Dragana Jurisic – YU: The Lost Country (2011-2013)
Using Rebecca West’s book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon as a travel guide to a country that had ceased to exist, photographer and writer Dragana Jurisic’s YU: The Lost Country explores personal and political identity. With an original print run of only 500 copies, the much sought-after book sold out very quickly on its release. The book is remarkable, not only for the quality of its photography, but also for its writing. Recently, Dragana returned to the “lost country” with an exhibition at The Meeting Point in Sarajevo. Murmur talks to her about the past, present and future.
“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.” – Dragana Jurisic from YU: The Lost Country.
Dragana Jurisic was born in Slavonski Brod, Croatia (then Yugoslavia). She is currently based in Dublin, Ireland. After the break up of Yugoslavia in 1991, an entire country disappeared and nearly 1.5 million Yugoslavs vanished into thin air. Today, in the countries that came into being after Yugoslavia’s disintegration, there is total denial of that former identity. Her book YU: The Lost Country looks at the effects of exile and displacement on memory and identity from the eyes of an exile. Now, more than twenty years after the war, she feels at the safe distance to recall and question her own memories of both the place and the events she personally experienced.
Jurisic’s views on the doctrine of nationalism, the ethnic, cultural and religious identity of a race, are deeply embedded in her work. “I truly believe nationalism is the ideology of idiots. And I don’t just imply that with former Yugolslavia but everywhere around the world”, says Dragana. Nationalism, in Jurisic’s opinion, is for people who have no sense of self with the constant need to attach themselves to other establishments – a football team, a part of town, a country. “I don’t think there is any anger in my work, I think it’s quite melancholy actually”.
On becoming an Irish citizen in 2009 (making her a dual passport holder – the other being Croatian), Dragana understands its significance: “I really appreciate living here. What is really good for me is the fact that Irish headline news wouldn’t even make news where I’m from”, she says. “It makes me happy that I live in a civilised society in terms of politics and corruption. Irish people might disagree, but I would challenge them to study what’s going on in former Yugoslavia”.
The quietly prolific Jurisic is already in the throws of planning her latest project: “My next book will be more of a novel in the classical sense. There will be images in it but not necessarily my images”, says Jurisic. “It’s primarily about my aunt who escaped Yugoslavia in the 1950s. She was an uneducated girl from a small village who ended up working as a spy in Paris. There are rumours she was in the sex industry there but I can’t prove that … it will be a fictionalised biography”.
You can see more of Dragana Jurisics work, including her latest show My Own Unknown, here: www.draganajurisic.com
On YU: The Lost Country: “It is a haunted, as well as haunting book; the fallout of the past buried, rather than faced.” – Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian.