The Fairy Queen of Belgrade
Since the invention of the aerosol bomb, that good friend to
vandals, Belgrade has had a lot of street graffiti. As in other
European cities, most of Belgrade's graffiti is from teen-boy fans
for football teams and pop stars. Once these lads grow up or move
into tougher parts of town, they spray the walls for street gangs,
political campaigns, and organized crime.
So, although I was impressed by the anger and variety of
Belgrade graffiti, I wasn't much impressed by its aesthetics. Until
I found a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe sprayed on the side of a
Edgar in Belgrade didn’t look like a happy guy -- while living,
Poe never was happy -- but I enjoyed seeing him anyway. I was
pleased to see Poe still capturing the imagination of Serbian boys,
especially since Poe died in 1849.
Later, though, not too far from this graffiti stencil, I found
another such portrait: noted English novelist, Virginia Woolf.
Later, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo showed up. Then, many stencils of
flowers. Milk cartons. Beck, the pop star. Jim Morrison of the
Doors. They were all done in the same cut-out style. They were
obviously created by the same artist, and she was obviously a woman.
There isn't a Serbian boy in the world with enough guts to tag a
garbage can with Virginia Woolf. Most of these stencils had a small,
discreet set of initials cut into them: TFQ.
Stencil art is extremely plentiful in some cities: Rome, New
York, Melbourne. It's still rare in Belgrade. Modern street-
stencils could not appear until the invention of the spray can and
The simplest way to make an effective stencil is to cut-and-
paste a digital image, turn that image into stark black-and-white
with a graphics filter, blow it up to the proper size, and then cut
it out with a scalpel from a sheet of stiff cardboard. A sheet of
rolled-up plastic is somewhat easier to hide from the police. So
21st-century stencil-art is really electronic art. It's a street-
Since graffiti is of course illegal, the Internet is the best
way for stencillists to find each other and talk about their craft.
I was curious about "TFQ," so I asked around. It took me a while,
but I found the artist's email. She agreed to an interview.
We went out for a beer, or we would have had a beer, if TFQ
were old enough to drink. TFQ is "The Fairy Queen," and The Fairy
Queen is a 17-year-old Belgrade art student.
The Fairy Queen learned how to make stencils in Rome. This
means that Belgrade's best street art is Italian cultural imperialism
at work. The Fairy Queen isn't Italian, but her father has lived in
Rome. That's where she first discovered stencils in the streets,
especially the work of "Sten," a rather famous Roman mastermind of
the one-sheet stencil. Sten is a troublemaker so advanced that he
boldly has Italian shows of international street art inside Roman
squats. The Fairy Queen considers Sten a hero, and she is also much
impressed by the subversive antics of the English artist "Banksy."
Inspired by a stay in Italy, The Fairy Queen returned to teach
Italian finesse to the Belgrade hard-boys.
The local taggers, she told me, like to brag all day about
their daring and risky skills... but when it's over and done, they go
home meekly "to eat Mom's cabbage rolls." Unlike her boyfriend and
his pals, who waste a lot of energy showing off how brave they are,
The Fairy Queen is intensely practical about the local police.
First, she never spraypaints churches, monuments, museums,
billboards, or, especially trains. With its peeling, Tito-era
buildings of crumbling plaster and concrete, much of Belgrade is
actually improved by The Fairy Queen's graffiti. So the cops don't
seem to mind street tags all that much, but these Serbian cops have
no sense of humor about the trains.
Any Belgrade kid caught tagging a train gets three good
beatings: one when he is caught, one inside the station house, and a
last walloping for good measure when the cops let him go. The local
gangs will also defend their graffiti turf against each other, and
they will beat each other up with gusto.
So far, the Fairy Queen has deftly avoided this trouble. She
buys all her spray-paint from a certain store-owner whose son is one
of the most notorious graffiti vandals in Belgrade. She never tags
her own neighborhood. When she breaks the law with her spray-can,
she does it calmly -- she never skulks, swaggers or runs away.
As the only female stencillist in Belgrade, she's just one
Belgrade girl in a sea of Belgrade girls. Even if she brags, no one
would believe her. It's easier to believe that she's lying than to
understand that she has patched this city, all over, with hand-made
pop-art, in a one-woman, two-year campaign. She just doesn't look
The Fairy Queen looks much like her favorite movie heroine,
Audrey Tatou in "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain." She wears
dainty, modish blouses, bracelets with plastic butterflies, flowered
skirts and high-heeled sandals. Anyone who saw this cheery person
carefully spraying a wall would probably assume that she'd been paid
to decorate it.
In point of fact, though, The Fairy Queen is a lot tougher
than Amelie Poulain. She is a tall, energetic, boisterous girl with
sturdy snow-boarder's legs. Her mother is a mountain-climber. The
Fairy Queen could probably outrun Amelie and also most cops.
Lately, The Fairy Queen's graffiti work has been getting
larger and more extreme. She's doing stencils while hiding under
bridges, stencils two meters high, with multiple colors.
Art is not all sweetness and light for The Fairy Queen. She
would like to major in art at a local university, but she can't.
Because the schools are corrupted; even when the teachers are okay,
the administration is on the take and the fix is in. The new-rich
kids whose parents bribed their way into the college pretend to get
an education while the school pretends to teach them.
Sometimes The Fairy Queen places her stencils so as to avenge
herself. She did a daring self-portrait on the shiny white wall of
a local grocery, because she still remembers how she and her mother
had to stand in line for food there, during the economic sanctions.
Those were hard times. She was just a kid then, but she remembers.
How rude and crass they were, those grocers, when they had so
much and others had so little. Don't they realize, those grocers,
that the best things in life are done for nothing?Str