Portrait: Selma Selman

She boxes, screams and destroys

Teaser: She's not afraid to grab attention: The world's most dangerous woman smashes cars, screams »You have no idea« at the top of her lungs, even punches herself with boxing gloves. Selma Selman's performances stick, as does her commitment.

December 19, 2022

To the last

The sun is low, it had to have been raining shortly before. Drops have formed on the windshield, you can see them from inside. Three men in black suits are working on the car, with screwdrivers and their bare hands. They wear sunglasses, resembling the alien-hunting agents from Men in Black. Immediately afterwards, the camera pans to the right and a woman comes into view. She, too, is all in black, wearing a leather jacket and Lara Croft sunglasses, her dark hair tied in a bun. Her gloved hands reach for the hood, which comes off with a quick jerk after the tinkering, the black-painted metal gleaming in the evening light. The woman walks around the car as the camera follows her every step.

Around the wrecked car, on stone steps, sits a curious audience. It watches as the young woman lines up the lower part of the rear row of car seats on the floor next to other individual parts. Film cuts reduce the scene to ten minutes. Ten minutes in which the four strangers continue to dissect the vehicle until they finally hit the wreckage with axes and sticks, tipping it onto its side and back again. The ex-car, a Mercedes, literally consists only of its individual parts. Finally, the four pose in front of the vehicle, which has become scrap metal, like the Men in Black on a movie poster, right in front: Selma Selman, as the credits reveal. The men: her brothers and father, who helped her make Performance Mercedes Matrix (2020).

The most dangerous woman in the world

Selma Selman is the »most dangerous woman in the world,« she says herself. But above all she is a performance and video artist, an activist who also makes sculptures and drawings. Only this year, Kunstraum Innsbruck dedicated a solo exhibition to her entitled »Selma Selman - The Most Dangerous Woman in the World.«

Coincidentally, her choice did not fall on the object car: The Documenta-fifteen participant was born in 1991 in Ružica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. She comes from a Roma family that earns its money by recycling scrap metal. Not unusual for the poverty-stricken community. With her works, she transforms the reality of her parents' lives into art:

 »Due to the ongoing economic crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is incredibly difficult to earn a decent income, especially for Roma who live without state assistance due to lack of education and discrimination,« Selman describes. Integrating her family's work into her artistic one, she says, is useful when the value system breaks down, as it has in the Bosnian economy.

In 2014, Selma Selman received her bachelor's degree from the Institute of Painting at the University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Selman then studied sociology and anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest. In 2018, she went to Syracuse University in New York for her master's degree in Transmedia Visual and Performing Arts.

The Performer

Her performances like Mercedes Matrix stick. She was also not afraid to stand out in You have no Idea: She yells »You have no Idea« over and over again for 35 minutes. So it was on Election Day 2020, at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Washington, D.C., that moved all the way to the White House. She addresses those who cannot relate to what it is like to grow up with the discrimination, harassment, conflict and burdens she has experienced in her community - a group that has been traumatized and mistreated for centuries. She is concerned with portraying the irreconcilable differences, between those who »know« and those who don't.

In Superposition she appears as a boxer, acting simultaneously as trainer, fighter and opponent. She hits herself with the boxing gloves, »exposing and neutralizing supposed contradictions of identity« by demonstrating that as a Roma, a woman, and a migrant, she is her own opponent, trainer, and hero.

»I’m not interested in seeing only statements. I’m mostly interested in how I can change with my art.« she classifies her own work. For this reason, she has also launched the Get the Heck to School project. She collects money for young Romni who can then attend elementary school on a scholarship. She also makes it possible for many other children to have lunch. It is the only project of its kind in Europe. Selman sees great potential in it to solve a decades-old problem: securing the future of Roma girls through education and self-determination.

The performance artist wants to destroy stereotypes and discrimination with her art, to strike them down. »My ontology is an overarching intersectionalism, virtual materialism and auto-feminism.« Back in 2017 at Berlin's Autumn Salon, she proved how she can avenge centuries of pain with I pissed on your land: The photo series shows Selman urinating on the square in front of the former Gauforum in Weimar - on what was then Adolf Hitler Square.

The precious metal

It is not only the performances that carry Selman's experiences to the outside world. She incorporates her biographical history with her paintings on metal: »I have always had a very personal relationship with metal as my family and I have been collecting and recycling it to sustain ourselves since my childhood. My latest paintings on scrap metal portray impressions of everyday life, references to art history and text collages.«

Her fascination with metal goes even deeper: »Pursuing further research into the matter, I learned that all the metals on the surface of the Earth today emerged from apocalyptic meteor showers 200 million years ago. Every human tool comprised of metals today - from forks to phones – emerged from collisions and chemical reactions that would have wiped out the entire species.« -the very material that keeps her family alive today. She paints washing machine parts, car hoods, car roofs or doors with the designs. Her Paintings on Metal were on display at documenta fifteen, for example.

For the past two years, more and more exhibition houses have been taking an interest in Selman - and dedicating solo exhibitions to her. Her first solo exhibition in Germany took place in the fall of 2021 at the Kasseler Kunstverein: In Don't look into my eyes, the artist presented performances as well as metal paintings, drawings, photographs and videos.The National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina also held a solo show in 2021, titled Selma Selman. In May 2022, Kunstraum Innsbruck joined in with an exhibition on behalf of her alter ego The Most Dangerous Woman in the World - focusing on her works made of scrap metal.

It's not likely to get quiet around Selman, who is increasingly being heard, anytime soon. The basis for Selman's performances and paintings: listening and looking.  Art.Salon

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