Features

Jelena Jureša

Jelena Jureša is a visual artist and filmmaker who explores issues of cultural identity, gender, the politics of remembering and forgetting, and collective violence. Through her film, photography, and video installations she questions historical and political narratives and destabilises ideas of what is true.

All images Courtesy by the artist

Her rendition of reality is refracted through the experience of growing up in Yugoslavia and its horrific collapse. In Mira, Study for a Portrait, Jureša questions the fragility of a life burdened with intergenerational trauma and asks whether it was possible to establish a country freed from war wounds and the wider geopolitical context. The work is pervaded by the notion of time as a distinct memory gap, “almost as if the entire fragmented century, historical events as pieces of its official historiography, were reflected in a series of small, individual, private, and invisible historic moments that are hidden and forgotten along the margins of existence”, explains curator Branka Benčić. A look back into the Yugoslav experience and the consequences of the war can also be read in the multimedia work STILL. The Sarajevo children’s choir—present through a sound installation—was formed during the war in the shelled city under siege. The photograph showing an empty room where the choir rehearses represents the current moment, as it is, in a building whose meaning creates a series of multi-level connections with the repertoire of songs performed by the choir. Both elements collide with the moving image of the post-Dayton Bosnian landscape, with the very questions of where it is that the war ends and what its consequences are; whether events can truly be understood through a linear reading of time, putting the past, present, and future into brackets.

Nowadays, when the memory of Yugoslavia in the newly created states is brutally revised—trivializing the Yugoslav anti-fascist past and its uniqueness and complexity—Jureša’s work reflects on the mechanisms of denial in a wider European context. Her recent projects detect a thread of positions of power, racism, injustice, and violence typical of Belgian colonialism, Austrian antisemitism, and the atrocities in Bosnia during the Yugoslav Wars (Aphasia) and echo diasporic voices of displacement and Belgian heritage of violent past (Ubundu). The APHASIA film project dives deep into the representation of violence and the violence of representation. This documentary gesture explores how collective crimes keep being repeated and reflects on social and political constellations, unfolding constructions behind nation-states and national identities. Being a foreigner has broadened Jureša’s interest in the violence of everyday life and the pitfalls of silent racism and patriarchy. Her dual position, the experience of being the one who observes and the one who has become the object of observation is mirrored in a film poem called UBUNDU, commissioned for Contour Biennial in 2019. Using the previous line of meticulous research and continuing her collaboration with the performers from the film, she conceptualised and directed the APHASIA performance, which premiered at Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2022. Going against the documentary fashion of narrating history, the creation unfolds at the intersection of music, film, storytelling, and dance. Immersed in the atmosphere of a (post-war) nightclub, the audience physically participates in an intimate investigation of violence, the world of perpetrators, bystanders, individual responsibility, and the inevitability of failure in recounting the painful past.

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