Culture is not Cancelled: Creatives Share Their Inspiration

Little did we know at the beginning of 2020 that we’d be spending a big chunk of it in somewhat of an altered reality. When Covid-19 emerged, we all had to adjust, especially in terms of work place, and work in general. Most of us have switched to working from home, which has blurred the line between the hours spent performing obligatory tasks, and our free time, which has been the focus of many debates. What was brought to my attention again and again, while reading the pieces that were dissecting the situation, was the fact that, regardless of the uncertainty of the time that had passed, and of what was awaiting us, culture was to be preserved as a lighthouse that would guide us even in the most troubled of times. My in-depth reading of the materials that were available instilled in me the idea of organizing a project that sheds light on wonderful creatives whose work and enthusiasm have persevered in face of all obstacles, thus proving that culture is not cancelled even during a pandemic.

It is with great joy that I share with you the contributions made by six remarkable women who partook in this project in order to disclose works that influenced their professional lives, with the hope of inspiring you, too. Let’s get the ball rolling!

Olivia Sudjic: I’m a thirty-one-year-old writer living in London. My debut novel, ‘Sympathy’, was published in 2017, and ‘Exposure’, my second, non-fiction, book in 2018. During lockdown I’ve been copy-editing my second novel, ‘Asylum Road’, which is coming out in January 2021, and researching my  next non-fiction book – a personal essay collection titled ‘Desire Lines’. This latter project will be the focus of the PhD in Creative Non-Fiction I’m beginning at King’s College London in October. I’ve grown used to working from home since I quit my full-time job to write in 2014, but over the last six months I’ve had to get used to my partner working from home with me. Aside from the logistical challenges of this, psychologically I find it difficult to write fiction without privacy, and without being able to escape what is familiar. Luckily, I’ve had other things on my mind, and a book to research, but it has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve finally achieved the kind of concentration needed for reading.

I always draw a blank when asked to list books I’ve read, but five that have inspired my writing are as follows: ‘The End of the Story’ by Lydia Davis, which was one of the first contemporary novels I remember reading after I finished

 my English Literature degree (mainly the study of texts by dead authors) where I thought: oh, the novel isn’t dead. A story doesn’t have to be set in the past or draw so heavily on existing traditions to be excellent. ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk similarly exploded my understanding of what the novel could be, and what a twenty-first century character could be. ‘Open City’ by Teju Cole and ‘The Argonauts’ by Maggie Nelson both influenced me in the way they weave together different textures and draw the reader’s attention to seemingly everyday details of life that turn out to be anything but ordinary. Finally ‘Citizen’ by Claudia Rankine, an author I greatly admire, has the most astonishing ability to illuminate the political in the personal and vice versa.

Dunja Jovanovic: Hi, I’m Dunja Jovanović. In the past ten years I have worked as a fashion journalist and editor, and now I’m hosting F.fm podcast, the first regional talk-show that addresses the topic of sustainability in the fashion industry. As the fashion industry is among the world’s biggest polluters, through conversation with relevant guests from the fashion, political and eco-scenes (together with my coleague and co-host Marija Radaković) I examine the ways this industry has changed the modern world.

  1. Andrei Tarkovsky: Martyrologium

Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian auteur who is widely considered as one of the most artistic filmmakers in cinematic history, kept a diary – Martyrologium, depicting parts of his life. Reading this book I got a glimpse of his wonderful thought process; mostly about his work, but more importantly – his life philosophy, thoughts on politics and the outcome of it (We have created a civilization which threatens to annihilate mankind) which very much inspired me to explore more about eco-activism – the focal point of F.fm podcats.

  1. Naomi Klein: On Fire – The Burning case for a Green New DealI have recelntly bought this book – in which the author makes the case for the Green New Deal by tracing the evolution of climate politics over the past decade.

During the past 6 months, since the #covid19 crisis blew up in Serbia, I have read several of Naomi’s books – because I find them educational and informational without being confusing for readers who have never before dealt with the mentioned subject. This book in particular helped me a lot in planning several episodes of F.fm podcast, and inspired me to do as much as I can to inform people arround me about the concequences of climate change.

  1. Kassia St Clair: The Secret Lives of Colour

Kassia St. Clair, a freelance journalist and a former books and arts editor at The Economist, recounts the tale of perilous pigments in her charming book The Secret Lives of Color. The book’s short chapters grew out of a column she writes for ELLE and it retains the appealing conversational tone of this magazine.

The book is a cross between history, science and trivia, as it tells the stories of 75 colours, many of which I’ve never heard of before. It’s fun, educational and so well-written! I wish these kind of columns exsited in the local print/web fashion mags.

  1. Caitlin Doughty: From Here to Eternity – Traveling the World to find Good Death

I wasn’t a fan of YouTubers before I stumbled upon Miss Doughty’s channel – called Ask a Mortician.The girl is an undertaker who runs a nonprofit funeral homeand has basically become the philosopher of a death-positive movement that’s emerged in America in recent years. I binge-watched all of her videos and then I discovered that she did a TED talk and had several books published.

It took me a while – but I got my hands on two of her books, and this one is my fav. In it Doughty tell us of ways people are dealing with death all over the world and shows us that one culture’s taboos are another’s sacred practices. She’s trying to encourage an eyes-wide-open approach to mortality, because – if you know how to die differently, you’ll be able to live differently.

 Rialda Dizdarevic: I was born in Novi Pazar, Serbia and graduated from the Faculty of Applied Arts, Belgrade in 2016. Currently, I live and draw in Canada.

Digital illustration is the main focus of my work and through it I explore intimate and often quirky moments of everyday life. My work counts series of projects that include editorial illustration for printed and online magazines, online promotional illustrations, fashion editorial illustrations and music cover artworks. Moreover, my work has been published in various magazines and displayed at exhibitions in Serbia and abroad.

Days in the current climate are often filled with the sense of unease amid the uncertainty that surrounds us. Since I have always found my work to be the safe place I have been trying to keep myself as busy as possible. The constant search for new projects keeps me focused and gives some stability and sense of control that I have been longing for these days. Apart from work, now more than ever, I tend to indulge in inspiring content. Although discovering new creatives is refreshing and exciting, sometimes I just like to go back to some old favourites.

  1. Ana Popescu – Love Ana’s work! I have been following her journey on Instagram for quite some time now. Her serene landscapes and bits of quiet everyday life look as if they were movie frames while the stillness of her compositions brings the sense of calmness to the viewer. What never ceases to amaze me about Ana’s work is how her masterful use of colour and texture plays a pivotal role in the overall impression of her pieces.
  1. Paloma Wool – One of my favourite discoveries from back when I was a student is the Barcelona based project Paloma Wool. I love the idea behind it and how, guided by the brilliance of its founder, the garments ascend into art. What astounds me most is the way that designer utilizes colour, drawings and shapes while creating timeless pieces that are completely detached from the constrains of the fast fashion industry.
  1. Sara Andreasson – Sara Andreasson is one of my favourite contemporary illustrators whose work I started following during my university years. Her bold approach to buoyant colour combinations is what drew me to her illustrations so strongly. Sara’s work emits impeccable strength which is extremely refreshing and distinctive. Her style is consistently exciting and never fails to amaze with each new piece.
  1. Wes Anderson movies – Ever since I was a costume design student Wes Anderson’s cinematic universe was somewhat of an aesthetic Holy Grail. Whenever I am in a creative rut or don’t know where to go next with my work, I turn to one of his movies. There is something about the vivid stories, quirky characters and impeccable aesthetic that turns these into true creative boosters. Moreover, most of my palettes are inspired by the Anderson’s playful world.
  1. Henry Matisse – I have always been quite inspired by his work, especially the cut-outs series. Matisse is the master of colour and his long exploration of the relation between colour and form had its perfect culmination in this last phase of his artistic career. His remarkable arrangement of playful compositions and bold approach to its main elements will remain one of the greatest artistic legacies.|

Henri Matisse, “The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown”

Nikoleta Markovic: Hello World. I am Nikoleta Marković, M.A Art Historian, Curator, and Art Director. Both my bachelor and postgraduate thesis were focused on the Bauhaus School of Art & Design so my interest in Avant-garde and its socio-political context comes as no surprise. Currently, I am working as an Art Director in product and furniture design.

In these strange times, I was already working from home, so little has changed in my schedule. My dog is happier with me being home all the time and going for long walks. Also, I’ve been reading more non-work-related materials, which is great! It wasn’t as easy as I’d first imagined to come up with 5 artworks that defined me and my professional career. When choosing these “Top 5” I felt like a mother that has to choose a favorite child! After having thought it over for a while, here are my choices:

  1. “When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.” This quote by Agnes Martin describes my fascination with her and the grid better than I could ever do. It was her thoughts best described as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence” that made me apprehend her work more deeply.
Agnes Martin, On a Clear Day, (1973), © Estate of Agnes Martin/DACS 2015

2. At first, this one may seem like a cliche, but you know how in movies you often have main characters having that deep revelation moments with a plot-twist. I was merely a teenager when I first saw this artwork and I felt just that. I think it was the first time I realized that Art can move me (I wanted to be a dentist before that).

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (I), (1952), Gouache painted paper cut-outs on paper on canvas 106.30 x 78.00 cm Foundation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2013

3. Twombly’s work represents a beautiful combination of lived experience and an ode to ancient history immersed in a seascape. I grew up near the sea, so everything this work represents is important to me, as it reminds me of the Mediterranean coast.

Cy Twombly, Poems to the sea (in 24 parts), (1959), oil-based house paint, pencil and wax crayon on paper.

4. I dived into Anni Albers’s work surprisingly late, while reading an article about Bauhaus students. While reading her essays, I was amazed by the complexity and also struck how little the women of Bauhaus were represented and how essential the textile department actually was to Bauhaus. (in a school that was proud to accept both male and females students) So I started my research from there and years later got my M.A degree on this topic!

Anni Albers, Preliminary Design for Wall Hanging, (1926), Gouache and pencil on paper, © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

5. Gonzalez-Torres’s work shows us that artists can use everyday objects to deliver a strong message. The clocks were initially set to the same time, but eventually, would fall out of sync, or may stop altogether. To give a little more context, the work was conceived shortly after his partner was diagnosed with AIDS, as an ode to time, they had spent (had left) together. Maybe I am also a little bit romantic after all.

Felix-Gonzales Torres, Untitled (Perfect Lovers), (1991), clocks, paint on wall, alongside a Letter from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Ross from 1988.

I started this journey wanting to share a piece of myself with you but ended up discovering a little bit more about myself too. It was the drive to dig deeper into the context that made these artworks so important to me.


Aleksandra Peric: Since March, things have changed both in my private and professional life of an architect. A continuous movement, which best describes my life, has been significantly altered. I live in Belgrade and work in a studio and before the ‘new normal’, my everyday life, besides my job, involved a lot of side activities- exhibitions, researches. Now I dedicate most of my free time to my Labrador Lilly. I got her as a birthday present and she turned the quarantine into an in-house adventure. She was two months old and spent her entire “childhood” in lockdown (until mid-May), but she is the main reason I enjoyed lockdown and resented the idea of coming back to the office.

I was born and raised in Loznica and during my school days, I was interested mainly in arts and social sciences, with a great passion towards languages. However, architecture prevailed because it gathers all my interests. My studies were hectic, resembling a rollercoaster drive, where the last station actually integrated an old love into a new chapter in my life – film. Tarkovsky was the starting point of my idea of film and architecture ‘togetherness’ – and I hope to develop this concept furthermore. I’m grateful to have had the chance to work in my profession in Serbia and abroad, from the start of my career and to progress both professionally and artistically, but also develop scientifically.

I loved the idea of talking about the movies that have had a direct impact on my artistic formation. Because of that aspect, it is easier for me to narrow this personal selection. Starting chronologically:

  1. The cabinet of Dr Calighari – Though it is a black and white silent German movie, it is very dynamic, mysterious and above all it captivated me with its striking frames and distorted mise-en-scene, and the power of both human and spatial potential of expression despite the fact that one sense is excluded. The visual expression of the movie reflects the story of a madman depicting a world of sleep-walkers and insanity.
  2. Nostalgia – even before it became my research topic, I admired his work. His cinema was a great revelation to me. The values he advocates in films are the same ones I cherish personally, and I feel particularly engaged with the atmosphere of his movies because, he evokes emotions and empathy. When the screen is abstracted, the world which is separated from ours comes close to us and becomes real. The viewer that can identify Tarkovsky’s films to a mirror is capable of introspection.
  3. All about my mother – Firstly, Almodovar made me fall in love with the European cinematography, which I’m still mostly interested in. Secondly, his films, and especially this one remind me of my own fascinating female universe that characterizes Pedro’s work. All this with the ability to cross the line of love and madness with overwhelming ease. This film spotlighted women but also opened doors to many other worlds, unknown to me earlier.
  4. Chicago – It contains my love towards jazz, musicals, the era of the 20s and an always applicable satire with a sophisticated dose of humor. The vaudeville scenes which are presented as cutaway scenes in the mind of Roxie – her impressions subjectively synchronized and reinterpreted alongside as they happen, are this film’s punch line. On the other hand, the ‘’real life’’ scenes are pictured unmercifully realistically. Let’s say Roxie and I have a lot in common in the way we ‘’see’’ things.
  5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – An emotionally twisted plot which intrigued me from the first moment, peels off layers of great symbolical and emotional digressions alongside with the main motive in the film – the greater good for the loved ones. All that wrapped in the great impression of the relativity of time and what the regular life brings, just like the odd one.


Ana Dajic: For someone who has been in love with music for so long, to choose only five albums that have shaped my musical taste, or marked some stages of my life is a very difficult task, indeed.  Although I am an ethnologist and anthropologist, I have always known that music would bring so much color to both my personal and professional life.  For the past few years, I’ve worked as a music editor at Milica magazine,  as a DJ,  and I’ve also been running the podcast “Dirižabl”, which helps me to find space to fit all the melodies I love and share them with others. So, before I make an all-out effort to complete this mission, I would like to point out that although it breaks my heart, I will not mention some albums that have gotten deep under my skin, such as: Pixies “Doolittle”, The Beatles “Revolver”, The Rolling Stones “Aftermath”, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds “The Boatman’s Call”, or Brian Jonestown Massacre “Bravery, Repetition and Noise”, T Rex “The Slider”, Thin Lizzy “Bad Reputation”, Neil Young “Harvest”,Cure “Disintegration”, Fiona Apple “Tidal”, Suede “Suede”, Blur “13”, Fleetwood Mac “Rumors”, Rodriguez “Cold Fact” etc. This list could go on forever,  but let’s start with the chosen ones!

  1. Adorable “Fake”

When I was younger, I had a serious LP collection from my uncle at my disposal, and I fell in love with classical rock records but also with a bunch of Yugoslav schlager music. But I needed something more close to my heart. My father had a very good friend who was a major music influence on me. Almost every week he sent me some compilation discs that he thought I might like! One day he sent me Adorable’s album “Fake”! That was love at first hearing and probably one of the most important albums in my life. It also opened the door for a kick-ass genre shoegaze and, later on, introduced me to some great bands, such as Catherine Wheel, Ride, Moose, Chapterhouse.

  1. The Smiths “The Queen Is Dead”

Even though I now claim that I don’t have a favorite song, or album, or a band, for a long time, especially during my late teenage years, I couldn’t think of a band that I loved more than The Smiths. Although it’s not part of this album, the song “Ask” encouraged me in a way to start creating the radio podcast Dirižabl. This will also be my road trip album forever, and someday, I will make it to Manchester, I promise you Morrissey!

  1. David Bowie “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”

I recently read a wonderful book by Ivica Prtenjača “The Hill” which roughly speaks of escaping from everything in order to find oneself. That feeling of anxiety but at the same time the sense of relief and self-discovery is the most accurate description of this album in which I am constantly discovering more and more layers of emotion and the power of extraordinary “rock” poetry of the one and only – David Bowie.

  1. Serge Gainsbourg “Histoire de Melody Nelson”

The album sums up my eternal love for French music and its seductiveness, its charm, and its intelligent reflecting on music. Try the one with Birkin or the one with Bardot, or the whole discography of Francoise Hardy or Jacques Dutronc– you can never go wrong.

  1. Arcade Fire “The Suburbs”

My first “until the morning” dances mostly took place at Indie-go events. I danced this album out so many times from the first to the last song and even today it still melts my heart so easily. Even when summer is coming to an end, this album always smells like the beginning of a vacation.

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