Different registers of engagements with reality
Socially and politically engaged art practices from different corners of the world are usually considered as part of the same art discourse and cultural background, and often interpreted as being in opposition to formally and aesthetically determined art. However, the completely different political contexts mean that social and political issues in art never play the same role in the different art communities. What sound like attractive issues for research and study for artists working in more liberal democratic environments, who deal with the limits of democracy itself and the effect of those limits on the social quality of everyday life, do not, for various reasons, have the same relevance for artists concerned with contemporary global political strategies and their impact on the governmental policies of the new emerged and established countries in Europe, or of other peripheral cultural environments.
Some cultural contexts seem to show resistance towards such social engagement owing to a more complex political climate marked by serious threats to political stability, or as a result of differently structured art institutions and policies. The usual East/West cultural metaphors and dichotomies are too restrictive to allow any extrapolation explaining these differences in the approach of the artists towards political and social engagement. Zizek’s critique of what he calls "liberal fundamentalism" is based on a similar perspective. In his view, "the perverse game of making a big problem when the rights of a serial killer or suspected war criminal are violated, while ignoring massive violations of ‘ordinary people’s rights" actually results from the silent consensus of liberal-democratic hegemony not to change anything. 
It is important to locate the actual reasons for the different stances that artists take towards what they consider as socially and politically engaged art, but their art can also result in a constructive overcoming of the contextual framework itself.
Kosova: Suzana, on one of the few occasions that we met in the corridors of the myopic British academia, we discussed the fact that the "pre-conceived" conventions of European political philosophy do not easily translate into the cultures of the geographies we are more familiar with. And, in that conversation, I remember you mentioning a conference organised in Skopje in which the guest speaker, who was invited from a Western scene, had serious difficulty in communicating his paper, based on the principle of "political correctness", to the young local audience, which had completely different views on the concept. Can you recall the details?
The event in question (a lecture given by David Eliot at the Museum of
Contemporary Art in Skopje in the mid-nineties) unexpectedly clarified
some historical and contemporary debates about the art scene in Macedonia.
Some of the points made by Eliot, and the questions posed by the more
informed members of the public (e.g. "Whether there is a 'left' and
'right' in art theory?"), were provocative, because it was the first
time since the debates of social realism that art and society were put
within the same context. This theme had become taboo following some very
heated discussions and conflicts among the communist leaders in the fifties;
and it therefore came as a surprise that art, society, economy and politics
could be discussed outside of the inevitable traps of ideology. Academic
art education in the local Faculty of Fine Arts is still determined by
strong modernist and anti-ethical principles that have been embraced by
artists and art critics as an expression of their revolt and desire to
critically distance themselves from the social realism of the 1950s and
1960s. The paradox is that what had once been a revolutionary act in the
age of state-controlled art inevitably became conservative in the liberal
seventies and eighties of the 20th century. Aesthetics were equated with
abstract, content-less art, and for a long time there was no room for
any kind of engagement with "other" elements. Many artists of
the pre-transitional generations still take this easy and safe attitude
towards social and political problems in society, giving only one excuse:
that it enables them to keep art concepts independent of societal and
political power structures.
> Illusion of independence
Milevska: Do you think that there are some comparisons that can be made with regard to these different registers of engagements with reality in the contemporary art scene in Turkey? Would you draw some lines of connection between historical social realism and contemporary socially engaged art in Turkey?
There are similarities between the histories of Macedonia and Turkey in
terms of their distinctly modernist ideologies; yet, I guess, a full engagement
in social issues has been officially side-stepped in Turkey: firstly,
in favour of a future-oriented, yet classless, conflict-free construction
of society; and then, from the fifties on, in favour of the myth of the
artistic individual untainted by political urgency. Yet contemporary art
production in Turkey seems to have a pronounced investment in a confrontational
politicality. This is the constitutive factor of this production. A series
of deprivations has produced a state, or an illusion, of political autonomy
among the artists who have pursued radical and experimental paths. In
general, there is a certain sense of their having been rejected from the
social sphere: the previous generation was traumatised by the brutal coup
d'état of 1980, and my generation experienced the shock of the
Sivas massacre in 1993, in which fundamentalists burned 37 communist intellectuals
to death. In the mid-nineties, the explosion of nationalism, civil war,
terrorism of the Kurdish guerrillas, the army and the anti-terror squads
and violence in everyday life reinforced the need for an enunciative response
to the urgencies of social issues.
> Subaltern tensions
Kosova: Have the recent ethnic tensions had any impact on the approach to the political in art scenes in Macedonia?
I have to admit that for me personally it is very difficult to answer
this question. Taking into account that I belong to the Macedonian ethnic
majority and am employed in a governmental cultural institution (the low-budget
Open Graphic Art Studio, attached to the Museum of the City of Skopje),
I must emphasise the fact that I cannot take the position of the "subaltern
subjects"  without sounding like a ventriloquist who manipulates
puppets and gives a voice to those who supposedly cannot speak. Not that
I want to assert that it is impossible to talk about these issues only
because we should enable the "subaltern" to speak for themselves;
but I need to position myself first before entering this dangerous field
of interpretation involving problems of representation, inclusion and
> Local points of friction
Milevska: My last question is related to similar phenomena and differences between social and political art in the Turkish art scene. Is it possible to distinguish different motives for each of these streams, and is there any radical activist project?
The oppositional voice in Turkey or, more specifically, the Leftism of
the last two decades, has operated less in terms of economy politics than
of resistance in response to cultural conflicts, such as those concerning
the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, rifts between the urban
population and newcomers to the big cities, debates on corruption, "deep
state" etc. One strand of the Left seem to have misinterpreted the
concept of anti-imperialism and recently came dangerously near to employing
ultra-nationalist rhetoric. Another strand has always been critical of
the kind of introverted standpoint that perceives world events reductively,
solely as they relate to national concerns; yet the whole force of this
latter strand is being spent on developing a correct stance in view of
a series of traumas, the violence of everyday life and numerous social
conflicts. The contemporary art scene is to a large extent embedded in
this second strand, and the issues that are addressed remain limited to
those local frictions. This means there is a danger of artworks collapsing
to become national allegories and expressions of narcissistic trauma.
Just as the radical socialists in Turkey (with the exception of anarchists)
are passive and hesitant in approaching anti-capitalist and global democracy
movements, contemporary art production stumbles in its attempts to transcend
its local agenda. Links to other geographies are rather of a cultural
nature, such as the shared Ottoman past, the tensions between Islam and
secularism, Mediterranean machismo etc. I tried earlier to point out the
paradox surrounding the illusionary autonomy of the artist, which allows
him/her to offer a harsh critique of the political situation and system
of moral values, but at the expense of direct communication with a larger
audience. This lack of direct confrontation (with institutions and the
public) also harms the potential for activism. Not much artistic intervention
is practised in the social space and, what is more, the exhibition space
is too often surrendered to the luxury of the audience. A recent show
in Istanbul brought together young artists from different cities around
the country. Halil Altindere, who curated the show, used the suggestive
title "I'm Too Sad to Kill You" (referring to a project of Marc
Beijl) to frame the provocative character common to the contributing artists.
There were a number of creative speculations on some delicate social issues.
However, the whole concept was hijacked by the prominent presence of artists
from the Kurdish part of Turkey, and the show was perceived by the event-thirsty
media as heralding a post-traumatic era for that region.
Repeating Lenin, Zagreb 2001, p. 10