Putting female streetart imagery on the map: introducing Pekmezmed

Meet Pekmezmed, a versatile street artist from Croatia in this exclusive interview she gave for Stocktown.

Street art in Croatia gains leverage in the past few years, thanks to the few, but bald and doughty street artists who do not flinch at hardships a young street artist faces in Croatia. Artists such as Pekmezmed, Oko, Lonac, Dunja Jankovic, Tifani Rubi, collective Pimp My Pump (and many more) are making the scene happen as we speak by utilising the free public space as their godsent medium to claim visibility as artists in a culture-starved country.

With only 4.2 million inhabitants, Croatia is a small country, news of which rarely hit the global news portals. It’s public debt keeps hitting all time’s high, Croatia’s economic prospects are glum, causing cultural workers to be the first in line who face budget cuts. Even more so because due to said circumstances, the young folks are found betwixt in-between two options: emigration in search for decent paychecks, or – silent capitulation, sitting at (their parents) home, in despair, watching their future crumble down in slow motion, hopelessly helping themselves to whichever method helps to put their heads in the sand and forget where they are.

In these morose times, street art could be that one thing that offers a more optimistic outlook. Colourful murals on decrepit walls are perhaps not a solution to a dull economic state of affairs, but these pieces of effort offer a glimmer of hope that might make it more worthwhile for the rest of us. That’s where the movers and the shakers come in, the culture warriors who showcase their work against the cultural void they live in.

One of those hopeful people is Pekmezmed (i.e Jamhoney) a versatile visual artist and editor of Frrresh magazine, the first free visual arts magazine in Croatia. She’s also a teacher of visual arts in Rijeka and believes things will change for art in Croatia, and we rejoice.

1234778_10151585365531104_346203043_n.jpgPekmezmed (Sanjin Kastelan, 2013)

Pekmezmed predominantly paints murals, which can be seen mostly in Croatia, in the capital of Zagreb and also in the coastal town where she resides, Rijeka. One can spot her recognisable style from afar, the vibrant colours she uses and optimistic characters she draws seem as if they stepped out of some fairytale, mystical and serene.

She frequently uses female figures as themes of her murals, which made us wonder how she handles questions of gender representation in her art. She’s also an illustrator, academically trained as a sculptor, but has stopped making them due to the lack of studio space, as well as due to the dull prospects of selling art in Croatia, and generally the “sterile” and “boring” state of art galleries in Croatia. The logical solution for her art to be seen is to do street-art.

Art by: pekmezmedArt by: pekmezmed (Rijeka, Croatia, 2013)

You’re exploring some representations of femininity in your work. You’ve stated that you’re interested in how different kind of female energies are being personalized. Are you still exploring the notions of femininity, and if yes, where would you say it’s taking you?

– Yes, I still am. As I am changing or focusing on it as a person I’m focusing on it through my artwork as well. It’s a journey – for now I feel that it is interesting and worth exploring more so I’m going to continue to do more of the work focused on tapping into that female energy and see where it takes me. It’s closely related to my personal change or growth so I feel compelled to do it more than anything else and I feel excited about exploring the private/ public aspect of it.

Art by: pekmezmedArt by: pekmezmed (MUU (museum of street art – project MUUveIN), Zagreb, Croatia, 2013)

One seldom sees street art depicting female characters in general, and we are in love with your contribution to the topic. When you talk about female energies – who do you have in mind when you’re drawing them? Are they personal portraits?

– They are not personal portraits, but since I generally don’t use a reference, the images reflect me in some ways. When I start drawing, I usually keep on drawing and change the portraits ‘till I feel happy with the expression or the “personality” of the energy or feeling I had in my mind. When I’m talking about female energies – I’m thinking of the general feelings I recognize in the process of awaking my own true energy and the sense of being present in the moment or being my true self. Now these are not female energies per se, but since women are generally more inclined to look behind their emotions to find their roots, I started perceiving these as female energies, which is not better than what we know as the analytic or focused male energy.

I just find it more interesting specially in the terms of artistic exploration. But I’m definitely enjoying the process of tapping into my female energy and as I said – I like the idea of showing that process of “looking in” and making these “calm” or content looking portraits and putting the imagery in a public space thus enhancing the whole story with the contrast.

Art by: pekmezmedArt by: pekmezmed (Rijeka (Dražice), Croatia, 2013)

Another thing that caught our attention is how water is a recurring pattern, is there any meaning to it?

– Water is a great element and symbol that I enjoy using in my work. It is always changing, transforming, but can be seen as a cleansing process and a pure element we are all made of, it can be associated with comfort of a relaxing bath or an unpleasant cold shower but for me generally represents a new birth and I’m using it as a symbol for amniotic fluid of some sorts- giving birth to the new energies and celebrating growth and change.

What would you say are the main topics in the Croatian street art scene right now, which are the focal points of street art in Croatia?

– It’s a complex question- or rather, questions. I think that Croatian street art is looking up to the world trends in street art – bigger is better. I don’t agree with this, but it certainly is nice to see big wonderful murals being made. As all novelty things street art is very popular in Croatia right now and I hope to see it evolving even more in the future. Topics are various as they are everywhere; shocking, lovely, political, funny etc. Most of the street art in Croatia can be found in its biggest city- Zagreb, but slowly a lot of other smaller cities have a lot to show as well thanks to a lot of street art or mural “jams”.

Art by: pekmezmedArt by: pekmezmed (Sinestezija festival, Herceg Novi, Monte Negro, 2011)

What about the question of gender in arts, both in the terms of male to female author ratio, as well as the gender representation in street art culture in Croatia? Are you noticing any problematic areas or are things more or less equal?

– I think there are more male street artists in Croatia but that doesn’t concern me or any of the artists I know. I know I don’t feel more important or more intimidated by the fact I’m a female artist and I guess that’s the great thing about art – you’re measured only by your work and not by gender or anything else (at least I hope so).

You’re an academically educated sculptor and you teach visual arts yourself, have you ever felt some resistance from the academic arts circles towards your street art activity?

– Surprisingly no, I guess people I talk to are not intimidated or insecure about themselves or their work and see street art as I do – as a form of visual expression that is no different from any other form of visual art. I presume there are people who don’t like this or that and whip out their diploma to back up their words of hate, but let’s not “feed the monster” shall we.

Art by: pekmezmedArt by: pekmezmed (MUU (museum of street art), Zagreb, Croatia, 2010)

Your magazine, Frrresh, by and for visual arts aficionados, is the first of its kind in Croatia, and it’s admirable how you started almost entirely on your own. What is your goal with it, apart from shedding light on the emerging scene?

– I’m still not sure. Every direction that I try to imagine Frrresh taking, ends up in turning it to a paid magazine to support eventual reporters, printed issues etc. For now I would love if it could keep its pure and simple idea and that is to remain an accessible free magazine that everybody can read. That is the main reason why I started the magazine, just a free magazine that is made in Croatia, which feature artists from all over the world – both known and unknown. That would be a great way for artists to show their work to a different audience, meet other fellow artists and of course get discovered by potential clients and art lovers. My wish for a free magazine that was nonexistent at the time in Croatia got me thinking how I could change that and that’s how it started (that’s why I only had the nerve to ask just one person to work beside me on the whole mag – and that is Rafael Milčić, a young graphic design student from Zagreb).

Art by: PekmezmedArt by: Pekmezmed (Jeti art jam, Zagreb (Sljeme), Croatia, 2012)

I’ve read that you stated once in an interview, that street art really becomes art once it’s perceived as such in the eyes of a passer-by. To what extent does it matter then that the audience has the right set of tools in order to interpret it the way you might want them to interpret? How does street art become closer to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have any reference to art?

– These questions are hard for me to answer mostly because these are the same questions that are not to clear or “set in stone” in my head. I cannot say what makes something art or if an “average Joe” will perceive it as such even if he knows it is art. I guess what I meant to say is that street art is art in my eyes not only if it’s visually compelling, has a great composition, skillfully placed color or lack of one, but it has to move me in some way. It has to “speak to me”. That is the biggest thing that street art should be focused on in my opinion and that actually is the biggest thing street art is focused on. Ultimately for me perceiving art is a matter of feeling and since I couldn’t begin to define any feeling let alone one feeling that is so complex, my answer to your question will remain partially answered or unanswered.

Pekmezed, Screenshot.jpgSketching Process: Screenshot

Your video ‘Sketching process’ is a beautiful and intimate depiction of a relationship an artist has with her sketchbook. Do you carry it everywhere you go?

– Thank you, I carry it with me but I rarely draw in public (that is kind of funny considering I make murals where there are lots of people always watching). I feel more relaxed drawing at home or alone, so I usually just make a note or do a really rough sketch and then finish it later when I’m not surrounded by others.

Finally, where would you like your art to take you? How do you envision the future for Croatian street artists and street art in general?

– As all artists I would like to live of making my art but having the freedom to constantly change. Croatian street art will surely change and evolve and I see a bright future for it and a bright future for all the arts in Croatia. I know many people will disagree since in general people don’t have money to buy art but I think art always finds a way into people’s hearts.

Thank you for this chat.

– Thank You for having me!


Video credits:

Sketching process (2014)

Video: Pekmezmed

Music: Rafael Milčić

Notebook by: Long Way Back

Find Pekmezmed on:

Instagram: https://instagram.com/pekmezmed

Behance: https://www.behance.net/pekmezmed