The year 2020 left us with a feeling of unease and uncertainty, which has persisted in 2021, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the globe. In a similar vein as our project from August 2020, we’ve gathered four female creatives, who are remarkable forces in their respective fields of work. By sharing with you certain formative aspects of their creativity, as well as discussing people whose work has inspired theirs, we hope to underline the idea that culture is not cancelled, even in difficult times, and help you find inspiration, too.
The second installment in our project titled Culture Is not Cancelled: Creatives Share Their Inspiration brings together Munich, Ohrid, Belgrade and Paris, as Jovana Banović, Radmila Vankoska, Iva Parađanin and Sonja Bajić share parts of their mesmerising creative lives.
Aloha, aloha everyone. I’m Jovana Banović, currently living and working in Munich. I graduated f rom the University o f Belgrade, the department of Archaeology. During the end of my studies, my interests broadened to include my professional point of view broadened to include design and photography. Since then I’ve been creating my own narratives of nature by using plants, and working on herbariums, cyanotypes and analog photography. I’m currently taking part in several projects, designing a new edition for spora and helping people with special needs.
During the past year most of the things and events have been “in the waiting line”, which made us attempt to find a different approach and learn anew how to still be able to create something from it all. For me personally, things haven’t changed so much, except that I haven’t been able to see my friends from abroad for a long time. As I am a dreamer my “escapes” are taking place on a daily basis, especially in situations like this where “relocations” are now mostly happening in our thoughts – traveling without moving. In the next few paragraphs I will reveal my secret to you regarding how it’s possible to escape in the worlds that can provide you with so many different levels of consciousness and subconsciousness, which can help you learn more about yourself. All five authors have one string in common that connects them and that is that they create their own micro worlds for all of us to enjoy. Hopefully at the end some of you will experience the feeling I felt for the first time when I discovered them.
Moebius (Jean Henri Gaston Giraud)
The story of Moebius (Jean Henri Gaston Giraud) is the story of the enquiries of a man for whom creating comics was not only a job, but the form also represented the intellection of the world, an instrumentality of finding oneself and one’s place in the universe. He identified the manifesto of his work through the use of a pseudonym, which he borrowed from a famous German mathematician. When I saw his work for the first time, something inside of me told me that this is something that I will admire throughout my whole life. And after so many years I still feel the same way about it. Carefully observing the worlds that he shaped during his life journey, you can see clearly that he was someone who absorbed and learned, but who was also a child playing an unusual and unknown game with wonder and curiosity. Being hypnotized by these weightless worlds full of details and strong colours, it’s hard not to wish to be able to levitate, teleport, or live there for just a few seconds.
Her birthday was a few weeks ago, on March 16. She is someone who truly inspired me when I started learning more about ocean algae and cyanotype technique. Her name is Anna Atkins, the eminent English botanist and the very first female photographer, mostly noted for using photography in her books on various plants . While discovering more about her work during my research a few years ago I immediately wished to make my own one versions. My fascination grew as I got to learn how much effort she put to collect, preserve plants a n d arrange her specimens in imaginative and elegant compositions. The power of blue colour variations in her cyanotypes is mind-blowing, and resembles the way the sea changes its shades of blue. Her British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was one of the first publications which made use of light-sensitive materials to illustrate a book.
The creator of many mesmerising anime movies and manga, Hayao Miyazaki, is one of my never-ending sources of inspiration. He puts focus on recurring themes such as the conflict between human progress and natural order and the persistence of the spiritual world in the face of the mundane. Worlds with landscapes that he creates are truly amazing, from the grass, forests and hills of the Valley of the Wind to the sandy dunes of the deserts to the (although poisonous) nature wonderland of the Toxic Jungle displaying a charming amount of detail. All creatures are very strong characters, and my heroine, Nausicaa, is extremely admirable. Along with everything else, music also plays an important role and it enhances the experience of each film separately. All things considered, every story is a timeless one, every bit as relevant today as it was 37 years ago.
Jorge Luis Borges
Reading the books of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time is like discovering a new universe called the Library. Borges sends us on journeys into mesmerising, bizarre and profoundly resonant realm. While reading his works we enter into the forking path of his seemingly infinite imagination, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books. Ficciones and The Book of Imaginary Beings are my an inexhaustible source of exploration. He tell us that nothing is new, that creation is recreation, that we are all one contradictory mind, connected with each other through time and space, that human beings are not only fiction makers but are fictions themselves.
The remarkably interesting non-narrative filmmaker Stan Brakhage caught my attention while I was searching for inspiration concerning working with film negatives for my herbarium project. With his work ”Mothlight” he opened new portals and perceptions regarding the way of seeing things. Brakhage’s great project was to explore the nature of light and all forms of vision while encompassing a vast range of subject matter. “Visual music” or “moving visual thinking” are terms frequently referred to in his works. His films are often intentionally silent, chaotic canvases of colour which move in a frame that simulates “closed-eyed seeing” and transformation not just of a vision but of the world itself.
My name is Radmila Vankoska, and I was born and raised by Lake Ohrid; as the years go by I think that is one of the most important facts about me. Although I have been living and working in Belgrade for seven years, I regularly return to my hometown every spring. I am a photographer and video artist, so this year the Lake and the art itself gave me a shelter and chance for creative introspection. For a whole year I’ve been recording video diaries, trying to understand the chaos that is happening around us, but also the beautiful things that we often forget during difficult times. As for photography, due to the pandemic I do not have that physical freedom, as I had before, to work with other people, but I poured my creative energy into reconstructing old family photographs, and simply looking for meaning in photographing ordinary life, while understanding how close we actually are to extinction. Both as individuals and as a species.
So through these five photographers I will try to explain why I do photography and how it gives my life a meaning.
Although her work falls into the sphere of documentary photography and fantastically conveys the life in Chicago, New York, LA, etc., I am obsessed with her self-portraits, especially those with only her shadow present, perfectly glued to other people’s bodies or urban surfaces. She had been documenting life for years without funds to develop those films and without knowing that one day someone will find those negatives and the world will agree that her work is one of the most beautiful photographic archives of the last century.
Often when those terrible creative blockages happen, and the questions like – what is the point, why am I doing this? – are painfully loud, I think of her and I believe that the essence of photography lies in the work of Vivian Mayer. We often feel too small in this world that’s way too big, and we strongly feel the need to leave some evidence of our existence. As photographers, it is not enough for us to be just spectators, it is such a lonely place to be. We need to be part of this world, no matter how big and scary.
Duane is a poet among photographers. I’m pointing him out as a great inspiration for two reasons – his photo sequences and his amazing approach to photographing contemporary artists of his time. This man has expanded the photographic medium by giving it context through written notes and has enriched it with a specific narrative through the use of those photographic sequences.
Personally, through his work, I stopped looking at photography as a medium that should only document reality. It was his sequences, which look like movie images, that helped me develop a tool for documenting dreams or interpret reality metaphorically like literature can do.
His portrait photography is very specific with the way he photographed his fellow artists. With just one portrait he shows us not only the character of the artist, but also the essence of his work. As an example, I will single out this portrait of Rene Magritte.
I consider her to be one of the most interesting representatives of this medium and when we talk about a photo diary, for me she is the most important artist. Studying her practice, I realized how important it is to photograph what you know and that photography does not have to be beautiful to be important. Goldin has documented the difficult but colorful period from the end of the last century. By photographing herself and her friends, she has shown the world what life really looks like for people on the margins, how the HIV virus plagues the LGBT community, what the body of a woman who suffers physical violence looks like, and she has shown us not only the life of the people she lives with, but also their deaths.
Her photographs are neither staged nor completely documentary – they are everyday moments, snapshots, images that no journalist, observer or spectator can make. They can be photographed only by someone who lives them, someone who is part of that community, someone who sincerely loves it and understands it.
I have to mention him, because although he was not a photographer, but a cinematographer (one of the greatest actually), his aesthetics is so important in the domain of portrait photography. Although he collaborated with many big names, he is best known for his work with Ingmar Bergman, and the way he shot the close-ups of the movie Persona is a kind of revolution in the film world. After all, it seems to me that through that picture I learned how to look at the human face and how to search for the hidden in its expressions.
Whenever I do portrait photography, the faces of Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson and the way the light reveals their shapes comes to mind – very soft and brutal at the same time. I hope that one day I will manage to master the field of portrait photography with such ease as he himself did.
Last but not least, I think of her work as being one of the most inspiring for me when it comes to what I want to build for myself, and I try to do it, at least thematically. Her entire work is one of the richest contemporary photographic archives in the Balkans. I was lucky enough to have her as a college lecturer and I have always adored her energy but years later I realized how important her practice is to what I want to achieve as a photographer.
I experience her photographs as a wonderful documentation of a time filled with great political upheavals, but even more, a time that springs with rich artistic culture. I myself, photographing the authors and artists of my generation, can only hope that one day I will achieve to create something as important as her work is.
My name is Iva Parađanin and I am currently working as the editor of the Elle Active section within Elle magazine. I am the author of the Tampon Zone podcast, which deals with topics that women are essentially interested in and I try to give voice to women whose stories and experiences are important and are not heard loud enough. During my career, I have also made several documentaries, one of which is the film Unwanted Daughters of Montenegro dealing with the topic of selective abortions, and it has remained to be very noticed and has been shown at several festivals. I am a journalist and a feminist and I believe that the media can be a very powerful tool in the fight for gender equality, and my work is mostly based on that. We live in a digital age when you don’t have to work for the media to tell your story, so one of my missions is to encourage women to speak up and share their experiences.
These days, I’m torn between identities and I try to be good at each of them: as a journalist, as a mom, and as my ordinary self. Living in such circumstances is a real challenge and it has made me think a little deeper about my burden of unpaid housework, which in Serbia mostly falls on women who work three shifts a day. However, if I can say that anything good happened during this pandemic, it is the wave of speech we are witnessing: against sexual violence in the first place. I hope this is just the beginning because I believe that many stories have yet to be told and many women to be liberated.
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Wolf
The entire opus of this writer greatly influenced the fact that today I can read predominantly only female authors. She devoted much of her life to considering the position of women in Victorian society. In her novels, women are members of the middle and upper social strata, who, although living in harmonious relationships / marriage, are actually deeply unfulfilled and lonely because they have been assigned a social role.
However, her feminist essays are something special. Even today, A Room of One’s Own is one of the key works for understanding the discrimination against women in literature that is still present, especially in this area. Its sentences are timeless like some kind of manifesto and that is why I often quote them myself.
Hannah Arendt –The Origins of Totalitarianism
Hannah Arendt is a philosopher mostly known for her thesis on the “banality of evil”, which she prepared in 1963 in the work “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. She expressed the thesis that the great evils of the history of mankind were not committed by fanatics and sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the interpretation of the state, and that the actions in which they participate are normal. In this paper, she writes that totalitarian movements are those that go beyond propaganda and practice violence, quite relevant today, isn’t it?
Periods Gone Public – Jeniffer Weiss Wolf
Women’s reproductive health and their rights in this area are something I will always fight for and talk about. Unfortunately, the stigma around menstruation is still present and woven into society, and it is very important to explain in layers what it all means. The author of this book very clearly and sharply explains why menstruation is a political issue, explaining every layer of this problem from “tampon tax” to menstrual poverty. At the same time, through personal consciousness, she interprets certain phenomena from her environment alongside discussing the movement for menstrual justice, which is becoming more numerous and louder.
Someone Said Feminism (Neko je rekao feminizam) – Adriana Zaharijević
The monograph Someone said feminism? How feminism influenced women in the 21st century consists of texts by 26 female authors, who were young at the time. Quite by accident, it found me on one occasion while I was preparing for an exam at the Faculty of Philosophy and probably significantly influenced my later orientation within the media towards women’s rights topics. The texts deal with rights and freedoms (voice, work, education, divorce and abortion), the intersection of personal and political (marriage and family, religion, women’s health, prostitution), identities and differences (lesbians, Gypsy women, the issue of race and gender), representation of women (language, media and popular culture), art (literature, theatre and visual arts), theory and activism (peace policy, globalization of feminism, anthropology and psychology), and historical intersections (private/public, intersection through the history of feminism).
Rumena Bužarovska, Lana Bastašić, Ana Vučković, Radmila Petrović
And finally, I can’t help but mention the fiction that is my infusion both during the pandemic and under normal conditions. I can’t decide on one title, but I have to mention a whole wave of new and young female authors from the region, thanks to whom we can read great novels, short stories and cutting poetry today. Authors such as Rumena Bužarovska, Lana Bastašić, Ana Vučković, and Radmila Petrović have conquered the literary scene, and I am infinitely grateful to them for every letter, thanks to which we can learn about authentic women’s experiences from the proper, uncensored angle. Raw, sharp, angry and strong, just like women are.
Hello and bonjour! I am Sonja Bajić – an illustrator, artist and a mapmaker. I like to call myself, as well, a visual storyteller as that’s how I pass a lot of my time – I see and hear things around me and then I capture them on paper. I live in Paris and I have been on the Eiffel tower over 800 times. In the last three years, three of my books came out – I authored one of them and co-authored the other two. What My Girlfriends Told Me came out in London in 2018, Kakva ženska came in Belgrade the same year and Vežbanka za strah came out in 2019. I had big plans for 2020 but things happened, ya know, so I had to move them for this year. I am hoping another two books will come out this year. I am very excited about those. I also draw for magazines like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Paula of Chile, Albert….and I make a lot of personalized maps. Maps are my big passion and I often think about how we walk on a map each day! Creation is the way I live, so I also embroider and make things out of different materials like clay or porcelain. My art is connected through themes of femininity, enchanting colors as well as the sense of serendipity. Besides showing new and old worlds, art should promote equality and love and I am proud to have participated in projects that support underrepresented minority groups and people in need as well as cancer fighting campaigns. I love people and the opportunities to share my experience – I educate adults and kids through regular school programs and personal workshops.
This last year has been awkward and intense and I did a lot of soul searching. I love to work and sometimes I push too far but that has proven out to be good in this current pandemic situation as it keeps my mind away from the insanity around us. Most of the time, I work from home anyway but I miss doing live workshops (now I do them online). I also miss small talks that do not contain words like virus, vaccine or hospital. But this will pass, we just need to find inspiration in local places and people. When impossible, these are some of the people I go back to over and over again:
Maira Kalman is my go-to person for life inspiration. She is an illustrator from New York and somebody who manages to explain how life is both good and bad at the same time and how we need to search for the beauty in it all. I like how serious yet light her interviews are – I love listening to and watching them. I am a passionate collector of her books, too. Everytime I start or finish a big project I buy one of them. I feel like while reading and just looking at them I get the opportunity to visit New York again and again. I get the same feeling when I look at her painted illustrations. She tells complicated life stories in a very simple way. She and her son opened the tiniest museum in an elevator hole called Mmuseum with a bunch of things that belonged to her mum.
There is a book on David Hockney I bought in Pompidou Center years ago. It was just after his exhibition, which I got to see there three times. It’s the only exhibition ever that I saw 3 times. The book is called “A Bigger Message” and as soon as I noticed the title, I bought it. I mean, I always search for big messages. In my opinion, David Hockney is the greatest living artist and the way he does EVERYTHING is pretty magical. I’ve started reading that book at least 15 times so far. It’s so inspiring that when I reach the middle of a chapter, I stop and feel the urge to create. His paintings are full of happiness – in all the ways it comes.
Michael Pollan is not an artist but the way he does journalism is pretty artistic! Everything he writes about he has experienced himself – be it housebuilding, gardening or yes, psychedelics. I like public figures who inspire me to experience my life further and with more open eyes and who make me read more about a certain topic. That’s what he does. At the moment, since it’s spring and I love city gardening (read: planting plants on balconies and inside of the apartment) I am reading his book Second Nature. He inspires me too look at plants and think about them in deeper ways and paint them the way I really see them.
Lisa is awe-inspiring! The way she creates her art, the way she lives her life and the way she generously shares all her ups and downs makes me feel less lonely. I like quotes and she paints them often and I really like the fact that she celebrates all our beautiful differences through her art. I love listening to her interviews as well.
There is something about Oliver Jeffers’ art that always – and for years and years – makes me stop scrolling down the rabbit hole and just stare for a moment at the immense beauty I found on my screen (on Oliver Jeffers’ profile). Be it a painting dipped in sun-yellow paint, be it a globe (and I love globes), be it a kids illustration, be it a map…He not only captures my attention every time but I also like the number of techniques he works in and the freedom when it comes to searching for the next inspiration that I allow myself to see in his work.
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