Our latest Artist Profile features Ivana Jovanović, an artist, writer and curator, currently based in Sydney.
‘More and more I find my practice shifting towards engaging communities and creating inclusive spaces to feel connected to one another. Recently, I have been turning this focus inwards and attempting to reconnect with my own cultural heritage as a Serbian-Australian woman, my family and the rituals unique to our culture.’
Can you elaborate a little more on your making process — how does your artwork get from initial concept to exhibition stage?
Reading and research are incredibly important to my process, as well as seeing other art and exhibitions in my city. I always want to know what is showing, and I always question, ‘why is this important now?’ It helps me get a feel for what kind of issues are urgent, and where my practice fits in that sense of urgency. When I set out to make a body of work, behind it is all of this churning obsession around certain ideas and emotions.
Titles are also a vital part of the making process for me, I love affective language that reads like poetry, and my works are often named like unfinished short stories. I spend a lot of time after that imagining, visualising and drawing what the works will look like in a gallery space, and if there are any components that could enhance a particular emotion or thought.
Who or what are the biggest influences to your work?
I am really inspired by other local artists and performers, many of whom are my friends. I think sharing stories and lived experiences is a huge influence in my work, and the more I involve myself in the creative communities, the more I feel motivated to keep making work.
For the exhibition Nek ti bog dušu oprosti (May God forgive your soul) I was influenced by very personal experiences of grief and loss, and those works came from thinking about and being with my family in Serbia and embracing all the different aspects of that culture.
How does where you grew up, or where you live now affect your art?
I grew up in Sydney but both my parents are from Former-Yugoslavia, Serbia, from a town called Kragujevac. A lot of my memories from my childhood are growing up in a bilingual, bicultural household that had an overwhelming sense of hospitality. In my house everything is always available, and when we have people over we always over cater. I grew up with that sense of generosity and wanting to make people feel at home and welcomed.
When I was about four years old I went overseas to Serbia with my grandmother, I don’t remember much, but I do remember that I completely forgot how to speak English. This was an incredibly distressing experience for me, not to be able to communicate with people I cared about at home. A part of that experience has always stayed with me, and I have always felt a need to stay connected to both worlds, both countries and both cultures, while simultaneously feeling like I don’t belong in either. I think this is why seeking connection in communities is such an important aspect of my work.
Last year, I lost two of my family members and while I was in the country I reconnected to Serbia through grief. This made me want to look deeper and understand the rituals we have in place everyday to honor the dead as well as celebrate life,and experience the culture of that place through my family and our history. When I got back to Australia, I felt that sense of vast distance, two countries and two cultures, really physically and psychologically.
Can you tell us a little more about your creative working environment/studio?
My home is my studio, and I am often interrupted by the pressing issue of patting my cat Charlie. Working mostly digitally, I don’t need a lot of space for my work, just a flat surface and a sharp knife for collage. I’ll often listen to music while working and some of the artists I listened to a lot while creating the works for Nek ti bog dušu oprosti (May God forgive your soul) were:
● Predrag Živković Tozovac (a folk singer, upbeat songs about heartbreak and drinking)
● Atomsko sklonište (translates to ‘Atomic Shelter’, a Croatian rock band that was very anti-war, formed in 1977 around the golden era of Yu-Rock or Yugoslavian Rock)
● Divlje Jagode (translates to ‘Wild Strawberries’, formed at the same time as the previous band but in Bosnia)
● Esma Redzepova (a Romani singer who was known as the ‘Queen of the Gypsies’)
If you could go on an Artist’s Residency anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
I want to go to all the countries that once made up part of Yugoslavia before war dissolved them. There are many differences between them but so many commonalities, and I think it would be incredible to understand all of the rich tapestry of peoples and cultures that once made up that country.
What’s next for you after your time at Brunswick Street Gallery? What upcoming projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a community project with people who have migrated from Serbia / Former Yugoslavia to Australia titled Dali se setiš / Do you remember. This project asks its participants how do we, as Yugoslavians / Serbians in Australia, cope with loss and distance, what brings us together, how important is our culture to us today? It seeks to collect, record and archive the stories shared by participants and present their experiences through writing and visual documentation. I am asking participants to think about these themes and respond creatively, being part of workshops and meetings that encourage collaborative making and thinking.
Dali se setiš / Do you remember will be held at 107 Projects in Redfern, Sydney, early next year and call outs for expressions of interest are still open and welcome, through the following link: https://forms.gle/kSBdtjpHJCjy1LFj6
Nek ti bog dušu oprosti (May God forgive your soul) by Ivana Jovanović will be exhibited at Brunswick Street Gallery from 5 – 18 June.