Dragana Jurisic was born in Slavonski Brod, Croatia (then Yugoslavia) and currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. She studied her Masters in Fine Art at the University of Wales, Newport, in 2008 and has recently finished a PhD.
In 2006 she was commissioned by Combat Poverty to make a series of documentary photographs within Ireland. The resulting images highlight the scope of poverty, with Jurisic continually using an image of a bird as a metaphor for the freedom of the photographer, able to come and go as she pleases.
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a travel book written by Dame Rebecca West published in 1941. Over 1,100 pages long, it details her six week trip in 1937 revealing an account of Balkan history and published when the Nazis invaded the country. West said she wanted ‘to show the past side by side with the present it created’.
In 2011, Jurisic began to retrace this journey through Yugoslavia, using photography and text to create the project YU: The Lost Country. It builds upon her own memories alongside those of Rebecca West.
“I remember thinking it all must be some sort of a joke.
I remember being excited and scared at the same time.
I remember how I put all my LP’s into the hallway so they wouldn’t get damaged by the crossfire.
I remember that my father and my brother were out that afternoon.
I remember bullets spraying the front door of our building.
I remember hearing what sounded like someone trying to get in.
I remember my mother thinking ‘it’s them’ and running towards the door.
I remember grabbing onto her until all my nails broke.
I remember meeting my neighbours for the first time in the basement of our building.
I remember thinking ‘pity I met them only now when we are all about to die’.
I remember the building burning above us.
I remember being sad about all those books my parents brought through the syndicate and never read… only consumed by me and the fire.
I remember being pissed off that I would die a virgin.
I remember when they came to pull us out.
I remember how I learned to zigzag run in order to escape sniper’s bullets.
I remember taking shelter in the local supermarket.
I remember falling asleep on bags of washing powder, next to a boy I had a secret crush on (he was our local basketball star).
I remember him waking me up at 3 am and whispering: “What can I get you, Madam?”
I remember asking for ice cream and champagne.
I remember captured Yugoslav army soldiers sitting scared shitless opposite from us.
I remember Croatian soldiers handing them box of sweets.
I remember walking into our burned down apartment the following morning.
I remember feeling relief that all the mess was gone and I would not need to clean up my room.
I remember that everything melted except for a big orange gas bottle, laying in red crackling ‘coals’, waiting to go off like some post-apocalyptic witches cauldron.
I remember the soles of my red converse shoes melting.
I remember walking out’”.
What she says
The story of me as a photographer starts in 1991 during the war in former Yugoslavia when our family apartment was burned down together with thousands of prints and negatives my father, an ardent amateur photographer, had accumulated. The day after the fire was the last day he took a photograph, a perfunctory snapshot to record the damage for the insurance company. Where my father stopped, I started. The act of photographing, of looking at the world through a camera lens, helped provide a semblance of control over an otherwise unpredictable world.
Now, more than twenty years after the war(s) started, I began to recall and question my own memories of both the place I was born and events personally experienced. I am calling myself an exile, and not an expatriate – because I can’t, even if I wanted to – return ‘home’. During the 1990 census, I was denied the right to be Yugoslav, the nationality I identified myself with until then. (Being a child of a Croatian father and a Serbian mother, this left me somewhat confused.) The census researcher’s answer to why this was impossible, mirrored very closely something that Mussolini said: “Yugoslavia does not exist. It is a heterogeneous conglomerate which you cobbled together in Paris.
Why I like her
Jurisic takes a position as someone working from a place of exile. The images take the form of a visual narrative, seen form both an insider and outsider perspective. They are also very beautiful in their stillness and ethereal in their imagery.