The name of photographer, artist and activist Illah van Oijen is not unknown in Bratislava. After she arrived from the Netherlands and eventually settled in Slovakia, she co-founded the Dobrý Trh urban market in Bratislava and helped to create an active neighbourhood community. On September 18, she will speak at the event Humans of [fjúžn] at this year’s [fjúžn] festival.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Slovaks often view expats as just temporary residents in this country. You have been here for 15 years and that no longer sounds temporary at all. Do people still ask why are you living here, even after all these years? What do you tell them?
Illah van Oijen (IvO): It is quite a common question, usually asked by people who do not know me. If they know me, they do not need to ask. When I do get the question, I usually make references to either the great climate Slovakia has or the richness of the natural resources in this country. I think it is worth mentioning, as many Slovaks are not aware it is a real treasure. I also often refer to the quality of life in Slovakia which has more to do with family ties; people have different level of work-life balance than in the Netherlands.
TSS: Do you feel like an expat in Slovakia now or more as a local?
IvO: I feel very uncomfortable with the whole concept of being an expat because it implies a certain kind of living and travelling and working abroad that is not really close to me. And it implies that you are leaving after a certain period of time and you are only here for work. I have never been an expat, I was an international student who decided to stay. I always feel like a foreigner, but that does not mean that Slovakia, Bratislava, is not my home.
TSS: You came to Slovakia in 2005. How did you feel in the city back then? Were you accepted to the community?