Snippets of Serbia: Interviewing Emma Fick

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I don't even remember how & when I stumbled upon Emma Fick's drawings. (Must've been Facebook, everything happens on Facebook.) And I was impressed! It was a drawing of someone or something from Serbia, with a witty explanation from the point of view of a foreigner. Soon I found out that she is an American expat in Serbia who turns her days and experiences into a charming series of drawings - Snippets. Emma is an English teacher and a gifted artist. So far you could've seen her Snippets of Serbia all over the internet, but soon she's hosting an exhibition in Belgrade, and in few months she will publish a hard copy! As a curious being, I had to approach Emma and ask her a question or two, and she was so kind to answer (OK, it was more than two). Enjoy this lovely lady's work and don't forget to come to the exhibition if you're around Belgrade this coming Wednesday!

You were born and raised in a Louisiana town, and after having received your BA in English Literature and Art History, you came to Serbia to teach English. You must be asked this a lot, but we’re always curious about expats: why Serbia, of all places?
A Serbian man saved my family from Vienna during WWII and paid for their passage to the States. I was also interested in the Byzantine art tradition. Once I got here, though, I became interested in the culture for more and more reasons.

What was the reaction of the people around you when you told them you were going to Serbia? 
Interest: lots of questions.

Are you one of those people that never compare places they live in, or one of those that cannot escape that? What surprised you the most about Serbia, and what have you found to be similar to the US?
I am always comparing places, gauging similarities and differences. I like to “study” people and places, so to speak, not academically as an anthropologist but just as an aesthetic person and a traveler.
When I first got to Serbia, the openness with which people greeted me was astounding. I was also surprised by the layers of identity—I knew the Serbian identity was complex, but I didn’t know just how complex it was until I spent a few months here.

What was the first time it occurred to you that you should make Snippets of Serbia? 
Before I left the States, I promised myself I would keep an illustrated journal of my experiences in Serbia. But I’ve made promises like that to myself before, and sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don’t. I wouldn’t even share my Tumblr page with my parents at first, because I was afraid I wouldn’t keep it up. Little did I know how much drawing would take hold of my life!

You have a lot of followers on social media and I keep seeing your Snippets shared by my friends. But has anybody contacted you saying you convinced them to visit Serbia? (I think the “No one told me it was only the starter course” should do!)
So far, only close friends and family…but hey, it’s a start! And I do get a lot of messages from people saying it’s now on their “must visit” list.

What did the road from the first illustration to the cultural illustration grant look like? 
It was pretty direct, as far as life-roads go. I applied for the grant while I was still teaching in Novi Pazar on a Fulbright grant, and received it in late Spring 2014. So when I left Serbia in 2014, I knew I would be returning in just 2 months to begin the next grant.

What is your favorite thing to draw?
It’s a toss-up between food, old people, and textiles. I’m getting more and more interested in buildings lately, though. My drawing preferences are always changing.

What does the process look like? Do you choose a thing to draw and then add words later, or does your inner literature major comes first and makes literary observations before the illustration is made?
The process is pretty complex and 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.

Do you have your own places in Belgrade, like a favorite coffee shop, favorite part of the town…?
I love Savamala, Crveni Krst, Dorcol and Zemun. But I’m always exploring new places.

You traveled around the whole country – I believe even more than some locals – so if asked to describe Serbia in one sentence, what would that be?
This is a cruel and unusual question! I think the whole point is that Serbia has been influenced by so many different cultures over the years, it can’t be described in a single sentence. Towns in Serbia are almost like miniature independent countries of their own—for better or for worse.

It says on your website you will be living in Belgrade until February this year. The exhibition, bringing together all you’ve done there, is in few days. What happens next?
Yes, my exhibit is on the 25th of this month, 6pm at Impact Hub on 21 Makedonska street (come one, come all!). After that, I’m staying to publish an illustrated book about Serbia and do some side projects. My life goal is to be a travel illustrator, traveling to different countries and publishing illustrated narratives about the culture. 

Good luck with that, girl, we're keeping our fingers crossed! ;)

So you've heard, people: the 'Snippets of Serbia' exhibit is on Wednesday, February 25th, at 6 PM. Venue: Impact Hub, 21 Makedonska street.
Do come! :) And scroll down for more amazing snippets of Emma's.

Facebook event: here.
Emma's webpage: here
Emma's FB page: here (publishing awesome new snippets daily!)
Emma's tumblr: here

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