I live in a Bronx apartment building where one of my neighbors is from Saint Croix. For most of the others around us, the difference between a country in Southeast Europe and an island in the Caribbean is barely audible once they hear the words ‘Croatian’ and ‘Cruzan.’ Even if we are worlds apart, in The Bronx, the difference between Croatia and Saint Croix is neither obvious nor important. Croatian Rhapsody: Borderlands is an attempt to differentiate Croatian and Cruzan by asking how to reclaim the specificity of the place we come from and how to articulate its affect on what we have been and what we are.
In a world with over 500 million international migrants, redefining the meanings of national identity and cultural identification inevitably becomes a global process. Genetically and culturally, we can no longer be labeled as only one thing or another. Our national identities are much more complex than which country we hold a passport from.
Born in a country that was ravaged by war and no longer exists, having a passport from another, and living in a third, I create a rhapsody of the place that used to be my home, and maybe still is, in ways that both reinforce and undermine the semantic richness of the work’s title. Historically, the rhapsodic tradition¬ anticipates the theme of a return-to-homeland. In ancient Greece, “rhapsodist” was the name given to a reciter of epic poetry, such as Homer was in his day. In both of Homer’s major works, the hero finds the landscapes completely unrecognizable and shrouded in metaphorical mist after he returns to homeland. In the nineteenth century, Franz Liszt popularized the style with his Hungarian Rhapsodies, which stemmed from his nostalgic return to his native country, which he describes as if he experiences it for the first time.
In addition to the national and political theme, rhapsody suggests a break from formally conventional expressions of nationality in the way it references, literally, a "stitched song." That is to say a rhapsody is fragmented, never seamless. My work is directly influenced by that tradition.
As an emigrant who spent the last fourteen years outside of my homeland, I wondered, if I were to rhapsodize about Croatia visually, what might that mean? I create an unusual album of seemingly unrelated images that fuses photographic genres and formal conventions, bodies and landscapes, objects and places, and oscillates between modalities of description and speculation. Following the rhapsodic tradition and directly referencing the works of Homer and Liszt, I paint a picture of contemporary Croatia seen through the eyes of someone who has been away for fourteen years, and whose national and cultural identities have slowly become more and more complex.
The project is accompanied by a short story about a post-war mountain town told by a female narrator.