Born and raised in Yugoslavia, Beka Vučo graduated from Belgrade’s Drama and Film Academy, and, as a Fullbright scholar, completed graduate school at UCLA. She studied theater, film, and art history. In Yugoslavia, Vučo worked in the theater world, managing the avant-garde Theatre Atelje 212, and the international theater festival BITEF. After moving to New York in 1987, she worked at TIES, a theater exchange organization, and began working off-Broadway. In 1991, Vučo joined the Open Society Foundations as the regional director for Western Balkans—a position she still holds.
Vučo grew up loving the world of photography, learning from her father, Nikola Vučo, an established photographer. Her photos have been featured in books, publications, and magazines. This exhibit is taken from an ongoing project, My Balkans, 1991–2001, a photo-archival documentary about the people she has worked with, and the places she has visited in the last 10 years.
“Where are you from originally?”
“But Yugoslavia doesn’t exist any more, does it?”
“Yes, it does. When the country fell apart, its republics became the independent countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. What was left is still called Yugoslavia.”
“Then what about Kosovo? It’s a part of Yugoslavia, isn’t it?”
“It is, but it really isn’t. You cannot say that.”
“Ah, the Balkans! How confusing!”
For the last ten years, the Balkans have been front-page news. Until the early 1990s, Yugoslavia was known for Tito, Dubrovnik, and excellent basketball teams, but often confused with Czechoslovakia. Today, the world has learned to pronounce the difficult Slavic names and can easily find small villages and towns on the changing map of Europe—places that, previously, no one had heard of, and that no atlas carried. The world witnessed the atrocities, suffering, wars, sieges, bombed cities, mass graves, ruined and destroyed lives, and the exodus of refugees.
Even though there is still a country called Yugoslavia, that’s not the place I come from. My country is gone. The war-torn Balkans, through which I travel at least half a dozen times a year, are a different world. As the Open Society Foundations’ regional director for the Western Balkans, I went wherever there was a need, to help people and assist our local foundations in their work. Whether it was a visit to Sarajevo under siege, Kosovo after the bombing, or Belgrade during the NATO strikes, I never considered what I was doing to be either dangerous or courageous; it was part of my duty to my lost country. I had a desire to help, to share the difficult times with my colleagues, to experience a small part of what they lived, and are still living, through. And every time I boarded a plane back to New York, back to freedom, hot water, and plenty of light, my admiration grew for those people who remained. They give all of us hope and the strength to endure.
I needed to document what I saw, whom I met, where I went—people and places, the faces of history, destruction, and also hope. There was never a special assignment, but I always had plenty of film and several cameras in my bags. The photographs displayed here are part of the photo-archival documentary I am developing about my ten years of traveling through the Balkans. They are my personal, intimate view—a testament to the past and a promise for the future.
—Beka Vučo, June 2001