Ivana Jovanović is a Sydney-based artist, writer and curator engaged in social and community practice. Her recent solo work has delved into her identity, connecting to cultural heritage as a Serbian-Australian woman through grief and ritual. This, in turn, has led to a deeper exploration of memory, trauma and lived experience of mental health.
Da li se setiš was a community project and exhibition that called for people from the Former Yugoslavia to consider what their connections were to this country that no longer existed. Participants Kristina Savić, Tamara Pavlović, Zorica Purlija and Ivana Jovanović met to talk about what their memories of this place were, through the migrant experience. The work that was developed through this project was presented as an exhibition at 107 in Redfern from 22 January to 2 February 2020. Interspersed throughout Ivana’s reflection on these themes, below, are some of the pieces from that exhibition.
A lot rests on memory and time.
In 1997, I was around three years old when my grandmother and her then husband took me with them on their holiday from Australia to Srbija (Serbia). I left my mother, my father and my older sister behind. I didn’t know there was still a war going on over there, in what my parents had always referred to as Jugoslavija (Yugoslavia).
I was terribly plane sick, and when we arrived in that small country and found our way to the little city my parents grew up in, Kragujevac, I wanted to go straight back home. Here I was, far away from everyone and everything that was familiar and close to me, in a place where people called themselves baba, deda, tetka, brat, sestra. Speaking to me in a language I couldn’t understand. Yet.
I spent a few months overseas with my grandmother, and got to know relatives I had never met before. I even learnt srpski and in that process, completely forgot how to speak English.
My English came back to me very quickly after landing back in Australia. But I suffered afterwards from what I can now easily identify as separation anxiety. Throughout much of my early childhood years I couldn’t attend sleepovers without calling for my mum to come and pick me up in the middle of the night. Visiting Srbija had changed me in many ways, and after that, I always felt connected to two worlds; two countries.
For the past two and a half years, I have been looking back to figure out my strong and strange connections to this place; this now non-existent Jugoslavija. A lot of it has been brought on by grief and the fear that I will lose this connection to a culture that I have only really just started to scratch the surface of and rediscover.
Most importantly, I have found that I am not alone. Many of the people I have connected with through my practice, as an artist and a curator, are migrants or first-generation Australians that have felt disconnected to their cultural heritage of the Former Jugoslavija. Being so physically distant from where many of our relatives still are has meant that we all feel a sense of collective loss. And we all feel a collective grief.
The former-Yugoslav countries have been wounded by war, and we have all felt the traumas of its effects to one degree or another. This is where memory plays its most powerful role, in reconnecting us with the people we love, the people we’ve lost, the people we wish we could see and hold closer. This is what brings us together.
So I ask you, what do you remember?
© Ivana Jovanović 2020