Fick uses art to showcase Serbia

The University of Alabama is renowned for the outreach its students perform after their college years, though few can say they find themselves 5,491 miles away in Novi Pazar, Serbia, shortly after graduation.

Novi Pazar, a town with a municipal population of around 100,410 circa 2011, resides in the southwest of Serbia, near Kosovo. From September 2013 to June 2014, the town became the home of 2012 UA alumna and Fulbright Scholar Emma Fick.

“International scholarship has always been important to me, and I applied for Fulbright because it would allow me to learn about a different way of life,” Fick said. “I love the English language, so of course teaching was also an important factor, but primarily I wanted to amass new cultural experiences.”

Fick, a former student of the English and art history departments, did not only go to the country to teach English. Fick’s grandmother’s aunt married a Serbian man whose family helped her grandmother and her family escape Austria during World War II. While in Serbia, Fick found the grave of her great-great-grandmother, who stayed in Belgrade during the war.

A former intern of Creative Campus, Fick worked in Novi Pazar to establish service projects to bring art to the community. Her projects include the painting of murals in a children’s hospital, which engaged Novi Pazar’s university’s artists working alongside elementary and high school students and cultural activities for students to take a break from exams and lectures from visiting faculty on the importance of English.

“I think the service projects are necessary because there are so many hardships that make the community feel helpless – unemployment well above 50 percent, religious tensions, feelings of isolation – and projects like these offer a way in which the students can make a difference,” Fick said. “Learning to take initiative is a skill that will serve the students for their entire lives, and these projects also offer something they can put on their resume when applying to scholarships within Serbia and abroad.”

Rachel Raimist, co-director at Creative Campus, worked with Fick when she was a student. Raimist said someone like Fick was perfect for a group like Creative Campus and did well to unite the interns on large projects.

“She’s really brilliant; when she speaks, the other interns take notice,” Raimist said. “She was a definite standout, and she had really great ideas that the intern body turned into action, and that speaks volumes. I think she’s interested in bringing people together, people you wouldn’t necessarily connect, and I think that’s a real strength.”

One of the projects Fick worked on when she was a student is The Nest, which brought together UA students and other Tuscaloosa residents for an artistic project working with debris from the 2011 tornadoes.

Hank Lazer, a Senior Fellow in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative, was formerly the executive director in Creative Campus and worked with Fick in The Nest and said her work has flourished since then.

“Her projects at Creative Campus – particularly the post-tornado Nest project – were characterized by an extraordinary mixture of vision and follow through. When Emma has a good idea, she also has the persistence to bring it to fruition,” Lazer said.

Fick spent a lot of her time in Serbia working on personal art projects, which she named “Snippets.” Her work characterizes everyday life and people in Novi Pazar, and Raimist and Lazer both described them as very contemporary, whimsical and illustrative like a travel log or graphic novel. Her work can be found online at emmasylvie.tumblr.com or on her Facebook page.

“The things that we teach, the skills that student interns develop as part of Creative Campus, she’s been able to take out into the world,” Raimist said. “She can demonstrate her knowledge solidly in any academic arena, but it’s more than that. What she knows informs what she does.”

The townspeople of Novi Pazar liked Fick’s work as well, and she was able to showcase her work at the Novi Pazar Culture Center. She chose 70 Snippets she said were most emblematic of Novi Pazar and had students translate the captions into Serbian.

“The town loved Snippets. The best compliments I got were from locals, who often told me it allowed them to see their community with new eyes,” Fick said. “It was very interesting for them to see themselves from an impartial and fresh perspective – how often do we get to see that? Perhaps the most touching comment I got: ‘You’ve let me fall in love with my city again.’”

Fick will engage in a four-month illustration grant from the U.S. Embassy in Serbia this year. Fick will lead illustration workshops in eight different cities, and at the end of the year she will publish a book called “Snippets of Serbia.”

She said she encourages students at the University to seek out grants and funding for extended trips abroad, and said her time at the University working with Creative Campus has been meaningful in pursuing her art and work in Serbia.

“I found working as an intern with Creative Campus extraordinarily meaningful; it taught me to design projects that would use art and creativity to connect with the community,” Fick said. “Providing a platform for beauty and creation is essential for the human spirit.”

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