Artful Visions and Global Ambitions: A Candid Conversation with Jana Garvanlieva, Founder of Pioneri, on Nurturing Macedonian & Balkan Talent, Breaking Boundaries, and Shaping the Future of Contemporary Art

Dive headfirst into the creative cosmos with Jana Garvanlieva, the mastermind behind Pioneri! 🎨 Buckle up for a chill chat where Jana spills the beans on what lit the spark at Pioneri, how they’re turning the art scene upside down, and the wild adventures of artists taking on the world. From juggling the vibes of physical and online spaces to keeping it real about Balkan authenticity. So, snag a cozy spot and let’s groove with Jana as we unravel the vivid journey of Pioneri in the hip realm of contemporary art.

Fun fact: Jana spilled all the artsy details in an interview with Monocle and boasts a Master’s in Arts Management from Milano’s Universita Cattolica. Oh, and did we mention the exhibition in Barcelona? Yeah, it’s in the coolest hood – Gracia, the heart of Barcelona! 🌟✨

DEKORAMA: What got you started with Pioneri, and what gap did you spot in the art scene here in Macedonia and the Balkans that you wanted to fill? 

Jana Gavranlieva: Pioneri is a curatorial platform and gallery in Skopje, Macedonia that aims to showcase and support emerging artists from the Balkan region and beyond. The creation of Pioneri was inspired by the fast-developing emerging art market which includes ultra-contemporary artworks of the past 20 years. For the record and according to the Art Basel and USB Art Market Report of 2023, this market segment has experienced an incredible increase in value and appreciation in the last 4 years.
However, in the Macedonian art market, young artists such as painters, photographers, and illustrators are often overlooked by private galleries. Research on the art market in the Western Balkans has revealed that these galleries face a significant issue in terms of not promoting young artists or facilitating their entry into the international market. The lack of interest, suitable exhibition space, and media coverage for emerging artists contribute to a limited development in taste for contemporary and ultra-contemporary art. This, in turn, results in low awareness and a lack of education among potential buyers, collectors, and art consumers.

DEKORAMA: Jana, balancing a physical gallery and an online platform brings unique opportunities and challenges. How do you leverage each aspect to fulfill Pioneri’s vision of connecting artists and art lovers effectively? 

JG: The physical exhibition space hosts thematic, conceptual and solo exhibitions of artists from the cherry-picked collection of 50 national and regional emerging artists. This enables the public to enter the art world of the online and physically experience these carefully selected art pieces. The physical space is also there for the spectator to receive curatorial advice on the value and significance of the artwork. It is important to mention that art events and art consulting is crucial for the development of this sector.
The online gallery displays a clear and simple presentation of the artist and his/her bio. This online space is inevitably important for the promotion of the artist in the social media spectrum and drives the interest for a potential physical exhibition. It serves as a platform for education by providing ample educational content on topics such as renowned artists, art fairs, global art trends, and exceptional exhibitions worldwide. Additionally, it facilitates national and international promotion and enables for a fruitful presentation of the artist nationally and abroad.

DEKORAMA: In your interview of the Nov 2023 issue of Monocle you say that there is something authentic about coming from the Balkan region. Can you elaborate on what defines this authenticity for you and how it is reflected in the artists you showcase?

JG: The Balkan region possesses distinct characteristics shaped by its history, social and political development, religion and cultural heritage. 

The relatively lower standard of living in this region has resulted in an art scene that can be described as raw and authentic with uniqueness that appeals to the broader world. I believe that artists tackle art differently and express themselves with greater motivation when times are harder.

DEKORAMA: How does the work of artists like Mila DobrevskaAleksandar ZafirovskiTijana Stojkovska, Filip Velkovski, and Ana Jovanovska reflect their understanding of “authentic Macedonian/Balkan” art? What specific elements or themes define this authenticity for them?

JG: Mila Dobrevska employs bold, wide brushes and vibrant colors, showcasing both her passion and the exploration of her instinct through the subconscious. All done with an almost easiness of Italian style, an influence from her studies in Ravenna while maintaining the cultural heritage from her country, Macedonia. Aleksandar Zafirovski draws inspiration from the beautiful meadows of our nature which he incorporates into his ever extending landscapes. Tijana Stojkovska finds inspiration in the significant brutalist architecture of both our local and global architectural heritage, as well as the monumental appearance of our buildings. Ana Jovanovska explores and questions narratives through the symbols and structures of the Macedonian alphabet, while Filip Velkovski delves into the archives of memories, historical events, and dreams, and employing diverse layers of meaning to them all. What sets Filip Velkovski apart in the Macedonian art scene is his impeccable talent, refusal to conform to conventional thoughts, and his ability to offer something truly unique and profound.

DEKORAMA: What challenges do emerging artists in the Macedonian art scene face, and how does Pioneri assist them in overcoming these obstacles?

JG: Pioneri is an exhibition space that takes a curatorial approach in the development of the supporting artist  ranging from an initial idea through to the process of art creation and development. We often assist artists during their exhibitions at fairs and design weeks, ensuring a successful showcase.
Our goal is to organize engaging exhibitions that attract a minimum of 100 visitors. These events are accompanied by a suitable ambiance, featuring DJs, music, food, and a space where people can come together and discuss the artwork. Additionally, we are expanding our efforts by investing in exhibitions outside our country to promote artists’ work. Ultimately, we aim to provide artists with a positive and fulfilling experience as they navigate their artistic journey by collaborating with galleries.

DEKORAMA: What are the hopes of artists like Mila Dobrevska, Aleksandar Zafirovski, Tijana Stojkovska, Filip Velkovski, and Ana Jovanovska for the future of the Macedonian/regional Balkan/global art scene?

JG: There are numerous opportunities that the art market offers to the artists.  Mila Dobrevska will be having a solo exhibition in Gracia, Barcelona next month. Aleksandar has already achieved significant success with sales in various international galleries located in France, the United Arab Emirates, and Sweden. Filip is making his mark in the United Kingdom and Glasgow market where he has already participated in several exhibitions, one in London, the exhibition of Royal Society of British Artists’s Rising Stars.  Ana resides in Tokyo and is actively engaged in multiple exhibitions and book projects. Tijana collaborates with the fashion industry and her digital illustrations are utilised for large-scale projects such as Macedonian TV series and hotel decorations.

DEKORAMA: Navigating the global art market can be challenging for emerging artists. How does Pioneri help them overcome these barriers and gain international recognition?

JG: The key to development is networking, as well as having a strong educational background and a refined sense of aesthetics. It involves collaborations with other brands in the creative industries, participating in art fairs that cater to this specific market segment and are thriving alongside major art fairs. Furthermore, taking part in artistic residencies and engaging in international online promotion within renowned art centers worldwide can also be highly advantageous. Opportunities are constantly arising, and all you need to do is keep an eye out for them.

DEKORAMA: Are there plans to expand Pioneri’s „physical“presence beyond Skopje, for example, in Barcelona? If so, how would you adapt the concept to new locations?

JG: The pop-up event in Barcelona was born through an extensive collaboration and brainstorming with Sibonei, one of the most unique brands that have come out in recent years. Sibonei is a scented candles brand that brilliantly fuses Spanish creativity with a French perfumery expertise.
When planning the event I drew an inspiration from the ‘casa nomade’ concept that I had seen from the time I lived in Milan. The event will showcase the artwork and jewellery of abstract painter Mila Dobrevska.
For the opening, we have arranged a food installation by Jil Zander, and a curated wine selection by Frecuencia Vinos.

DEKORAMA: How do you see Pioneri adapting and continuously innovating to stay relevant and impactful in the constantly evolving art world?

JG: By constantly educating ourselves, attending visual conversations and webinars on gallery management, and learning how to utilize new tools for social media promotion. Additionally, participating in art fairs allows us to not only gain insights into gallery strategies and various art styles, but also to establish new contacts for potential collaborations. Furthermore, we prioritize visiting important exhibitions to stay up to date with the latest trends in the art world. We actively follow the development of art markets and keep ourselves informed about the latest happenings in the creative industries. For instance, we find value in analyzing marketing strategies employed by fashion brands, platforms related to health and wellness, as well as film promotions.

DEKORAMA: Having mentioned the above, what are you personal tastes in art and film?

JG: One of the most impressive exhibitions i have had the chance to see in the Pace Gallery, New York was Mark Rothko’s ‘Dark Pallet’. It simply took me through his personal journey of the last years of his life with an impeccable healing element to it. Hilma Af Klint in Tate Modern, London which I recently saw was another inspiring exhibition of THE FIRST ABSTRACT FEMALE ARTIST which decides to publish her work 20 years later in order for the world to be able to understand and relate to it. From the emerging artists scene i personally admire the works of Adelisa Selimbasic and Sophie von Hellermann.

 I really enjoy movies  like ‘1917’, ‘Spencer’, ‘Dunkirk’,’ A single Man’, ‘Gabby on the Roof in July’, ‘Le Bonheur’, ‘Lobster’ and many others …that have personally touched me.