Maja Bajevic, Women at Work — The Observers, 2000, five-day performance / video (8’20”), Château Voltaire, Ferney Voltaire, France, 2000.


Women at Work – The Observers

The famous painting Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse’ (ca. 1664) by Dutch painter Frans Hals served as the reference point for this photograph. Staging myself with four women refugees from Srebrenica — Fazila Efendic, Nirha Efendic, Zlatija Efendic and Hatidza Verlasevic — in the same position and the same clothing as Hals’s models, is a way of questioning the usual conception and prejudice people have regarding refugees. The second level of reflection is the role of the Dutch observers presented through a remake of a painting made in the Dutch-Flemish style.

The Dutch forces were, namely, part of the UN observers who where supposed to protect Srebrenica, but instead let Srebrenica fall into the hands of the Serb army. The massacre and ethnic cleansing of the male Muslim population occurred in mid-July 1995.

The production of the group portrait was followed by a performance at the Château Voltaire in France, where the women refugees and myself enjoyed leisurely days sowing and embroidering. We were accompanied by a woman artist from Sarajevo, Alma Suljevic, otherwise a performance and installation artist, who tried to paint our group portrait in oil. Thus, the entire constellation was a game of appearances, as the role of each of the participants became slightly twisted. The refugees were not actual noble ladies living in the castle, nor was the artist, ‘observing’ and portraying us, a painter skilled in Flemish style.