We talk beauty and borders with German-born artist Elona
by - OG magazine

Elona ( @unesjomajo ) caught my eye on Instagram a few weeks back, whilst I was aimlessly scrolling through. The young creative was staring dead into the camera with piercing green eyes that just demanded your attention. This refreshing real image also displayed the artists’ acne – a skin condition that affects 1/4 people in the world, but something we rarely see on insta. So unsurprisingly the image was accompanied by a whole host of ignorant and pathetically pointless cures about how she should `fix’ her skin. Perhaps the most dull-witted of all-from a user suggesting she rub sperm into her skin. It was clear that these individuals where simply too uncomfortable with the truth, being subjected to constant filtering and editing on social media further endorses societies unattainable beauty standards.

Sick of being subjected to these standards Elona used her skills to begin a photo project movement- titled `Redefining Beauty’ : she honed in on her photographic talents to challenge societies standards encouraging participants to embrace their natural states; a project which will be explored in much more depth in the first print issue of O GOCË- so keep your eyes peeled.

But aside from starting the movement, the multi-disciplinary artist’s passions span from diaspora, writing, politics, photography and culture. Using her social following to create as well as educate, we spoke to the German-born babe about her roots, social media and her year so far.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

My name is Elona, I was born and raised in Germany but my roots are in Albania/Kosova.

I travel a lot to Kosova and Albania, maybe two or three times a year.

I can not imagine spending a year without filling my soul up with the scent of my motherland.

My free time I spend by writing poetry, photographing or getting on the nerves of my siblings while loudly singing Qifteli-songs under the shower 😀 Moreover me and my bike are inseparable, we visit nature nearly every day and I volunteer in some anti-racist organisations in which we do a lot of projects for and WITH immigrants, refugees and german citizens.

Where is home for you?

I think the question “where is home for you” is as difficult to explain as the question “who are you/what defines you”.

First of all, I believe that home is where your soul finds peace. Home can be anywhere where you feel comfortable and loved, anywhere where you feel connected. Home is not supposed to necessarily be a fixed place.

Anyway if we define home as a place then for us immigrants this question becomes harder to answer that for people who don’t have an immigrant background because we live and have been raised between/in two different worlds, two different cultures.

I had a lot of identity “crisis” as a child. Kosova is what I call my home. I always felt more connected to Kosova since there is where my roots are. Since I was a child I was very conscious about my ancestry and all the sorrows it had to survive. I always had unconditional love for that country. But at that time the distance made it very hard for me to build a community there. I was not able to connect to the people in my age and to identify myself with them cause travelling there for a few weeks never allowed me to have enough time to explore myself, the people around me and the environment.

So I tried to connect to the people over here in Germany. But I did not feel like my home was Germany, even if I was born here it just felt like a “stopover”, I always told myself that “soon we will go back to live in Kosova”. As a child, I experienced a lot of moments in Germany when I felt like a stranger. It happened that I did not felt “welcomed”, that I felt shame for my outlandish background. There even was a short time when I asked my parents if they could call me “Lena” because it sounded more german. I felt like the German kids would accept me more if I would be more like them. That time period was the only one in my life when I denied my ancestry – I was an innocent little girl trying to find myself in the expectations of other people. Today I am thankful for a lot of possibilities that Germany offered me, and that my parents sacrificed their homeland for my future. Growing up between two cultures – even with all the difficulties you may experience – enlarges your horizon and surely is a privilege. Anyway the adrenaline-like feeling and the joyful tears when I arrive at the border of Kosova, after a two days car ride with my whole family, is the biggest proof that Kosova is where my home is. My body may cross all the paths of the world but my soul lays between the mountains of Kosova.

How has your 2017 been so far?

My 2017  so far was pretty good. I finished my exams at the college of further education and am waiting to get my graduation certificate next week. I realized a photo project in Kosova which has the idea to break the beauty standards that the society has set for us and to start embracing our pure selves. We, humans, are more than a skin, more than a face and more than a body. I photographed some amazing humans in Prishtina which also live with so-called “imperfections” and together with our photos we want to inspire more and more people to love their own selves.

‘All immigrants are artists’ what are your views on this?

Well, I think that most of the art rises out of pain and love. (We should not generalize all immigrants because each one of us is an individual that experiences his life differently than others and we should not forget that we are so much more than just “immigrants” that first of all we are humans) And since a lot of immigrants feel grief for their “lost” home or a big love for their roots – surely a lot of them turn these feelings into beautiful art. I know a lot of artists who have an “outlandish” background, so I guess that “living between two cultures” – as I said earlier – widens your horizon and inspires you to realize your feelings in photography, poetry, paintings or any other art.

What are your views on social media?

Without social media, I would not be the same person as I am today! I always tell people that it’s up to you how you use social media and what you take from it. Platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook allowed me to create a worldwide community which helped me to connect with people from all around the world by sharing my art with others. It also enriched me a lot to talk to people from other cultures. The technology of nowadays gives the people their own voice – we can easily get a look from another perspective. It allows us to be less pre-judgmental and it’s like our worldview is not limited only from the standpoint of white men. It’s finally the time to pass the microphone to the minority groups which have been kept silent for long enough. It’s not enough to be book-smart, you gotta be streetwise to survive in this superficial society. Social media can be defined as streets that we cross, where we meet people, listen to them and discuss with. Places, where we learn about knowledge of human nature. We need more dialogues to understand human actions and this is what social media nowadays make easier since the distance between the countries doesn’t always allow us to start some face to face conversations and listen to each other’s experiences and intentions. Sure there are also a lot of negative aspects on social media (like cyber-mobbing or being overrun by the speed of technology) but if we all would use social media more consciously – we could make this world a better place.

How long have you been pursuing photography for and what motivated you to begin?

I have a lot of passions but I think my biggest one is photography. For me, photography is the chance to spread feelings without saying a single word. Photographs talk for themselves. They create different emotions in every individual and makes us all feel some type of way without any description needed. 

Some of your photography has such a diaspora feeling to it – and captures so perfectly home for many Albanian refugees/ immigrants – is there a message you wish to share through your work?

Yeah, I  have done a lot of street photography in Albania and in Kosova because I love to capture our motherland in that very moment. It seems like my photographs stop the time. Every time I look at the photos I feel like I can telepath myself into that moment, to smell the scents of the streets (for example the scent of burek coming out of a bakery lol) or to hear the people talking in my mother tongue. Photographies of my motherland help me to calm my homesickness a bit. It fills me with joy when I notice that other people share my feelings that they can relate to me. Kosova and Albania are changing every year more and more and I think nobody notices it as much as we immigrants when we come back to visit these countries again. Time is fast and my photography makes it possible that one day I can remember the streets, the people and the atmosphere as they were back in the days. 

How would you describe your photography style?

Authentic, raw, real.

I mostly do street photography because I love the realness in it. I love the vulnerability of the humans I capture and the mystic about the anonymous persons. We don’t know their names, their stories or their voices and yet they still make us feel something. I really appreciate photographing humans in their everyday lives. Posed photos mostly don’t impress me.

Tunes you listening to at the moment?

Bratsch – Nami Naz Ouni

Are there any music artists you admire and why?

Elina Duni and ANDRRA. They both turn old traditional Albanian songs into their own modern unique art-pieces but also publish self-written songs (!). Even though I totally adore the old Albanian songs this artist also manages to make these old songs more attractive for the new generations without losing the authenticity of the original ones. I recommend you to listen to “Fellenza” by Elina Duni and “Kalle Llamen” by ANDRRA which deals with the issues of child marriage.

Interview by: @gericela_