“When it comes to Serbia and Kosovo and cooperation between Serbs and Albanians, every issue is sensitive, in terms of politics, art, or something else. Then I think: why shouldn’t photographers take political photos?” Meet Ana Dragic, a passionate journalism undergraduate at the University of Belgrade who saw an opportunity to create a liberated and engaging visual dialogue between young photographers in Belgrade and Prishtina.
As part of the Open Society Undergraduate Exchange Program, Ana, after her year abroad at the University of Arkansas, developed a project entitled "Face the Reflection," an online photo exhibition that serves as a platform for interaction among 10 young photographers from Belgrade and Prishtina.
Each week for 10 weeks, one of the photographers sets a theme in the form of an image they have taken, to which the other 9 photographers respond with their original visual interpretation. Ana wanted the photographs to speak for themselves; no words or explanations are offered from the photographers themselves, but site visitors can leave comments.
In order to take the project beyond the web in the form of two exhibits, one in Belgrade and one in Prishtina, Ana needed to fundraise. “I spent most of my project grant on the website and travel expenses between Belgrade and Prishtina, where I selected and met with photographers. I also spent some money on prints,” says Ana. She did succeed in finding donors, one of which, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, extended an invitation for Ana to speak at the "Links" conference in Montenegro.
“The conference gathered 100 activists from Serbia and Kosovo with aim to promote youth dialogue,” states Ana. “I was asked to be a panelist on the topic "Kosovo and Serbia: Perception of the ‘Other,’" which was dedicated to discussions about the responsibility of intellectual and political elites and the media in creating prejudices and stereotypes of Serbs and Albanians.”
She was recognized for her project, which was cited as a good example of how to establish trust among youth and break down prejudices. Both the Youth Initiative for Human Rights and the Heartefact fund gave Ana’s project approval for small grants to cover the exhibitions and travel costs for the photographers.
Ana had to be proactive in getting photographers involved. “In January 2011, I went alone to Prishtina and met with few photographers," she says. "I talked to them very openly about the whole idea and they knew from the start that there was no financial award for their participation. Feedback was as good as in Belgrade. In the end, I got 5 photographers in each city who shared my point of view that establishing a connection is very important."
“Since I chose photographers who had not visited each other’s cities before," Ana continued, "it was very motivating for them to join the project. I don’t think such an exhibit has been organized which included young Kosovar Albanians in Belgrade. Especially not since Kosovo declared independence.”
The lack of sensationalism about the “other” is something Ana feels is most powerful about the images in Face The Reflection. “The media portrays either something tragic or of current political importance, but life of ordinary people, practically never,” she states. “Many of the photos make the audience think about simple things that we never contemplate. Take for example, the theme in Week 8: Love. I doubt any blog commentators will comment on the ethnicity of those in the pictures, and why would they? In Kosovo people share same feelings.”
Following the final exhibition in Prishtina in May and a reopening of the Belgrade project due to a high level of interest in the project, Ana is planning to print a catalogue of the photos with her own thoughts and impressions and the responses from blog commenters. With the help of Stefan Milovanovic, another Undergraduate Exchange Program alum, Ana plans to make a short film about both exhibits and visits. She also started the "Lica - Fytyrat" (“Portraits”) project, which aims to emphasize the similarities between Belgrade and Prishtina through anonymous portraits of 50 people.
Ana has seen a positive degree of success over the past 10 weeks. “I like to think that this project will make a difference, especially in terms of encouraging other artists to cooperate and on joint projects. Many young people here in Belgrade are asking me about ways to get in touch with their peers in Kosovo, such as journalists, artists and even DJs, which shows a big switch in thinking.”