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In conversation with – Lidija Burčak, MA Visual Anthropology alumnus

I value a good story that keeps the audience awake, I don’t want to bore them.

We caught up with Lidija Burčak who graduated in MA Visual Anthropology last year and to find out what she has been up to since graduating and how her film ‘Broken Skin’ has made its way around the festival circuit.

Before Goldsmiths, you have lived and worked in UK, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, could you tell us more about what you did before studying MA Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths and has this inspired your visual practice?
I had a lot of different jobs during my twenties because I was searching for something creative that was meaningful to me. At the same time, it was difficult to get into such job because I started my professional career with a vocational education in a Swiss insurance company. After a few internships in media companies and jobs in factories and offices, I decided to go back to school. The Swiss education system allows people to catch up on an academic degree. My plan back then was to study abroad. I was interested in cultural, social issues and how knowledge is generated through visual means. During my studies, I got into the film industry as I had the chance to do an internship as a script supervisor. You can learn a lot about filmmaking and the work on set. I started realising that I wanted to make films in a very personal way but at the time I didn’t have the courage.

Being born in 1983, the time I spent growing up in front of the TV has had a large influence on my visual practice, I watched a lot of films and TV shows. I was able to challenge this common visuality through my film studies in Zurich and Berlin, where I acquired knowledge on film theory and analysis. I was introduced to auto-ethnography and the films of Agnès Varda, which opened up a whole new world for me. But also my jobs in different offices and workplaces influence my visual practice. How people share ideas and visions, how they tell you how their weekend was and what upsets them is beautifully diverse. I didn’t know at that time that these were precious lessons about storytelling.

It was clear to me that Goldsmiths would be an interesting decision. Also because it has a history of visual anthropology that challenges images and the way we see.

Why did you choose to study at Goldsmiths and take our course?
During my studies in Zurich, I was reading Stuart Hall which helped me personally with questions of identity being a child of Yugoslav immigrants in Switzerland. Having working-class parents forced me to read and think about these kinds of issues. It was clear to me that Goldsmiths would be an interesting decision. Also because it has a history of visual anthropology that challenges images and the way we see. At that time I didn’t know that it would be a very fertile ground for my creativity as well. We didn’t have lessons on the creative practice (I don’t know if that exists any-way?), the course was great on an academic level in anthropology but how do you make an interesting film, what do you film and how do you edit? Not having lessons in that area was highly creative in a painful way, I remember that some tutors told me that I will appreciate that process in a few years time.

Since graduating last year, your film Broken Skin has won awards and has started to make its away around the festival circuit. Could you tell us more about these awards and achievements?
The film festival world is a weird industry but I wanted to bring my film to an audience. I found a website that helps you to evaluate your chances to get into festivals called Festival Whizz. Its uses algorithms but there are also real people behind it who watch your film and discuss your strategy. To give you some numbers: I applied to 60 film festivals all around the world which cost me £725 for admission fees. Some of the festivals invite you, pay your ticket and organise accommodation and some festivals offer you a 50% ticket reduction to your own award ceremony, which was funny to hear. No one talks about these things, why not? I found it very interesting. I told myself: this is the first film I did and I will do the whole thing to find out what is really important to me and to check out the scene. Also I could afford it because I had a job. It is great when you have an audience for your film and you can actually discuss the topic and share your experience of the process.

It is great when you have an audience for your film and you can actually discuss the topic and share your experience of the process.

Can you talk to us about Broken Skin, what inspired you to direct a film about skin and more specifically psoriasis?

Photo: ©Renato Csatich

I’ve been a psoriasis-affected person more years than I’ve been an anthropologist. My relationship with this disease was full of fear and helplessness. I tried a lot of things to heal, as many people do. You get into a vicious cycle. But before I came to London I started a therapy which finally helped me: I detoxed my body in a natural way. I was very slowly on my way to heal. I realised that hearing from many doctors “you will have this forever” and “there is nothing we can do” influenced my way of thinking enormously. So from an anthropological point of view, this looked like something interesting to explore. How are stories around a disease told and how is it visually represented? Consequently, what is this doing with me? Who is an expert and who is not? It was interesting to relate to other stories and to find out that I am not alone, which seems obvious today. My goal then was to find images that would not spread fear but could explore psoriasis on different surfaces.

I chose auto-ethnography as a research method because it allowed me to move back-and-forth between my own experience and the accounts of other psoriasis-affected people to find out new ways of relating to this disease, also personally. It was a parallel exploration of this topic which is also visible in the narrative structure of the film. I know that auto-ethnography is being criticised for not being a valuable research method for example because it is supposed to be too narcissistic. However, this method resonates with me especially in order to examine psoriasis where, in my opinion, the self and the relationship to the self is at its core. I think that I worked ethically and honestly. I am a fan of auto-ethnography because it allows me to change and cultivate my personal perspectives not just as a researcher but as a person. I value a good story that keeps the audience awake, I don’t want to bore them.

What is next on the horizon for you?
I need a lot of time to reflect on the last two years and I don’t want to get stressed otherwise I’ll get my psoriasis symptoms back. Some people who watched Broken Skin told me that they could have watched it longer, that the film is too short and has therefore a dense structure. I just started playing with the thought to make a longer version.

If you could give our Anthropology students one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Something very technical: Keep your project and timeline in your editing programme in a clear order, I didn’t do it from the beginning, a lesson I learned along the way. You might still need to work on it or correct something (for a festival for example) months later after you finished it. This helps to access your work in a clear way especially when you are already working on something new.


And two personal things that I discovered: fearful topics have a very interesting potential for personal and creative growth, and I get much more things done if I don’t strive for perfection. That doesn’t mean that the work is not good.

Lidija’s film ‘Broken Skin’ has been nominated for a Grierson Award in the category of Best student Documentary, winners will be announced on 14th November 2019 


In the media – Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis (Department of Anthropology) and Billy Gerard Frank have been selected to exhibit exhibition Epic Memory for the Grenada Pavilion at this years Venice Biennale. Dave Lewis says “When I was thinking about it, I was thinking about the time on Earth which my father spent. He’s 100 years old now. I was thinking about the fragments – which Derek Walcott talks about in his poem – which exist within the house. Sometimes it’s the small things, like the beads that separate the rooms, the doily covers, which I would never have in my home. We see it and it fires off these memories. It’s really important to capture them through still image, something we can contemplate.”

Find out more >> 

Short film by Ricardo Leizaola about Dave Lewis and his exhibition

Spotlight on….

Rambisayi and Nicole who are currently working with Emma Tarlo and Adom Philogene Heron over the summer period as part of GRIP: Research Internships. We caught up with Rambisayi and Nicole to find out more about what they will be working on over the coming weeks.

Rambisayi, BA Anthropology and Visual Practice 
This summer I have been given the opportunity to intern for Professor Emma Tarlo on a project titled Hair Biographies: How do we relate to the fibre that grows from our heads. This project focuses on people’s relationships to their hair. As an intern I will be employing ethnographic methods including photography, voice recordings and writing to compile a unique collection of personal hair stories. This is a very exciting opportunity for me as I get to be mentored by Professor Emma Tarlo whose work on material culture has inspired me throughout my undergraduate studies. As the project is in collaboration with, and is a part of a larger exhibition commissioned by the Horniman Museum I also get to be mentored by Dr Sarah Bryne, deputy keeper of anthropology at the Horniman Museum. The final output will be a short film that will possibly be shown at a larger exhibition commissioned to Prof. Emma Tarlo by the museum for exhibition in 2021.


Nicole, BA Anthropology and Visual Practice 
I will be working on the GRIP internship within the Anthropology department this summer, titled Anthropology and ‘Decoloniality’ with Dr.Adom Philogene Heron and Dr. Gabriel Dattatreyan. The final research project will be presented in the form of a website. The aim of the site is to host a dialogue about decolonization and its relationship to anthropology as a discipline, articulating efforts to decenter the anthropological canon by questioning established forms of knowledge production and what is considered legitimate within the academic space, including the medium that conveys information itself. Thus, there will be range of ways to channel and challenge ethnographic ideas through alternative forms to conventional academic text (and language), such as photography, film, audio recordings, etc. I am delighted to be part of this project and the ongoing discussion of decolonization in pedagogy, much of what has emerged from recent decentering meetings at Goldsmiths, as well as Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action group. I am looking forward to interviewing participants, reflecting on my conversations with them, and situating their perspective on a digital space for others to engage with. 

Business of Hair

Listen to Emma Tarlo‘s interview on RTS Radio talk about the ‘business of hair’ where she talks about the global market for hair.

Radio player

Emma Tarlo on BBC Womans Hour


Listen to Professor Emma Tarlo talk hair with Lauren Laverne on BBC Womans Hour. Podcast can be downloaded from BBC Player

Guest blog post- Bethany Loft, second year Anthropology and Media & Communications student

Photo credit to TEDxUCLWomen

My name is Bethany and I’m about to enter my second year of studying Anthropology & Media at Goldsmiths. I found out about the opportunity to join the TEDxUCLWomen 2017 team through the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths and am now on the hospitality team for this year’s event. Our team organises the warm up event, the catering and the goody bags as well as being responsible for the attendees’ experience on the day.

TEDxUCLWomen is in its fourth year and is run solely by volunteers. There’s a great atmosphere and collaborative spirit between the team and you get the opportunity to learn and develop the necessary skills to help create such an awesome event. Whilst TEDxUCLWomen is primarily based around UCL and their community, there are people involved from many other universities and we hope to broaden the reach of the event further this year.

Photo credit to TEDxUCLWomen

TEDxUCLWomen have created an event that enables the sharing of ideas and knowledge and creates a space where changing opinions, empowering individuals and building a community is possible. The event is happening in November and we aim to make it as accessible and inclusive as possible. The theme for the event this year is ‘home’, it’s a really relevant topic to current events and the (unreleased) speaker list reflects upon many of the challenges and great progress that is happening.


Photo credit to TEDxUCLWomen

Taking part in TEDxUCLWomen is a rewarding experience for many reasons, working amongst a team of incredibly talented individuals who work hard to create a wide-reaching event is a great initiative.  As part of the team, we get to suggest potential speakers and help shape the experience of the attendees in ways which matter to us. Knowing how much thought and work goes into planning and selecting the speakers and the event, I have to recommend coming and seeing for yourself all the amazing speakers which will be there!

You can stay updated about the exciting announcements to be made through the Facebook Event Page. For more information about TEDxUCLWoman please visit their Facebook and Twitter page.


“I pose an ambitious question: What constitutes the good society” – Interview with Professor Pat Caplan regarding her forthcoming lecture at the University of Oxford

Written by Professor Pat Caplan & Sifa Mustafa

Emeritus Professor Pat Caplan, Department of Anthropology,  will be delivering the annual Mary Douglas Memorial Lecture at the University of Oxford on Wednesday 24th May entitled: Gifts, entitlements, benefits and surplus: interrogating food poverty and food aid in the UK 

Tell us a little bit about the annual Mary Douglas memorial lectures and how you have become involved

The anthropologist Professor Dame Mary Douglas died in 2007, after writing over 20 books and numerous articles, and teaching in both the UK and the USA. Her interests were wide and varied: symbolism and cosmology; pollution and taboo; consumption and communication; perception; risk and danger, trust and blame; economy and social policy; boundaries, inclusion and exclusion. She sometimes drew on her own early fieldwork in the Congo, but she also made much use of the Old Testament, especially in the latter part of her life. While she published acclaimed academic works, many of which were read and cited outside of her discipline, she also frequently wrote for a lay audience in such venues as the Times Literary Supplement. In this respect, she was also a public intellectual.

The Memorial lecture was set up four years ago as a joint venture between University College London, where Mary Douglas taught for many years, and the University of Oxford, where she originally trained. Its purpose is to present anthropological issues, particularly those which interested Douglas, to a lay audience. Two of the previous lecturers, Paul Richards (2014) and Michael Thompson (2016), were originally students of Douglas at UCL. I was not, but perhaps it’s noteworthy that I am the first woman to give the memorial lecture. I was told that the reason for inviting me was that I had worked on some of the same themes, notably food and risk.

Could you tell us about the lecture you will be delivering on 24th May?

I pose an ambitious question: what constitutes the good society? Is it one in which the state takes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, or one in which the duty of care is handed over largely to the private and/or third or voluntary sectors? How can anthropologists contribute to the debates surrounding such questions? To address them I examine the case of food poverty in the UK and the solutions presently on offer. As Douglas noted, food is never just feed, and in order to comprehend some aspects of the contemporary situation we must attempt to grasp how a range of institutions such as food banks, the food industry and the state ‘think’ about food poverty, what they do about it and why, and how these actors are inter-related

Has Mary Douglas’ work influenced any of your own research?

Like virtually all anthropologists I have long been familiar with her two early and famous books: Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo (1966) and Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (1970). In the course of writing this lecture, I’ve read more of her work, but because she has an assiduous intellectual executor, Richard Fardon, even more books have appeared since her death, while another written by three of her ex-students is currently in press!

When I was teaching fulltime at Goldsmiths I set up a course on the anthropology of food which ran for a long time. Here I made much use of Douglas’ work on the topic, one to which she kept returning in different contexts. She was adept in making use of and analysing the most mundane aspects of food, such as a witty article written with one of her students, Michael Nicod, ‘Taking the biscuit’ which was published in the New Statesman in 1974.

Later, I developed an interest in risk arising out of my research on the social effects of BSE and organised a seminar series which was later published a book (Risk Revisited 2000). The ‘revisited’ part of the title was because the contributors to this edited collection all made use of but also critiqued Douglas’ work on risk. Sadly, she had turned down our invitation to contribute a chapter herself because she said she wanted to focus on her Old Testament work.

Can you highlight how anthropologists can contribute to bringing these debates to the forefront of public consciousness?

One of the problems with much academic research is that it is primarily written for and read by other academics. That’s all well and good, but we need to find ways of communicating with a wider audience through a variety of media: newspapers, websites, blogs, short articles in magazines, film-making and of course teaching. We should be asking ourselves ‘what is our research for and who is it for?’ Is it going to make a difference not only to us and our discipline but also to other people, including those whom we’re researching?

What advice would you give to Goldsmiths students who are currently looking into similar research themes?

 I think I’d want to say to a student as follows: first read (critically of course) as much of the literature on the topic as possible, then think about how you want to address the questions which it raises. Is this through the use of ‘big data’ or through more ethnographic approaches at the micro-level? Or both? It’s good to do some original research but you want to be sure you are not just re-inventing the wheel!

Learn how to practice active listening, with lots of open-ended questions. Think about how you can connect the lives of the people you talk to with wider social contexts. Don’t be afraid to follow your nose and see where the data lead you, which may be a different place from where you started.

For more information, see the talks’ flier

The School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography presents the Mary Douglas Memorial Lecture, Wednesday 24th May 2017, 18:00, Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre, St Anne’s College 56 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HS

For queries or to register to attend please contact: