Bosnian Refugees Cope, Communicate Through Their Artwork
November 11, 2011
Fatima is 63 years old. She doesn't want her last name in the paper, and she doesn't want her picture taken, and when asked about the events that brought her to Hartford, she holds out her hands defensively and shakes her head a firm no.
Ajisa is 55. She also gives no last name and will not allow her face to be photographed, nor will she talk about the past.
None of the other women in their circle of friends will be interviewed at all. "Every time they talk to someone, the war comes up," says Hazmira Udovcic, the ladies' translator. "They don't like talking about it."
The women are all refugees from the war and genocide in their native Bosnia. When they want to express themselves to the outside world, they do it through their weaving looms, creating beautiful, intricate rugs. They use traditional patterns passed down from earlier generations of Bosnian weavers and weave with Shetland wool, much of it raised at Clatter Ridge Farm in Farmington.
But they don't weave just to express themselves. They weave to forget.
"It keeps me sane. It keeps my mind off the negative aspects in my life," Fatima says through Hazmira. "I use it as a way to get away."
The women's Sewing Circle Project, organized by the Institute for Community Research, will participate in this weekend's Open Studio Hartford, an annual event in which artists and crafts people open their studios to all comers, to show and sell their work.
Their "open studio," being held Saturday only at 2 Hartford Square West, also will include work by artists originally from Lithuania, Sri Lanka, Burma, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Laos and Romania, exhibiting knitting, crocheting, embroidery, illustrations, baskets, henna painting and decorative arts.
In addition to the items for sale, the open studio will exhibit the Diaspora Quilt, commemorating 25 of the men and boys murdered at Srebrenica in July 1995.
At a reception last week, the Bosnian weavers - all of them Muslim, dressed similarly in traditional clothes, including long skirts, sweater vests and head scarves - did weaving demonstrations, served Bosnian food and danced traditional dances accompanied by Bosnian music. They also showed off their work, which also includes socks, mittens, scarves and shawls.
Fatima learned to weave when she was 10, from her mother in the town of Vlasenica. Ajisa learned later in life, but the women began weaving in earnest during and after the war. In 2002, they came to Hartford.
"I had nowhere else to go," Ajisa said. "My hometown was destroyed."
Here, they weave using designs from a book they brought with them. "I had to keep myself busy with something," Ajisa says. "I like to be with my friends and weave and talk," Fatima says.
Lynne Williamson, director of the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program at the Institute, said the Sewing Circle Project was begun in 2007. "As we got to know the Bosnian community here, we saw how many incredible weavers they had," Williamson said. "We saw that expressing what happened to them, through their weaving, helped them to heal.
"They do it for income, but really more for preservation of traditions," she said. "They would do this, weaving, whether we got involved or not. We merely bring them together as a group."
Idina Udovcic, Hazmira's mother, is one of the younger Bosnian weavers. She is more Americanized than her friends; she speaks English, wears American-style clothes and teaches weaving. She is more open about the bad experiences in the old country, but understands the older ladies' reticence.
"What happened to us was really bad," Udovcic said. "I hope it never happens to anybody else what happened to us."
THE BOSNIAN WEAVERS' works can be seen Saturday, only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Institute for Community Research, 2 Hartford Square West, at 146 Wyllys St. For details on the Bosnian weavers and other traditional ethnic crafts people, visit www.incommunityresearch.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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