My Country is the World is an interdisciplinary "feminist psychogeography" exploration of the untold experiences of two radically different women in the context of the Bosnian War.
For more than 15 years, I have traveled over and over again to what is known as the Former Yugoslavia returning as if on some kind of homing instinct. Two days before I left for a Fulbright in Bosnia, I found a handful of letters my grandmother and I wrote to a woman we sponsored in a refugee camp in 1995. In 2015, I was reunited with this woman twice in her repatriated village which had been ethnically cleansed and turned into a rape camp during the Bosnian War.
Personal archives, paintings and academic lectures by my grandmother on Virginia Woolf's feminist pacifism are combined with war reportage and repatriation projects in Bosnia to animate a conversation on women in war, trauma, and overcoming.
Early writings during my time in Bosnia can be found on Gender Assignment here.
The letter, seen below, being read by her nephew at her home in Grapska.
Photolithography of the letter Zejna wrote from a Croatian refugee camp, superimposed on a portrait of my grandmother.
Like Other Girls Do
Like Other Girls Do is a film by Melissa Potter shot on location in Montenegro and Serbia.
Stana Cerović was born in a tiny village in Montenegro to a family without boys. She sacrificed marriage and children to dress and live like a man. Stana wishes to be remembered in the family graveyard as her father’s son. Yet hardly anyone lives in the village anymore, and there is no mason to carve Stana’s name in stone. In Belgrade, Serbia are five young women--a bus driver, drag king, student, printmaker, and graffiti artist. They reveal different ideas about sacrifice, personal choice, identity, joy, and remembrance. How will Stana be remembered in this new world?
Papermaking plants grow in gardens curated each year around themes including Women’s Health, Las Mujeres Zapatistas, Pre-Colonial Gardens, Bosnian Women’s Magic, and War Gardens: Seeds of Displacement.
Fibers grown from these plants become raw material for art works, collaborations, research and workshops.
The Papermaker’s Garden, 8th and Wabash
Process from seed to sheet
Kombucha paper experiments
Bosnian Magic Garden Tea Event
Women’s March with Banner Books, 2017
Papermaking and medicinal plants growing
Collaborator, apprentice, assistant, fabricator—this project considers the unacknowledged labors that make major artworks possible. Pink bookmarks printed with historical research and transparent pages depicting the work of these invisible makers challenge our notions of authorship in the art history tome, Gardner's Art Through the Ages. The book is covered in pink handmade paper made by the artist.
The book was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with the Kerry James Marshall Mastry exhibition.
Feminist Felt is a collaboration by Melissa Potter with women in the Republic of Georgia, Miriam Schaer, the Women’s Fund in Georgia. It grew out of a Soros Arts and Culture grant program, Felted Lives: Crafting Women’s Stories. The works embrace feminist activism for women’s basic rights to safety as well as advocacy for women craft artisans, whose skills are endangered, underpaid and under recognized.
A collaboration with artist activist groups and women craft unions in the Republic of Georgia engaged the ancient Georgian craft of felt making to explore contemporary artists books, as well as protest banners and masks, which have been used in Georgian feminist and LGBTQIA marches and protests. These craft practices are in urgent need of intangible heritage preservation. Simultaneously, women's empowerment movements have taken Georgia into its second wave of feminism, and they oppose the oppressive gender regulations of an Orthodox society, at times to their personal endangerment.
Equal Pay for Equal Work, designed with Ida Bakhturidze, Miriam Schaer, Nana Magradze, and Clifton Meador
Equal Pay for Equal Work, designed by Melissa Potter in handmade felt
Melissa Potter and Ida Bakhturidze in a Georgian village credit union.
No Violence, designed by Ida Bakhturidze and an Alvani workshop participant in handmade felt.
Ida Bakhturidze and Melissa Potter in front of the Alvani school.
My Body, My Choice, designed by Ida Bakhturidze and Melissa Potter
Listen to Women! Designed by Independent Group of Feminists members in Tbilisi, Georgia
Women's Rights are Human Rights, designed by Ida Bakhturizde
Tbilisi's first International Women's Day march with banners
From the collection of ethnographer, Robert Chenciner
Women in Alvani share their Tusheti traditional design
Ida Bakhturidze, Melissa Potter and Miriam Schaer at the Georgian border of Daghestan.
Jersey Devil felt mask, designed by Melissa Potter
Ida Bakhturidze wearing bunny mustache mask designed by Melissa Potter
Women's Fund in Georgia founder, Nana Pantsulaia and her feminist mask.
Felted masked activism at protests against virginity testing in Tbilisi.
Pulp & Pastry
Hosted at the University of Sarajevo, in collaboration with Adam Pantic featuring and handmade paper with fruits and vegetables sourced at Sarajevo’s famous Markale green market.
We were joined by special guest, papermaker and founder of The Mobile Mill, Jillian Bruschera. She launched her new invention, The Papermaker's Pack.
We each brought our personal histories to the project: Pantic through his memories of military academy in Sarajevo during his youth, which he explores through his culinary nom de guerre, “Djulistan, PhD in Oriental Sweets” and me through a Bosnian woman I wrote during the Bosnian war and was reunited with 20 years later in her Bosnian village.
The project also reflected one of the most important works of my career, which took place 9 years earlier through a Fulbright Scholar award: the construction of a hand papermaking studio at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade. Pantic oversaw studio construction and explored papermaking.
Our mutual understanding has been through media and materials that engage audiences in participatory events and extend traditional academic art practice into intersections of craft, traditional culture, ethnography, documentary, and performance.
Craft Power: Tusheti Rugs is a series of flax handmade paper laminated el wires, which illuminate when plugged in. They are part of a research project with Paul Catanese called Handmade Media. Through this project, we are exploring the intersection of hand crafted media with handmade paper. I created these works inspired by the crafts symbol system in the Republic of Georgia, where it is understood some of the images may be derived from ancient Amazonian cults celebrating female power. They were featured in the San Antonio city-wide exhibition, Luminaria.
Flax handmade paper laminates, pulp painting, and el wire embeds by Melissa Potter
Boy Brides & Bachelors
Boy Brides & Bachelors is an animated video by Melissa Potter shot on a cold January night in Southeastern Serbia during a ritual called Surovari in which men dress as women (large breasted peasants, grandmothers, and brides), and engage in pretend sexual acts with village bachelors. Little is known about the meaning of this pagan ritual, but its contemporary gender role-play implications are profound. I use stop motion animations to engage my questions about the underlying meanings of the ritual, and make a connection between my inability to translate much of what was going on with the strange language of gender itself.
Belgrade’s sister-city, Chicago is known as the Serbian center of the United States with an unverified, but estimated population of 400,000. Since World War 1, the Serbian diaspora tried to create relationships to a homeland in nearly constant flux through wars, national affiliations, and secessions.
This project explores the shifting context of Serbian experience through a series of interviews with multi-generational artists and curators who describe the conditions that shaped the experiences of Serbs as they made the US their home, and acclimated to a post-Yugoslavian society. Selected quotes from the interviews are paired with images by Potter and Rappaport in their Chicago Serbian neighborhood, and in Belgrade where they both traveled in 2003. They reveal individual experiences that offer a brief window into the ways in which culture and politics shape our interpretations of belonging and homeland.
Dorijan Kolundzija, artist and curator discusses the Serbian Millennial response to a war culture they never experienced firsthand. Image of graffiti in Dorčol, Belgrade by Melissa Potter
Matt Pavich, 2nd Generation Serbian-American, talks about the atmosphere in Belgrade during the NATO bombing of the city. Photo of a mural depicting the Montenegrian coast at the Serbian American Museum, Chicago by Mat Rappaport
Branislav Dmitrijević, curator and critic, discusses work by Mladen Bizumić about a recently renovated Tito-era hotel in Belgrade. Image from JAT headquarters in Irving Park, Chicago by Mat Rappaport