Art in focus: Her Own Unknown by Dragana Jurišic

Jurišic sets out to do something unusual, to make a primarily photographic work that hinges on photographs not taken by her

‘My Own Unknown’ reflects Dragana Jurišic’s restless ambition and her continuing development as an artist

‘My Own Unknown’ reflects Dragana Jurišic’s restless ambition and her continuing development as an artist

 

What is it?
“She was so beautiful, like she was her own creator!” is a key photograph in the first chapter of photographer Dragana Jurišic’s novelistic project Her Own Unknown. It is a cryptic image of her aunt, Gordana Cavic, who in 1954 left her rural village in Yugoslavia and went on to live a life unknown to her family. At some point before she died, in Paris, in the 1980s, Cavic had paid a visit home, depositing some photographs – most of which were destroyed – and a Super-8 movie camera.

How was it done?
In Her Own Unknown, Jurišic sets out to do something unusual, to make a primarily photographic work that hinges on photographs not taken by her. Her aunt’s story is the starting point and feeds into the emerging themes of identity and specifically female identity, freedom and self-knowledge. Jurišic compiled notebooks as part of the process, but she thinks primarily in images, and made several ambitious series of photographs as she went along.

Where can I see it?
The latest iteration of Her Own Unknown is on view at the Gallery of Photography, Temple Bar, Dublin (galleryofphotography.ie) until March 18.

Is it a typical work by the artist?
Typical but also novel in that My Own Unknown reflects Jurišic’s restless ambition and her continuing development as an artist. The starting point is probably September, 1991. She has written of how, at that point, her world fell apart. She had thought of herself as Yugoslav, but Yugoslavia was violently fragmenting around her. In September, her family’s apartment in Slavonski Brod was burned down. Her father, a keen amateur photographer, saw his archive of negatives and prints destroyed. He only picked up a camera once more, to take a photograph of the destroyed apartment for the insurance company. But: “When he stopped, I started.”

She studied psychology and began to work in that area, but went on to complete an MFA  in photography at Newport, Wales. A decade after leaving what was by then Croatia, Jurišic felt able to address her homeland as a subject. In her project and book YU: The Lost Country, she retraced the steps of Rebecca West in her 1941 book on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. An account of displaced people and displaced identities, the re-writing of history and a kind of imposed amnesia, YU is a thoughtful, exceptionally rich body of work.

With My Own Unknown, Jurišic sets out to create an imaginative biography of her aunt, her bid to escape marriage and poverty. This leads her to broader questions: “The immensity of what is unknown in ourselves” and: “What it is to be female today.” Her project is about and for women and the main protagonists are women. L’Inconnue de la Seine, the second chapter, concerns a unknown young woman whose body was taken from the Seine, whose death mask became an object of fascination for the public, and for such luminaries as Man Ray, Rilke and Camus. In 100 Muses 100 women pose as one of the nine Muses of Antiquity and in Her Mother and Her Daughters, Jurišic proceeds to digitally overlay the portraits of women who identified with the same muse, generating nine teeming collective portraits in total. In Don’t be afraid to look into a shadow, Jurišic uses her aunt’s movie camera to create a meta-fictional account of the stories of all the women involved.

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