, an excellent gallery on the Lower East Side. Collaboration with the V&A was an important experience for me, which taught me that the relationship between the gallerist and the artist can make a crucial difference for work development and how wonderful it is when that happens. So, I am grateful to Victoria Donner for her complete dedication to art.

NMMU: You are an artist, but also a curator… Do you like relinquishing control to your colleagues or do you prefer to curate your own exhibitions?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: I adore art, artists and all the people who work in the art world, which is exceptionally important to me. My curatorial work stems from a few barriers that I am too impatient for. The problem of the artist in society is that he is often isolated from the work he knows something about, he loses the power of self-sustainability. For me, gallery and curatorial work is a form of resistance in which the artist takes up more space in the artistic society.

NMMU: At the Josip Račić Gallery, you will showcase the works from the “Reproduction” series for the first time and this is also your debut exhibition in Zagreb?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: Yes, I am extremely grateful to Branko Franceschi, director of the National Museum of Modern Art and curator Romina Peritz, for the opportunity to present my work to fellow artists and the audience in Zagreb.

NMMU: How long did you work on the “Reproduction” series and how is it similar or different from your previous cycles, and what inspired it?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: It took a very long time to create this series and it represents an accumulation of both personal and social ideas. I feel quite detached from it and it is difficult for me to judge it. It is rather strange and disconnected, and yet, I believe in it and think it is quite brave, because it is not trying to please anyone. “Reproduction” is the end of reproduction through object, that is, an image, I try to observe the technological revolution through the failure of our body.

NMMU: Who are your artistic role models?
Mike Kelly, Balthus

NMMU: You said that you wanted your observer to be in a state of cognitive dissonance and that you think he should “struggle” to use his imagination to experience your work, the same way you struggled to create it? What did your “struggle” look like?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: I don’t necessarily mean a literal struggle, although this is often my experience. I think that participation in art is a gift, a creative process and in this sense, I want the observer to be aware of his ability to create. My trick to achieve this is cognitive dissonance, because that’s the best way to guide the observer’s body into the work.

NMMU: Are you fearful of the rapid progress of artificial intelligence and do you think it could “subjugate” us in the future?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: Anything is possible. The impossible is really coming, this I know and feel for sure.

NMMU: Which international artist, male or female, would you like to collaborate with?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: With my friend Sofia Albina Novikoff Unger, a Danish artist who combines the natural and artificial in her work.

NMMU: Which artists’ exhibition would you like to stage?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: I would like to go through the archives of Croatian museums and discover unknown female artists.

NMMU: Who influenced you the most artistically, who did you learn the most from, whose advice to you remember?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: Advice from my friend Ralph Rugoff, curator of the Hayward Gallery in London and the last Venice Biennale, who ran the Foundation of my favourite artist, Mike Kelly. But I actually listen to myself, if I’m ok with the work that I felt compelled to create then the criticism, justified or not, is not important to me.

NMMU: Do you think we still live in a man’s world?

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: That question is irrelevant and divisive. What is relevant is an unfair treatment of human beings, in this case women, and this injustice permeates society all over the world.

NMMU: What would you single out as your biggest success so far?
My work.

SELMA HAFIZOVIĆ: What do you still dream about?
My work.

Interviewed by: Lana Šetka © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo-portrait of the artist Selma Hafizović / Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023

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