Text: Haley Raphael and Matthew Griffin
TKV – whose pseudonym stands for “The Kraljica Vila,” a mix of English and Serbian that means “The Queen Fairy” – is known for using intricate stencils, often on a large scale, and filling the backgrounds of her works with flowers or geometric patterns. However, this distinctive style took time to evolve. Over the years, TKV’s style has been influenced by the city she calls home, just as her works have in turn helped shape the ambience of its streets.
TKV began creating street art when she was sixteen. At that age, she said that she was just starting to “pay attention to and discover the world,” focusing her paintings on things that she liked. Yet, as she developed as an artist, she realized that she wanted to say something with her paintings.
This does not mean that all of her works have explicit messages. One of the most gratifying parts of painting, for TKV, is the fact that Belgrade’s pedestrians can each take away a different meaning from the same painting. In the end, the real piece of art exists “somewhere in between” her and her audience.
Aleksandar Djordjevic, the author of Street Art Belgrade, a book of photos of street art in the Serbian capital, noticed that TKV’s transformation has been visible in her style as well as her themes. Her early work featured simpler monochromatic or two-colored stencils, which have evolved over time into the “multicolored, very elaborate, very flamboyant” works that she creates today.
Belgrade has its own charm: TKV within the Belgrade scene
TKV has developed her own style, relishing the lack of artistic control or regulations in the street art scene. Belgrade is nevertheless the background for TKV’s work and, as such, has influenced it.
“My work isn’t always completely connected to the city,” she said, “but still I’m a Belgrade girl, and I was raised here, and all of my mindset is shaped by it.”
According to Djordjevic, Belgrade has a vibrant graffiti scene that functions with relative ease, characterized by a sense of independence and a sort of humor. These characteristics have led to an outpouring of thoughts on the rough, urban canvas.
TKV echoed Djordjevic’s sentiment: “Belgrade has its own charm; people are like Belgrade is the next Berlin. No, Belgrade is Belgrade.”
The city is a special canvas. Belgrade patches together quaint Central European façades, brutalist high-rise apartments, and even soaring Orthodox churches – sometimes all on the same street.
“I understand, Berlin is awesome. But we have our own thing,” TKV said. “Belgrade is completely different, but it still has its own freedom. Its own type of weird freedom, and I appreciate that a lot.”
The city’s influence is clearest to TKV when she is out painting, often late at night. When she is alone –with only the empty streets and a few cans of spray paint – she can see the city differently and identify new places to paint. And when the streets aren’t empty, TKV still gets a different view of her city, a look into the society within which she and her art exist.
“Sometimes it’s super beautiful and sometimes it’s a little bit scary, because you can see that there are different types of people out on the streets in the middle of the night,” she said. “ But that is also maybe a good thing, because you are more aware of the society that you are living in. So, the city influences you and your style and you influence the city.”
Belgrade’s rough exterior gives TKV a unique chance to make her mark on the city. Buildings are poorly maintained, providing a great deal of empty space on which to work. If not filled by artwork, this space is often used for billboards or political advertisements.
“I mean, I know the concept of private property, that’s true,” she said. “But if you talk about big walls, it’s much better for the city and for people to have murals around, than be crowded with billboards and advertisements, because you know it’s just hell.”
TKV pays close attention to how her work relates to the space around it, helping contribute to the city rather than stand out from it, according to Djordjevic. “I think [her work] has become, over the years, part of Belgrade.”
It’s the only one I have: A sometimes-difficult relationship with Belgrade
Despite the contribution that her work has made and continues to make to Belgrade, TKV still exists without the support of the city’s authorities. She avoids work with the local government, as her independence is a crucial part of what gives her art meaning.
“If you look at the graffiti street art culture, that is the most important thing there is, because part of the culture needs to stay illegal in order to have some kind of sharpness to it. I just don’t want to slip into making pretty funny pictures, because there is no point, you have to keep your edge.”
Even so, TKV’s work and sense of self are deeply connected to Belgrade.
“I love this city, I really love it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s impossible, but it’s the only one I have, and I want to make it a little better… deep down I am a Belgrade girl and it’s shaped me. I love it and appreciate it, so I try to contribute to it.”
Haley Raphael and Matthew Griffin are American journalism students who spent the summer of 2019 working in BBC and BIRN in Belgrade.