Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cherishing My Good Fortune

My visit to this city has been an incredible eye-opener. I knew very little about the history of the area before coming here - that the Winter Olympics were held here in 1984, that there had been a civil war from 1992-95, and that it was regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe - even winning the Lonely Planet's top city to visit ... anywhere ... in 2010.

With all the charm of other European capitals, Sarajevo is understandably a popular destination. It is most definitely walkable, with great shops, intriguing markets, and a café on every corner.  Everyone smokes! And they smoke everywhere: cafes, restaurants, hotel lobbies, even in stores. It's an affordable destination: we noted the city has a decided café mentality - when you can have two fabulous coffees, meat strudels, and spectacular pastries and cakes for a mere $6, well, who wouldn't linger?  OK, I don't, because of the incessant smoke, but you could sit all day and people-watch if you were so inclined. And many were.

But we wanted to know more about the history, and to understand the uneasy peace that exists in a city where Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Roma and more live side by side. So my daughter and I took what is known as a "dark tour." A guide and his driver took us on a wide-ranging four-hour drive that took us up in the hills where the snipers had set up during the war, to the "Tunnel of Life" (that's a photo of me sitting on ammunition cases, after watching a video of the building of the tunnel) to the sad remains of the Olympic bobsled run to the Jewish cemetery now sadly in ruins to the Olympic stadium now overlooking two very large cemeteries filled with those slain during the war.
We struggled to understand how armed forces could launch shells at apartment buildings and schools and the city library and how snipers could pick off unarmed civilians lining up for bread. Our guide showed us this retirement home riddled with bullet holes - even as he described the disintegration of the warring factions of the time, he patiently explained that it was not a case of man being evil, merely men following the orders of evil men. When the soldiers were given 2,000 rounds of ammunition and told their shift was not over till all the bullets had been shot in town, they would come to a deserted building like this and use up all their ammunition there.

Still, even with that hopeful story, there is the story of the Russian poet (a poet!) named Liminov, who joined the Serb troops in the hills, took a rifle and allowed himself to be filmed shooting those defenseless civilians, and claiming with pride, "I know I hit some." And he has gone unpunished. It boggles the mind. I checked my facts and saw the video for myself on Vimeo.

What gets me is the juxtaposition of this heavily shelled building and the modern hotel right next door, 17 years after the war. Now there are so many political parties involved in making decisions, they are paralyzed as they can achieve consensus on nothing, and corruption abounds. So nothing gets repaired. Outside groups, Russian, Arab, and others, circle like vultures, buying property and lying in wait to take advantage. I felt helpless by the end of the tour, filled with sadness for the people who endured such hardship during the war with little help from the outside world. And I felt incredibly privileged to come from Canada, a land of peacekeepers and freedom.

It will take me a good length of time to be able to digest all I learned today.

Tomorrow, a trip to Dubrovnik, then a last day in Sarajevo and then home.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Decompressing in Sarajevo

It's been awhile between posts, so boy, do I have a lot to share. My apologies for being such an unreliable correspondent.
Much has occupied my time, and I will begin with the artwork, as that is what so many of you look for. :) I get it. I love to see new creations too!
Let's start with the teaser I posted so many months ago. I have named the piece "Unspoken" - because we are often reluctant to speak about the homeless and because as I look at his face, I see so much written there that I am sure he has never spoken about.

This piece is based on a photograph by the very talented Leland Bobbe of New York. I came across his work online and when I saw the photo of this fellow, Frank, I wrote to Leland and received his permission to recreate his incredible photo in cheesecloth.

I made the cheesecloth sculpture very quickly but then he spent a considerable length of time hanging around the studio waiting for a backdrop. One day, seized with the moment, I painted a piece of buckram, adding salt ... to represent rain on a windowpane ... or maybe tears ...? He got stitched to that one evening, even though I struggled with how I would finish the piece. I was so uncertain, I packed him up and took him with me to Philadelphia, to the SAQA conference, where I could get the opinions of so many artists I have deep respect for. Well, opinions galore! Quilt it! Mount it! Glue it to canvas! Just put a sleeve on it! And now he sits, stitched to the buckram, waiting for the hanging solution. My current favourite, which must be tested before ruining the piece, is to sew a sleeve to a piece of teal fabric, and fuse it to the back. This may be problematic for rolling around a core and shipping to an exhibition (should it be accepted in one). Experimentation will happen in June. He is 25 x 37".

I am incredibly honoured to have been selected as one of six Feature artists at the Taiwan International Quilt Exhibition in Tainan City this August. My eldest son, Matt, has been living in Taipei for the past year, and I visited him in March, so how ironic that he is returning to Canada at the end of June and I won't be able to visit him when I travel there again! I will be teaching two workshops there: one, my cheesecloth portraits, and the other, cheesecloth landscapes. One of the requirements of the visit was an essay on Nature and Art in Art Quilts for the proceedings publication, so, being Canadian, my thoughts turned to our own Group of Seven artists, who developed a distinctively Canadian style of painting the landscape almost 100 years ago. I wrote the essay and designed my own landscape, using cheesecloth for the solitary tree, and for a few grasses, using the style developed by this groundbreaking group. It is 18" square.

I am delighted to report that after returning from Philadelphia, where I was surprised by at the Art Quilt Elements opening to learn that I was receiving the Heartstrings Award for "Memories of Gombe," I received a phone call from the gallery informing me that my piece had sold. This kind of validation is important to every artist, but I do confess an unanticipated pang upon learning she wouldn't be returning to my home, but had instead gone to a new one. I have exchanged a couple of emails with the new owners, which has reduced the sense of loss as I know she is appreciated in her new home.
That is my Catch-up time for today! More exciting details of my adventures tomorrow.
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Location:Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzogovina