Farija Mehmeti in conversation with Avni Mustafa

Farija Mehmeti: Untitled, Roma Women series, 2012-ongoing.

Farija, you are about to open an exhibition at Manifesta 14, the major cultural event. Can you tell us something about your background?

FM: Just like everyone in life, my childhood was sometimes good and other times bad, due to difficult economic situation, we grow up in a poor family, where my father was mainly working seasonal jobs while my mom was working in the village, she was cleaning houses. I went to primary school in my village, and unfortunately was unable to finish high school due to financial circumstances, therefore, I only finished the primary school. I wanted to continue to high school but I couldn’t, when my parents were unable to support me financially, after the primary school I helped my mom around the housework. Another reason why I wasn’t able to register in high school was because of lack of documentation. I was able to register in primary school, but then my documentation was lost. When I was a child, my dream was to become a clothes designer, and after primary school I began a short course whereby I learned how to sew. My mom had great influence over me, with teaching me to prepare the Roma traditional cooking and I remember as a child I was in love with baking and cooking.

When did you decide to become a painter?

FM: Even though my dream was to become a clothes designer, in 2020 I was watching my brother painting the Roma life, conditions and their situation, I then got motivated to begin painting on my own. This is when I developed my passion to begin painting portraits, my goal was not at all to be a painter, I just had a wish to paint and simply began putting it in colours and shapes. Shortly after, I had a visit from Mr. Paul Polansky, who was looking at the portraits I made, and then asked me “can you begin painting the Roma woman”? I said I’d give it a try. So, I began painting one portrait after another, with the help and mentorship of my brother, and this is how I developed the idea of painting the Romani women in their traditional scarfs, their emotions, daily life, inequality… Mr. Polansky gave me a huge motivation to continue painting.

Was it difficult to pursue your dream of becoming a painter as a Roma woman?

FM: I remember as a child attending primary school in Lepina, the teachers would never give us a higher grade, the higher mark that my brother and I got was a 3, and since early childhood both my brother and I showed amazing skills in painting, even other children in our class would ask us for help during the art class. As children we were always seated in the back of the class, and I didn’t understand then that this was any sorts of a discrimination, now when I go back to it I am realising that it was. I remember very well that we had to study way more than our peers, and the marks we were getting is always a 2 or 3, whereas our peers didn’t even have to study that much they would get better grades.

What motivates you to continue your work despite difficulties?

FM: My mentor is my brother, because, watching him paint awoke the interest in starting to paint, and he was very patient with me, teaching me how to mix colours, shades and other painting skills. Even in nowadays I am learning a lot from him, and I really think that I am blessed to have Bajram (my brother) as my Mentor.

What are your future plans?

FM: My childhood dream lives on with me, and I would like to be able to make my paintings at least the scarfs that I paint in real life, I would like to design the traditional scarfs that Roma woman used to wear in the past so I can ensure that the traditional Roma clothes is not forgotten. Currently I am working on reflecting my portraits to a traditional scarf, it is a new technique that I want to master and I really hope I will succeed to do that, because there are both connected painting and designing. And of course, a great gallery where we can do our exhibitions is a long-standing dream and I really hope that one day the dream will become true. Currently the only obstacle on making dream come true is finance support.

What are your portraits about?

FM: The portraits that I paint are a manifestation of my emotions and what I feel when I paint each photo. On the other hand, I am also describing different issues that Roma woman are faced with, such as early marriage, lack of education, social, material and other issues that are being faced with and most importantly I am trying to convey the violence against the woman that unfortunately still exist. People looking at the paintings can see different things, some see beauty, others see the social stigma that surrounds the Romani woman and some see the pain that woman go through.

Do you have any ritual/preparation before you begin to paint?

FM: Usually there is a preparation period where I think and for the idea of what I am going to paint in my head, which includes the sketch, colours and the whole painting, then I begin to paint. Sometimes, although very rare I am disappointed the way the photo turns out, however, you never know, somebody might like it and that’s why I never throw a painting away. Of course, inspiration plays an important role, and I am unable to begin painting without having a very special inspiration.

If you would have a magic wand, what would you change in life?

FM: If I could, I would change the early marriage issue that we have within our community. And help more Roma children to exceed in school.It is my long-standing dream to have my own gallery. I would choose peace in the world and more happiness for the people.

What is your message to everyone reading about you?

FM: My message to everyone is to get along, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or colour of the skin. To have more understanding within one another. For Roma, regardless how difficult life is, we shouldn’t lose our hope.

Avni Mustafa

Prishtina Kosovo

July 2022


Roma Rajni. RomaMoMA Library ft. Daniel Baker and Farija Mehmeti

21 July- 30 October 2022, National Library of Kosovo, Prithina

Farija Mehmeti: Untitled, Roma Women series, 2012-ongoing. Photo/collage: Andrea Petrus

 

The project is implemented within the framework of Manifesta 14 Western Balkans project, and is co-funded by the European Union.

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