Blesok no. 57, November-December, 2007
Gallery Reviews


Slavica Janešlieva – Grafting
Multimedia Center Mala Stanica, October 2007

Zlatko Teodosievski


1.
The phenomenon of refugees/refuge is one of the so called eternal issues and themes which both literally and absolutely communicate with the civilization codes of human existence. Essential existential and also moral, philosophical, sociological and various other aspects and consequences of man's destiny directly transgress and unite in it. At the same time the refugees theme is distant to any possible rational comprehension, because it is an extremely emotional and distressful issue which hardly anyone can face with a ready-made defence mechanism of indifference or be cool-headed to it. The reason for such responses is basically because exile and refuge are mainly experienced, endured and felt through the prism of collective tragedies and exoduses, through images and pictures of lines of tormented, warn out and miserable old people, women and children – through images that make indifference impossible!

    On the other hand, should we relate the entire (known) history of mankind to the exile syndrome? Should we treat and interpret Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden as an act of (indirect) exile? Since, after all, refuge is very often only a reaction to a previous action i.e. to exile, we can simply say that this is definitely a Biblical theme which strongly supports its eternity aspect. And what's more, the First Book along with the Eden Story, abounds in colourful and convincing elaborations of this crucial topic and also in some more drastic examples – the prosecution and exile of the Jews from Egypt, the exile/refuge of the Christians from Israel … thus, convincing us that the history of mankind is actually a history of exile and refuge.
    But even the more exciting real world, reflected in some actual events from our distant or more recent past abounds in more cruel examples of actions and reactions to exile and refuge: Luis XIV's Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 [1], the Soviet Revolution in 1917 [2], the so called Armenian genocide in 1915-1917 [3], the horrors and the holocaust during the Second World War, the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Arab -Israeli wars [4] and so on.

    And, inspite of the shocking historical experiences, the situation with refugees of today has not improved much. According to the UNCHR reports, the number of refugees in the world at the beginning of 2006 was 8,4 million! Approximately 80% of the refugees are always women and children.
    The reasons for these incredibly painful and, as a rule, always extremely bloody acts and events are various. They could be: religious, territorial, ideological, racial, etc. While the actual reasons and causes always seem to be inexplicably different, both the methods and the outcomes are always the same! The final outcome always seems to be a copy of the same matrix: blood and tears, dead and displaced people, split up families and reshaped destinies, terrible personal and collective dramas and tragedies, thousands of dislocated lives.

2.
The Macedonian historical experience is familiar with the exile/refuge issue. This issue has affected various aspects of our existence and lives: both our country and our nation have directly been subjected to refuge genocide, as well as our territory on which a number of refugees crises have taken place. Yet the world historical memory is, more or less, ignorant of these tragic Macedonian experiences, because in almost all different searchings and rereadings of possible refugees crisis spots in the world history, there is hardy any mention of Macedonia or it is being mentioned only in a marginal way.

    This especially refers to the theme of this particular art project-the tragic Macedonian refugees exodus at the end of the Civil war in Greece, i.e. in 1948-1949, which in the popular and easily accessible “sources” of today (such as Internet) is simply not mentioned or is often reduced to a few euphemisms such as: deportation, relocation, transportation of families or children with no indication of their ethnic origin. On the other hand, there are numerous sources in which the truth is being altered by naming these refugees, and especially the children Greek children transformed into fanatic Macedonians[5]. Although the stated numbers, surprisingly and strangely enough, do vary – some reach up to 700.000 refugees[6] and others emphasize the number of children refugees – 28.296 [7] – it is obvious that this refugees' exodus was definitely an extremely terrible and tragic event, which in the middle of the 20th century took place in the Balkans.
    On the other hand, although this is hardly an appropriate moment for such an elaboration, it is important that we ask ourselves the following questions: What have we done and in what way have we contributed for a better and more thorough documentation, interpretation, clarification and public presentation of these events.

3.
As it was already said at the beginning of this text, the response to this particular theme i.e. the exile/refuge issue is usually extremely emotional and just because of that we can conclude, that both at a global level and also as an actual event it is viable for a possible artistic reaction and transposition. This is probably true, but our practice, at least the Macedonian artistic practice proves just the opposite. It appears that the refugees theme, regardless of Macedonian rich historical experience, has not been frequently used as an art theme and challenge. Even it could be said that it has been surprisingly neglected and ignored.

    Especially when it refers to the theme of this particular project: the Macedonian refugees exodus at the time of the Civil war in Greece in 1948-1949- there have not been many serious projects in visual arts.[8] Of course, the first one that should be mentioned is Kiril Cenevski's movie Black Seed, then a few documentaries (such as Tugleš by Kole Manev) and television films (for example The Barriers of Greek Diplomacy by Nikola Kalajdžiski), as well as the most recent cinematographic production The Children of 1948 by the young film director Suzana Dinevski. The attempts in fine arts are even fewer: probably in the paintings of Kole Manev (there is something in their atmosphere and a kind of reference) and in some sculptures and prints by Naso Bekarovski, and that is all. [9]



4.
Probably, in order to understand better Slavica Janešlieva's undertaking, her preoccupation and her engagement with this theme more thoroughly, it is necessary to be acquainted with her previous work.
    Actually, “… two things have to be emphasized about Slavica Janešlieva's artistic expression. The first thing is her impressive, captivating storytelling, the ease with which she draws all those moments/stories from her memory, “mixing” the various contexts, periods, sequences of events and situations in the best postmodernist storytelling tradition… not insisting on her own version, but allowing the viewer to compose his or her own story. The second thing that has to be mentioned is her exceptional talent for visualizing narration: memory/narration is effortlessly transformed into representation, an object, colour, materialized substance — resulting in a powerful synthesis of history/tradition and everyday life, great ideas and small things, emotions and reflections, metaphors and meanings.”
[10] “In fact, Janešlieva s entire artistic work up to now — prints, installations, objects, etc. — adheres mainly to the general modalities of what is known as the “art in the first person,” or more precisely, to the domain of “inter-subjectivity” and the (self)-reflexivness. This means that all of her projects — in an almost continuous, rather personal story — are linked in a kind of self-referential system composed of segmented stories with an intimate/family background. In this context, the intimate/family elements can be regarded as a substitute for those of general/social nature, as an “escape” from this specific or similar social reality, although in their very essence they are deeply connected with some important (traditional, moral…) dilemmas of the global environment.”[11]

    Therefore, this project by Janešlieva is actually an other one in the line of her recent engaged responses and artistic engagements i.e. her own personal perceptions and comments on eternal issues which are always bitterly provocative and, as a rule, of a broad spectrum. This, on the other hand, to some people might seem a tedious moralizing which consequently has nothing to do with art per se. Of course this is not the case, especially when it refers to an artist such as Janešlieva is. This is so because Slavica does not lecture, she does not preach or send messages. She leaves that to the less inventive ones. Within herself, Janešlieva actually carries the theme, carries and suffers the pain, makes it grow and ripen in her until it becomes a solid concept, a concept with a precise idea and a formulated vision. Thus, in this concept of hers, there is no room for cheap moralizing or banal flattering!
    Within the context of Macedonian exile/refuge theme Janešlieva's motive and artistic challenge, at first glance might appear unclear (if really a motive is needed for an art creation). What is the reason for her interest, curiosity and her preoccupation with this particular and, to put it openly, even today insufficiently investigated, researched and complex theme, and still, strangely enough – unknown and problematic story? Actually, there are no secrets but the challenge is in the complexity of the theme, in it still being blocked, in its catastrophic dimensions, in the incredible destinies of the refugees, in…! A dozen other reasons could also be mentioned, but the most essential ones among them certainly are the following ones: the need that the story should be given a voice, the need for it to be made known, the need to become public … the need to be appropriately dimensioned both in historical and artistic way; the necessity that both the world as well as we ourselves often openly and truly face the cruel reality. Certainly, the crucial question that should be asked is: how has it come and what are the reasons that both history and the world know almost everything about all other exoduses and know almost nothing about this particular one? Thus, as Benjamin has noted that “The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again… For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.”, it seems that Janešlieva wants to seize some images, to freeze them just for a second, temporarily to save them from disappearing – at least until we understand them better or pay them the due respect.

    The concept of the project Grafting is polysemantic and multi-layered. The leitmotif is the exile theme – the exodus of Macedonian families during the Civil war in Greece 1946-1949, but around it Janešlieva weaves several crucial threads and aspects. Therefore she organizes the visual part of the project in the following way:
    The first point obviously is the distressing, endless, tragic… the eternal line of refugees which in continuo, like a perpetuum mobile, moves through human history. This is the Macedonian part of Hell, the Aegean exodus, the line of Macedonian refugees trying to escape the cleansing carried out by the war hordes. A few women…“lead the children and make them count stars so that they would not fall asleep. The children make a wish and count the stars, but their only wish is to be left to sleep… They tightly hold the edges of their mothers' skirts and count stars”.[12] This is an extract from a novel on the Aegean exodus, but it could refer to any other refugees from other countries: to refugees from Palestine or Sudan, from Afghanistan or Iraq, refugees from Myanmar or… etc. But, the essence is the same. Only the scenography and the costimography are different. There are lines of silent destinies which exhaustingly move along untrodden areas, lines of people who had left everything behind and are looking ahead to nothing. This is just the beginning, their entry into their enormous future emptiness and nothingness, in their new dislocations, new resettlements and adaptations in unknown lands and among unknown people…!

    If the first story is, (at least it seems to be), general and global and also anonymous and collective, the second set, is partly, personalized and gives it its identity! Here, the line of refugees is already being identified; it gradually becomes recognizable because of the direct participants in the exodus, i.e. the former children refugees and their own stories. Here the silhouettes from the line are being personalized: now they have their names and surnames… their own voices and hands. Nevertheless Janešlieva's aim is not to inform us in detail about the characters in this story in order to know them better, since that would turn it into a piece of literature or a movie. She is looking for something else; she searches after and manages to find a different visual poetics. The individuals and their stories are the background on which Janešlieva follows other traces and signs. Or to be more precise, by organizing this particular segment of the story in several separate video and/or photo stories and sequences, Janešlieva focuses her, (but also our own) attention not so much on the narrators themselves, but on parts of their body, i.e. on some important details in their stories as elements that might initiate new stories! For instance the hands (referring to the fact that the age of the children refugees used to be determined by their hand bones; then the hair (which, as a rule, for preventive reasons was cut at the arrival of the refugees at their destination), and so on!

    The third segment of the project, i.e. the third story actually is the end of the unknown journey or the expected new beginning! To put it more precisely – although uprooted from their birth places (and also often from their parents and close relatives) in a terrible way and by force, both the refugee children as well as the older ones had been simply expected to proceed with their lives somewhere there in a foreign land, in an unknown environment, as if nothing had happened! Janešlieva, actually, tests this thesis by comparing the refugees story to grafting young trees, i.e. she compares the artificial implantation of children from one land to an other one with the equivalent artificial grafting, a transplanting of one kind of plant into an other one! And, this old and many times tested grafting technique, as a rule, does function in practice. Young branches like young children, as a rule, accept the graft, they grow and spread, at least it appears so according to the plan of their grafter. Since human species, like young trees are a tough sort! The question is only what remains inside and in what way – what kind of bruises and marks are left in the tree rings – in the people's souls and memories!

5.

Reminding us of the events that took place under the dark sky above the Aegean region[13] not so long ago, Janešlieva (symbolically) and both for us pays back the dept to the Aegean epos. Not letting the moment of enlightment be just a flash and the past become just an irretrievable flow instantly perceived, but lost in eternity, she precisely and emotionally creates her own angle of perception. The timing is probably perfect, because many issues concerning human, cultural and other rights of Macedonians in the region are now being reopened. The Aegean exodus – an event unbelievable even in Biblical terms[14] is an important part of the complex refugees issues.

Translated by: Marija Hadžimitrova Ivanova


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1. By this Edict Protestantism was forbidden by law and this practically caused a relocation by force of approximately 500.000 Protestants (i.e. Hugenotes) from France to other lands in Europe.
2. It caused the exile of approximately 1.500.000 refugees, mostly in some Eropean countries.
3. It caused a displacement from Turkey of approximately one million Armenians.
4. Some assessments indicate that approximately two million people (Palestinians, Jews and others) were displaced in that period.
5. Lagani, Irene. The Removal of the Greek Children and the Greek-Yugoslav Relations, 1949-1953-a Critical Approach.-Athens: I. Sderis, 1966.
6. Greece – Civil War, Library of Congress Country Studies.
7. Courtois, Stephane and all. The Black Book of Communism. – Cambridge, MA: H.U.P., 1999.
8. Differently enough, this theme is frequently treated in Macedonian contemporary literature in the works of a number of prominent Macedonian writers such as: Taško Georgievski, Petar Širilov, Ivan Čapovski, Kata Misirkova, Paskal Gilevski, Taško Širilov, Kica Bardžieva-Kolbe and others.
9. In this context, although indirectly related to the Macedonian variant of this theme, we should mention the exibition “Artists and Refugees” (currator Melentie Pandilovski) held at Skopje City Museum in 1999.

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10. Teodosievski, Zlatko. Janešlieva (a catalogue) – Skopje: Macedonian National Gallery, 2005, pp. 13.
11. Ibid., pp. 3.
12. Andreevski, Petre. Nebeska Timjanova – Skopje, “Dnevnik/Tabernakul”, 2007, p. 152.
13. Čapovski, Ivan. “The Dark Sky Above the Aegean Region”, in “Dnevnik”, Sept. 20th, 2007, p. 11.
14. Ibid.



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