Dragana Jurisic

Featured Artist.

Dragana Jurisic

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The story of me as a photographer starts on the day when our family apartment got burned down together with thousands of prints and negatives my father, an ardent amateur photographer, had accumulated. On that day I became one of those 'refugees' with no photographs, with no past.

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Indeed, my memories of the events and people I encountered before that Sunday in September 1991 are either non-existent or very vague. I learned then the power photography has over memory. The day after the fire was the last time my father took a photograph, a perfunctory snapshot to record the damage for the insurance company. Where he stopped, I started. The act of photographing, of looking at the world through the camera lens, helped provide a semblance of control over an otherwise unpredictable world.

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My first book YU: The Lost Country (2015) was originally conceived as a recreation of a homeland that was lost. It was a journey in which I would somehow draw a magical circle around the country that was once mine and in doing so, resurrect it, following Roland Barthes’ assertion that photography is more akin to magic than to art. Instead, it turned out to be a journey of rejection. My experience was one of displacement and a sense of exile that was stronger back ‘home’ than in the foreign place where I had chosen to live. 

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Over the last few years the predominant themes of my work are focused on the issues of gender, stereotyping and especially the effects of exile and displacement on memory and identity.  The new work My Own Unknown points at how little people know themselves and how scared and unwilling they are even to try. They hold onto the chip on their shoulder, their past hurts, their neighbourhood, their religion, their state. They accept the identities that were pre-made for them.  It is easier, admittedly, than looking into the unknown parts of oneself.

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My Own Unknown is divided into a number of chapters, most still a work in progress. Although already shown since early 2016 in five exhibitions, the last one in the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, the installation changes and evolves with the work. One of the chapters 100 Muses explores the idea of the muse, which often evokes images of a male artist, and a passive female muse. The female muse is often depicted as nude in visual art. And in turn “the nude” – one of the biggest clichés of Western art tradition, is a genre predominantly inhabited by male artists. To explore what happens when a female artist looks at a female body and the characteristics of the female gaze, I photographed 100 nudes over a period of five weeks. Women aged between 18-85 volunteered for the project through an open call. In order to challenge the power relationships between an artist and their muse, I asked the women to direct themselves and to choose the image that would represent them.

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John Keats wrote: ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’. The initial questioning of this statement took me to Paris to commence an exploration on l’Inconnue de la Seine, the name given to a young woman whose body was allegedly recovered from the River Seine in 19th century and whose death mask was cast in a bid to identify her. Her serene and quiet beauty became a muse for artists such as Man Ray, Albert Camus, Anais Nin and many others, who projected imagined identities on this drowned Mona Lisa. Her image talks about a profound relationship between beauty and artistic endeavour, between ‘worshiping the image’ and the notion of truth. The story of l’Inconnue feeds into the story of the disappearance of my aunt Gordana Čavić from rural Yugoslavia in the 1950s, and her subsequent death in Paris in the 1980s. A life shrouded in mystery, it involves tales of multiple identities, illicit sex and espionage. My aunt's death would remain as elusive as her life, veiled in mystery and secrecy, as was l’Inconnue de la Seine’s, whose face would continue to epitomise the very idea of beauty. Currently I am writing an intertwining fictionalized biography of these two women. The work is shrouded in politics of place, painful memories of exile, and stories of oppression. Currently I am writing an overlapping fictionalized biography of the two women, and by proxy of myself – the narrator.

DRAGANA JURISIC works predominantly through the medium of photography, film and installation. Since receiving a distinction for her MFA in 2008, Dragana Jurisic has won a significant number of awards including Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor Award’s Special Recognition from Duke University, numerous Bursaries and Project Awards. In December 2013, Dragana completed her PhD and finalized an important three-year long project 'YU: The Lost Country' that culminated in a critically acclaimed touring exhibition and a book. Her work is in many collections including Irish State Art Collection and she has exhibited widely both in Ireland and internationally.