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.”10F “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.”11F
#5 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.
#6 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”.12F 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…!
#7 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!
#8 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!
#9 Reminding us of the events that took place under the dark sky above the Aegean region13F 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 terms14F is an important part of the complex refugees issues.
Translated by: Marija Hadžimitrova Ivanova
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.