Erika: “I learned to be free”

Interview with artist Erika from Slovakia

I remember clearly how I saw Erika for the first time. It was a warm and sunny day and I was on my way home when I saw the colorful paintings on the floor. She was sitting on a few steps at Alexanderplatz, finishing her artwork. I walked by, as so many of us do, busy with our daily lives. But then something made me stop. I knew that if I didn’t approach her I would miss the chance. It was not about the beautiful art on the floor, but the positive energy she radiated. We talked briefly and she agreed to meet me for an interview.

Erika is from Slovakia and she moved to Berlin in April 2019, with her boyfriend and two dogs. She has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or in short, arthrogyposis. This is a muscle disorder that causes the joints to contract and limits the range of motion. It´s visible but it is not the first thing you will notice when you meet Erika. The first thing that will strike you is her honest, generous smile.

Lacuna: What makes you happy?

Erika: Love, and also life. I love traveling. I love to be with people. My boyfriend makes me happy, of course. I love animals. I love nature. I love my dogs. I love art. All these things together make me the happiest. When I’m in nature and I’m drawing, and my boyfriend is also there, it’s perfect.

Lacuna: What about doing art makes you happy?

Erika: I can express myself and my view on the world. I can express my thoughts. When I´m stressed I start to draw. It makes me feel relaxed.  And I can make somebody happy with my pictures.

Lacuna: Tell me about your journey as an artist.

Erika:> I’ve been doing art all my life. I went to art school for 12 years. I drew all the time in addition to pottery and handcrafts.

Drawing on the street came to me five years ago when I was in Berlin for holidays. I met some Czech people. The woman was drawing on Alexanderplatz and the man was playing guitar. We talked and I came to visit them and talk to them every day. After some time we became friends and she asked me if I want to draw with her. We started drawing together. She showed me some things such as how to work on the ground. Eventually, I tried it on my own and I really liked it.

Honestly, I´m still always stressed out before I start drawing. I don’t like the feeling of coming to a place with a drawing in my head but an empty ground before me. It is the worst feeling. But once I start, I really enjoy it.

Lacuna: Does your anthrogyposis affect the way you have to approach art?

Erika: In art school the teacher sometimes helped me. She tried to find other ways for me to do the things the other students were doing. She made a special desk for me under the paper I was drawing on. Drawing on the ground is a little hard for me, because my knees and back hurt and that´s why I need breaks more often. I also can´t do big pictures like other artists.

Lacuna: You do your art, which nobody else can do but you.  

Lacuna: How does the disability affect you in daily life?

Erika: I learned to live with it. When I do things that are hard for me I do them in another way. Also, I´m so happy that I found a great man who is physically healthy and who doesn´t mind that I am handicapped. He likes me for who I am and he also helps me with a lot. Now I´m independent.

Lacuna: How did you meet?

Erika: We knew each other for some time. We were living in the same part of the city. Sometimes we met at concerts but we never talked. Four years ago, I came back home for Christmas. At that time I was going to university in Olomouc. That´s in the Czech Republic.  We met again at a concert and started to talk.

He´s older and he also had some challenging experiences and now he doesn´t care what a person looks like. He wants stability.

Lacuna: When did you start becoming aware of your differences from other kids?

Erika: I was about 12 to 15. I was really depressed but I survived and then things changed. Also, I started going to concerts and met people and boys and that changed a lot. I think it is also because when I was young my mother went everywhere with me. By the age of 16, I had a friend and we traveled by hitchhiking and when I went to concerts I was sleeping someplace else. I wanted to be like people my age and I know my mother was worried and wanted her best but she was always with me before and I needed to be more independent when I wanted to be with people of my age.

Lacuna: Are you braver than other people?

Erika: Some things are difficult but I still can live a normal life. Maybe more than a normal life. I´m so happy that I learned not to be afraid to do something. I learned to do what I want. I learned to be free.

Lacuna: How is life for people with handicaps in Slovakia?

Erika: There is a big difference in comparison to Germany.  Slovakia is only now starting to make old buildings barrier-free and here, in Berlin, it´s easier to go around. It´s also hard financially, which is also my case. The state gives us money but it´s so little that it´s not even enough to pay the rent for a flat.

I have a friend in a wheelchair and I remember when we were about 19 she had to go to the commission that is regulating the finances for disabled people. She was telling them the truth about her life. For example that she is attending piano classes and sports groups and she told them that she goes there alone. Her mother got really angry because the commission took away part of her money because they said she was too independent. But she still needed help from her mom. Just because she was going to her friends for two hours, didn´t mean she didn´t need the help for the rest of the day.

Lacuna: How is the society?

Erika: The society in Slovakia is generally still conservative and not as open-minded as in Berlin. This is what I really love about the city.

Lacuna: What is your biggest dream?

Erika: For now I hope that we will buy a nice van so we can travel. I hope that one day I will be working in some atelier but still do my own art, in the streets for people.

Lacuna: Do you have a final message for people with a handicap, or limitation?

Erika: I think that every handicapped person should do learn that he or she can do whatever they want, with some help or without. Everyone should live life fully and be happy.

Instagram: Erika

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