On the eve of Croatia’s entry into the EU, I visited a number of dental clinics in the city of Rijeka and spoke with members of the town hall concerning their policies and views on dental tourism (including the increasing cuts in public dental care and the prioritising of EU over local patients). During my stay, I came across a dental anthropology paper treating the veracity of a prized relic of Saint Apollonia as well as her multiple depictions. Not only is her tooth preserved in the Cathedral of Rab, but her image populates small churches and parishes throughout Istria. Her attribute, a “pincer”, visually connects her to contemporary dentistry, Croatia’s current booming tourism sector.
With artist/curator, Nemanja Cvijanović at the wheel, I set out on a road trip searching for these icons throughout a landscape dotted with signboards advertising dental services. Sometimes we had to search for someone who could locate the keys to a dusty church where the painting may or may not be found. Sometimes we had a snack at a villager’s house who indicated where the next town was located. Finally, after walking up the steep cobblestoned streets of Motovun with the local parish priest, we found her – leaning against a wall with her faithful companion Saint Lucy. Taking the two women out into the sun, we dusted them off for a photo shoot, before heading to the border to eat at Tartuf, a combination restaurant (specialised in truffles), dental clinic, inn and – as Cvijanović noted – bank machine to boot, servicing Italians with delicate palettes and sore teeth.
During her month of February, a banner bearing a detail of the painting from Motovun appeared over Rijeka’s Korzo. An ambiguous sign from above, her pincer and bloody extracted tooth suggesting that Croatia’s much yearned for entry into the EU may not be as painless as it seemed.