Summer sketches and a life of poetry

Last Wednesday, be:longing, in collaboration with Bobby Graham Publishers and the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia, hosted a book launch and poetry evening at the Residence of the Serbian Ambassador in Canberra.  It was cool outside, but inside was filled with warmth, delicious food and an abundance of engaging and joyful conversation.  We saw the launch of Slobodanka (Bobby) Graham’s new book of sketch art, Summer Sketches: Belgrade and Montenegro, and were treated to a showcase of Vesna Cvjetićanin’s poetry through the evocative performances of Serbian actor Dijana Jovičić. 

Ambassador Rade Stefanović opened the evening, welcoming a full house of visitors from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.  Our wonderful Dunja Kaczmarek then set the night on its artistic course, introducing Bobby, Vesna and Dijana – our artists for the evening – before Vesna and Dijana took us away with part one of a gorgeous set of Serbian poems by Vesna.  Then, in conversation with Bobby and Vesna, Dunja explored their migration stories, their artistic practices and the deep longing and connection each felt to the Serbian parts of their identities.

Bobby, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to parents who had moved from their home of Serbia to France then to Canada before settling in South Africa, spoke of her relief at having been taught the language of her parents – it was her bridge to a Serbia she would visit excitedly with her mother in her youth, and later in life, reflectively, on her own, “It allowed me to slot in and be one with Serbia.” 

Vesna, born and raised in Yugoslavia, who – on maternity leave at the time – had only intended to visit her aunt in Australia for a few months in the fateful year of 1990 – described having her life upended when the place she had left was not the place she went back to.  In Australia, months became years and years became decades, but she “never stopped missing Serbia…”

Summer Sketches was a product of Bobby’s most recent trips to Serbia. A publisher and artist by trade, Bobby decided that on these most recent trips, she would experience and document her time by taking a sketchbook wherever she went.  She sketched iconic landmarks, everyday sights and people bustling about – her special memento, her “snapshot in time”. 

Through Dijana’s performances of Vesna’s poetry, and Vesna’s own introductions to each poem, we learned some of Vesna’s journey of grappling with her place in two worlds – how the similarities and differences she noticed across these worlds touched her deeply, and sometimes hurt her.  Poetry had come with her on the journey, from childhood to the present day – a precious tie to another home. “Most of my poems are in Serbian, because that’s where my heart sits.” 

The night closed with part two of Dijana’s thoughtful, moving recitations of Vesna’s poems, and the formal launch by Ambassador Stefanović of Bobby’s book of sketches.  It was a reminder of the beauty and emotional heft of living between and amongst worlds, of sharing in these journeys with others, and of finding ways to take in and tell of our experiences – in all their meaning – in the ways we best know how.

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To find out more about Bobby’s sketch artwork and to get your hands on a copy of Summer Sketches, see here.  And to read some of Vesna’s poetry for yourself, check out the works of hers we’ve published on be:longing (in both Serbian and English).

Photos by Burrows and Aster.

© be:longing, 2023