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STORYTELLING IN THE POST-YUGOSLAV CONTEXT

Updated: Oct 12, 2020


REFLECTION ON THE SOUTHEAST EUROPE FUTURE FESTIVAL IN LONDON.

By Ana Russell-Omaljev - 01/10/2019



The identity, community, culture and connectivity of the Southeast European (SEE) cultural and art scene has been sidelined for too long. With this idea, for the second time in a row, Contemporary Balkan Art (CoBA), a collective based in London and of which I am the creative director, recently organized the Southeast Europe Future Festival (SEFF).

Our concept was for the SEFF to be a window to the culture of the SEE region for folks in London. We wanted to create a place that can offer modern, urban regional cultural production for all those who belong to the quite large community composed of people from academia, literature, film, art, and diaspora from the Balkan region in general. Before SEFF, nothing like this existed in London and I believe that this city needed such a festival.

Initially, we decided to focus on one central subject every year, and in that manner direct the themes and feelings of the entire program. Last year, it was all about heritage and architecture. This year, my idea was to talk about women’s lives, their art, photography and films, but also to include intimate personal stories about Yugoslavia and our own ideas of what that country took from us, and what it gave us in return.


From August 29 to September 15, we hosted a number of people from the region, providing them with a platform to showcase their work in London, but also to talk about feminism, communism, art and, unavoidably, Yugoslavia and what remains of it. The films we showed during the festival had one thing in common: remarkable intimacy, in terms of family history or gender identity, as family can be central to storytelling in the post-Yugoslav context.

A good example is Croatian filmmaker Marija Ratković Vidaković’s “IKEA for YU.” The film charts her journey from growing up in a pro-Yugoslav family, dominated by a mother who finishes your sentences, to being a mother herself in Sweden, free from the Yugoslav burden. A journey taken by many people from the region after leaving home for various reasons.

This intimate family film was like a base for the panel discussion, which we titled “What is Yugoslavia to You?”


The question was posed not in the sense of grand historical narratives, but rather in a personal sense, asking what Yugoslavia meant for one family. We asked this while bearing in mind that for so many of us, knowledge of this country came from our parents rather than through personal experience, since so many of us who took part in the festival were too young to remember the country we were born in, or where our parents come from.

Olivia Suđić, who is writing a novel about a Balkan refugee woman living in London, said that she got insights from her grandparents who mythologize Yugoslavia. However, this UK fiction writer lives in a time that reminds her of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, especially in the emotional sense, with Brexit and the separation of the UK from the EU.

Throughout the panel discussion, die-hard Yugoslav communist grandparents were a recurrent theme. Some participants, like historian Vladimir Unkovski-Korica from Glasgow University, recounted interesting personal stories. For him, Yugoslavia became a tiresome topic. To escape it, he moved all the way to Zanzibar. But there, he began to obsessively reflect on the topic, to the point that it was a significant part of why he became a historian.

A different question that the panel explored was the different layers of identity. Vesna Goldsworthy, professor at Exeter University, explained that she considers herself simultaneously Serbian and Yugoslav, as well as British. During family dinners, there were always different family characters with conflicting political understandings, so she always simultaneously has at least two different opinions in her head.


In the part of the program dedicated to the lives and stories of women, a different topic was broached. We decided to invite three women filmmakers and featured their work. Through their films, we aimed to tackle the stories of the generations who are living in the post-Yugoslav space.


One of them was “Naked Island,” a film by Tiha K. Gudac. The director investigates her family photos and walks the viewer through the intimate testimonies of Yugoslav political prisoners at Goli Otok, the prison island also known as the “island of broken souls.” Through the film, she examines the consequences that this trauma had on three generations.

When I decided to invite her and show this film, my idea was to create some kind of balance in the portrayal of our past and to confront the surviving fear and silence.

The other films were about more contemporary topics.

Occupied Cinema” by Senka Domanović, a film about the guerrilla action of young activists taking over the privatized Zvezda cinema in Belgrade, sheds light on the existing left wing politics in Serbia. “Born Just Now” by Robert Adanto offers an intimate look at Belgrade-based artist Marta Jovanović and the female performance scene in Belgrade.

We also screened North Macedonian Oscar nominee “Honeyland,” a cinematic marvel. This documentary tells the story of an old woman who cultivates honey in the ancient way in the mountains of North Macedonia, with the spirit of revenge and death.

Finally, “Nebeska Tema” by Mladen Matičević took us to a different place in our memories. It recounts the story of Yugoslav “new wave” star Vlada Divljan, whose lyrics honored his adoring muses, in sharp contrast to stereotypical Balkan patriarchal sexism.

The main exhibition at the festival this year was titled “Perspectives: Photography Storytelling” and was focused on the work of 15 women photographers from six different countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria).

The exhibition tells a collection of very different stories, treating topics ranging from gender, feminism and sexuality to communist grandmothers, rural lives as well as marginalized people, such as refugees and the LGBT community.


The photographs were selected around themes of identity and human vulnerability, such as the exhibition by Marija Janković, whose photos tell the first hand lived experience of a patient in a gynecological department in a hospital in the Balkans. A very different approach and focus is the one of Imrana Kapetanović, a Sarajevo-based photographer whose grandmother was a Partisan and a member of the communist youth organization SKOJ. Imrana documented her life in her documentary photo project “Skojevka Minka,” exploring the character of her grandmother who refuses to give up her adoration of Tito.


All this took me and visitors on a journey through the past and through the present of the Balkans. What I have seen and heard at this festival amounts to a new and refreshing take on post-Yugoslav identities, which will add to my own new research into Serbian cultural scripts and modes of behavior in comparison to the British way of life. My ultimate aim is to ask the question, why and how are we Balkanites different?

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Ana Russell-Omaljev is the creative director of CoBA, a collective established in 2016 to give a voice to artists from the Balkans within the specific landscape of London. She is the author of the award-nominated book “Divided We Stand: Discourses on Identity in First and Other Serbia.” Russell-Omaljev is currently working on a new book. She divides her time between London, Belgrade and Grand Cayman.



SERBIAN VERSION


Pripovedanje u postjugoslovenskom kontekstu

Nekoliko gledišta o Festivalu budućnosti jugoistočne Evrope u Londonu.


Identitet, zajedništvo, kultura i povezanost jugoistočne evropske kulturne i umetničke scene predugo su zanemarivani. Sa tom mišlju na umu, drugi put zaredom, Savremena balkanska umetnost (Contemporary Balkan Art - CoBA), kolektiv sa sedištem u Londonu, čija sam kreativna direktorka, nedavno je organizovala Festival budućnosti jugoistočne Evrope (Southeast Europe Future Festival - SEFF).


Naš koncept se sastojao iz toga da SEFF bude prozor u kulturu regiona jugoistočne Evrope za ljude u Londonu. Hteli smo da stvorimo mesto koje može da ponudi savremenu, urbanu regionalnu produkciju kulturnog sadržaja svima onima koji pripadaju poprilično velikoj zajednici sastavljenoj od ljudi iz sveta akademije, književnosti, filma, umetnosti i dijaspore na celom balkanskom prostoru. Pre SEFF-a, ništa slično nije postojalo u Londonu i ja verujem da je tom gradu takav festival bio potreban.

Prvobitno smo odlučili da se svake godine usredsredimo na jednu centralnu temu i da na taj način usmeravamo teme i osećanja celokupnog programa. Prošle godine smo obradili teme kulturnog nasleđa i arhitekture. Moja zamisao ove godine je bila da pričam o tome kako žene žive, o njihovoj umetnosti, fotografiji i filmu, ali i da uvrstim intimne lične priče o Jugoslaviji, kao i da progovorim o tome šta nam je ta zemlja oduzela i šta nam je, zauzvrat, dala.


Od 29. avgusta do 15. septembra ugostili smo niz ljudi iz regiona, nudeći im platformu za predstavljanje svog rada u Londonu, ali i za razgovor o feminizmu, komunizmu, umetnosti i neizostavnoj Jugoslaviji i o onome što je od nje ostalo.Filmovi koje smo prikazali na festivalu imali su jednu zajedničku nit: izuzetnu intimnost u pogledu porodičnih storija ili rodnog identiteta, jer je porodica, obično, centralni element pripovedanja u postjugoslovenskom kontekstu.


Dobar primer toga oličen je u radu hrvatske rediteljke Marije Ratković Vidaković “IKEA for YU”. Film nas uvodi u njeno putovanje tokom odrastanja u projugoslovenskoj porodici u kojoj dominira majka koja svima završava rečenice, dok se priča razvija tako što sama rediteljka postaje majka u Švedskoj, gde je oslobođena jugoslovenskog tereta. Ovo je putovanje na koje se mnogi iz regiona otisnu, a nakon što odu iz zemlje porekla zbog niza razloga. Ovaj intimni porodični film bio je osnova panel-diskusije koju smo nazvali ovako: “Šta je tebi Jugoslavija?”


Ovo pitanje nije bilo stavljeno u kontekst grandioznih istorijskih narativa, već polazi sa ličnog stanovišta, odnoseći se na to šta je Jugoslavija značila jednoj porodici. Postavili smo pitanje sa mišlju o tome da smo informacije o toj zemlji dobijali od roditelja, a ne na osnovu ličnog iskustva, jer su mnogi od nas, festivalskih učesnika, bili premladi da bi se sećali zemlje u kojoj smo rođeni ili iz koje potiču naši roditelji.

Olivia Suđić, koja piše roman o balkanskoj izbeglici koja živi u Londonu, kaže da su joj uvid pružili njeni baka i deda koji mitologizuju Jugoslaviju. Međutim, ova britanska spisateljica fikcije živi u vremenu koje je podseća na doba raspada Jugoslavije, posebno u emotivnom smislu, zajedno sa Bregzitom i odvajanjem UK od EU.

Tokom čitave panel-diskusije, baka i deka, inače tvrdokorni jugoslovenski komunisti, bili su tema o kojoj se u više navrata razgovaralo. Neki učesnici, poput istoričara Vladimira Unkovskog-Korice sa Univerziteta u Glazgovu, prisećali su se zanimljivih ličnih priča. Jugoslavija je njemu postala zamorna tema. Da bi od nje pobegao, odselio se čak u Zanzibar. Međutim, tamo je opsesivno počeo da se bavi ovom temom, čak u toj meri da je ona postala značajan razlog zbog kog je posao istoričar.

Druga tema panela svodila se na višeslojnost identiteta. Vesna Goldsvorti (Goldsworthy), profesorka na Exiter univerzitetu, objasnila je da sebe smatra i Srpkinjom i Jugoslovenkom u isto vreme, kao i Britankom. Prilikom porodičnih večera, uvek je bilo članova porodice sa sukobljenim stavovima, pa tako i ona sama uvek ima makar dve različite opcije u glavi.


U segmentu programa posvećenom životu i pričama žena, načeta je i druga tema. Odlučili smo da pozovemo tri režiserke i da projektujemo njihove radove. Uz pomoć filmova, pokušali smo da se pozabavimo pričama generacija koje žive na postjugoslovenskom prostoru.

Među njima je “Goli otok” autorke Tihe K. Gudac. Rediteljka istražuje porodiče slike i vodi gledaoca kroz intimna svedočanstva jugoslovenskih političkih zatvorenika sa Golog otoka, zatvorskog ostrva poznatog i kao “ostrvo slomljenih duša”. U filmu istražuje traumatične posledice nanete trima generacijama. Kada sam odlučila da je pozovem i prikažem njen film, moja je zamisao bila da stvorim ravnotežu u oslikavanju naše prošlosti i da se suprotstavim strahu i ćutnji koji su opstali.


Ostali filmovi su se više odnosili na savremene teme. “Okupirani bioskop” autorke Senke Domanović, film o gerilskim akcijama mladih aktivista prilikom preuzimanja bioskopa Zvezda u Beogradu, baca svetlo na postojeću levičarsku politiku u Srbiji. “Upravo rođen” (Born Just Now) autora po imenu Robert Adanto daje nam uvid u intimu beogradske umetnice Marte Jovanović i žensku umetničku scenu u Beogradu.

Prikazali smo i bioskopsko čudo nominovano za Oskara “Honeyland”, a iz Severne Makedonije. Ovaj dokumentarac pripoveda priču o staroj ženi koja proizvodi med na stari način u planinama Severne Makedonije, sve uz elemente osvete i smrti.

Na kraju, “Nebeska tema” Mladena Matičevića vodi nas na drugo mesto u našem sećanju. Priseća se priče o jugoslovenskoj zvezdi “novog talasa” Vladi Divljanu, čiji su tekstovi bili posvećeni njegovim muzama, što predstavlja oštar kontrast u odnosu na stereotipni balkanski patrijarhalni seksizam.


Glavna izložba na ovogodišnjem festivalu nosila je naziv “Perspektive: Pripovedanje kroz fotografiju”. Ona se usredsredila na rad 15 fotografkinja iz šest zemalja (Slovenije, Hrvatske, Bosne, Srbije, Rumunije i Bugarske). Izložba pripoveda kolekciju raznolikih priča, otvarajući nove teme, od roda, feminizma i seksualnosti, preko baka komunistkinja, do ruralnog života i marginalizovanih ljudi, kao što su izbeglice i LGBT zajednica.

Fotografije su izabrane na način da obuhvataju teme kao što su identitet i ranjivost čoveka, a kao što je to prikazano na izložbi Marije Janković, čije fotografije kazuju iskustvo iz prve ruke o pacijentu na jednom balkanskom odeljenju za ginekologiju.

Sasvim drugačiji pristup i fokus imala je Imrana Kapetanović, sarajevska fotografkinja čija je majka bila partizanka i članica Saveza komunističke omladine Jugoslavije. Imrana je dokumentovala svoj život u dokumentarnom fotografskom projektu “Skojevka Minka”, gde istražuje ličnost svoje bake koja odbija da se odrekne svoje naklonosti prema Titu.

Sve to je mene i posetioce odvelo na putovanje kroz balkansku prošlost i sadašnjost.

Ono što sam čula i videla na ovom festivalu predstavlja novi i osvežavajući doprinos priči o postjugoslovenskim identitetima, a što će mi pomoći u novom istraživanju o srpskim kulturnim elementima i modelima ponašanja u poređenju sa mojim načinom života u Britaniji. Moj krajnji cilj jeste da postavim ovo pitanje: “Zašto smo i kako mi Balkanci drugačiji?”

Naslovna fotografija: Imrana Kapetanovic


Ana Rasel-Omaljev (Russell-Omaljev) je kreativna direktorka CoBA, kolektiva osnovanog 2016, čiji je cilj da umetnicima sa Balkana pruži prostor na londonskoj sceni. Autorka je knjige “Divided We Stand: Discourses on Identity in First and Other Serbia” koja je nominovana za nagradu. Rasel-Omaljev trenutno piše novu knjigu, dok svoje vreme provodi na relaciji između Londona, Beograda i Kajmanskih ostrva.

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