24 January 2011

Art Week Kick-Off

To kick off the exciting Art Week on this wee blog, my friend Christine Armbruster is doing a guest post!

Her featured work is "Mortar Shells and Cigarettes: A Memoir of Sarajevo 15 Years After War". Her collection was exhibited at the Southwest School of Arts in San Antonio, is currently exhibiting in its second location on BYU's campus for 5 months, and will exhibit in several locations in central Utah. This is only a year after her highly successful collection, "Working Identities", shot in the Dominican Republic, which was displayed in several public venues (and won the "Celebrate Human Dignity" prize from the Kennedy Center in 2010) and is now available as a book.

Christine Armbruster is graduating from Brigham Young University this year with a BFA in photography. She's a free spirit from San Antonio, Texas with a belly full of wanderlust and camera collection to match. She spent her past summer doing an ORCA Grant project in Sarajevo, Bosnia i Herzegovina. She also got the "Commie fever" during her short time there and (desperately?) wants to live in Eastern Europe. If you remain unconvinced, I think her hair in this photo says it all. Her next project will take her to Moscow (!!), which is very thrilling. She's a fantastic freelance photographer who has done commercial work, any photography related to getting hitched, travel, photojournalism, some travel video work for the Travel Channel, and fine art. What hasn't she done is the better question. She generously told me she's "very excited" about this blog and I hope she continues to contribute her artistic point of view in posts. To see her work, follow the jump.

(all photos courtesy of Christine Armbruster)
Winding through the streets of Sarajevo, I am a voyeur. Sarajevo is a city of layers, and with the discovery of each came a deeper understanding. As I dug deeper into basements where it is heard that your hair turns gray overnight, I began to know the city just a little bit more. I progressively mapped which bars stayed open just a littler later than the last, gradually going from one place to the other until the first shop again opened at 5am, and avoided having to hail a taxi home during the unoperating hours of the tram and not go home just yet. If I were to live in Sarajevo again, I would live life between 8pm and 10am, because that is when the city is the most alive. Maybe it is because they had gotten used to the darkness of living underground and forgot how to live in the light. By being awake through night, maybe then I would know what it is like to live in the dark.

With each day spent new layers uncover and they only get more complex to understand. There aren’t just cut layers of 1, 2, and 3. Within each number lies A to Z as well. The sorting of war is even more complex: hearing stories and then their counterparts, the contrasting sides between Bosnians and Serbs, Serbs and Croats, Croats and Bosnians, Serbs and Croats, and any other combination of the two or three and even amongst themselves. There are no heroes only mass graves and eventual borders drawn as clearly as enemy lines. These lines have cleared as refugees return and the holes in the ground are filled with red cement and called “Sarajevo Roses” as if they should be sweet reminders. These crass reminders become overlooked like the holes in the buildings and still no one is right and no one is wrong.

I went to Bosnia to photograph what it was like 15 years after the war had ended. I had imagined it to be heavy, but not as complex as it was. At the time I believed in right and wrong, in a simple truth. However, there is no black and white, just a million variations of gray with hardly any way to differentiate between one shade and the next until you have somehow crossed enemy lines and now side with both the defender and the aggressor. The only conclusion that I could come to was that this war was not mine. I did not fill my body with the stimulants of two packs of cigarettes and eight cups of coffee a day, trying to distract myself for fifteen years of recovery. The stories of running through sniper alley are not mine to tell, while neither are the stories of relearning how to live with one another whether successful or not. Life moves on as new tights are being put on display at store windows. Life moves on and memories stand still as they turn to dust like the thousands of books in the burnt National Library. Eventually the holes are just overlooked as everybody tries to pretend like nothing happened although it was a time when everything happened. I went with the intention of finding a story, only to realize that the only story is my own. It is a story of the things I witnessed, in a city that I desperately tried to belong to as I looked for anything that could be seen as black and white like how I once believed things were.
-From "Mortar Shells and Cigarettes: a Memoir of Sarajevo 15 Years After War" by Christine Armbruster

Three generations and a cigarette
To see more of the images in her show, follow this link. For more of her work, browse her website.

[Update 4/8/2013: She was also featured on Dodho, which a lot more to see!]