The first thing Michal Siarek saw in Skopje was the construction of a 25-metre-tall figure of a warrior on horseback, which, he later found out, was a statue of Alexander the Great.
In 2010, the Macedonian government launched ‘Skopje 2014’, an ambitious makeover of the city designed to attract tourists by drawing on its alleged ancient past. Alexander the Great, one of history’s best known rulers, was proclaimed as the father of modern Macedonia, a poorly developed, former Yugoslav state that has existed in its present form for less than 30 years.
Greece is strongly opposed to any claims to this piece of history, which, it believes, is exclusively Greek. As the dispute has intensified, Greece has blocked its neighbour’s attempts to join NATO and the European Union.
A scheme that was supposed to lift the nation’s spirits, according to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, has instead broken its spine. As political turmoil engulfed the country, which has been without a functioning government since 2015, Macedonians themselves began to accuse Gruevski of reinventing history and to criticise his overtly nationalist policies.
Alexander is based on the relationship between history, myths and pop culture, and the attempts to mix them all together in the construction of a national identity. The project initially focused on exploring longing for recognition and pride in a relatively young nation but ended up raising further questions – about the structure of modern myths in nation states and attempts to reinterpret history in global contexts.
Who? Michal Siarek
Docking March 6 - 26
Working on Alexander
About the history of Macedonia
Michal Siarek is a student at the photography department of The Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz. He is fascinated by the Balkan Peninsula issues. He spent three years on his debut essay “Alexander” focused on myths, identity and nationalism in one of the ex-Yugoslav republics. He is a nominee for the 2016 Joop Swart Masterclass and co-founder of Paper Beats Rock publishing house.
Independent curator in photography and film
" When I first discovered the project Alexander by Michal Siarek in the Show OFF section of the Krakow Photofestival in 2016, I accidentally interpreted his large format scenes as being staged constructions. Therefore I was not surprised to find out that he was doing his graduate studies at The Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz, Poland. Siarek tries to capture a reality he discovered by accident while travelling to a country we all have heard of but do not really know: the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. Siarek plunges us into the young history of this country, now subject to a radical historical re-construction ignited by a wish to reconnect with its supposed roots. Roots going back as far as the heyday of Alexander the Great.
To find a provocative way to bring his story to a wider audience, Siarek is looking for collaborations with specialists and creatives. His aim is to gain and deliver an in-depth knowledge about the current mechanisms at play in Macedonia. Another visual strategy as an addition to the large format prints could proof to be sufficient to let us participate in his investigative journey.
A three week stay in Amsterdam will help him to take necessary steps and give him a lot of inspiration from experts in the field of visual and digital storytelling."