Ioanna Sakellaraki on “Balkans Revisited”

Hi Ioanna, thank you for taking the time to talk about your work. Let’s start with the introductions, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

“Hello, thanks for having me today and for featuring my work. I am Ioanna Sakellaraki, originally from Athens, Greece and currently living in Brussels, Belgium for the past few years.

I am a Freelance photographer and Contributor for Barcroft Media. I am a graduate of Photography and Journalism and a postgraduate of European Urban Cultures. My work mainly focuses on architectural ruins as well as memory and territory.

I am very much interested in the relationship between photography practice and ideas relating to aesthetically “mapping” the historical and contemporary context of relations with global and social systems of power.”

Can you talk a little about the history for those who are not familiar with Ex-Yugoslavia history?

“Spomenik in Serbo-Croatian means monument. A series of them were built around the Balkan countries that were under the power of Josip Broz Tito between the 1960s and 1990s as a symbol of brotherhood and unity in order to honour the resistance struggle of the people of the Republic of Yugoslavia during the National Liberation War (1941-1945) (aka WWII) against Axis occupation.

The monuments themselves commemorate the crimes committed while the Balkan region was under occupation but also celebrate the Revolution which defeated them led by Tito.”

What did you use to shoot these photographs, digital or film? What made you want to shoot in black and white?

“The photographs are shot with ZENZA Bronica SQ-A medium format (6×6) black and white film. The futuristic architectural elements of the ex-Yugoslavian monuments I captured together with the emptiness and fragility found in the surrounding locations around them give a sense of nostalgia and vulnerability that I felt that black and white photography could capture better making a reference to another era.”

What were your intentions when working on this series, is it done or still continuing?

“This series seeks to take a closer look in the Balkan region and build a narrative around memory and territory. It speaks about the lost idyllic dream of a collectivist utopian society and the unrealized future of a nation in transition.

My interest lays on the architectural ruin which is created in order to deepen the historical character of a landscape, to make nature suggestive of the past. By following the forgotten structures, I aim at reconstructing the ‘skeleton’ of a lost nation. This project was finalized earlier this summer.”

Do you remember when you started working on this project, and how long it took to finish?

“I worked on this project from December 2016 until June 2017 traveling back and forth in the different ex-Yugoslavian republics where the monuments were situated in remote towns. I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. At first, I was aiming at documenting the current state of the monuments but what drew my attention while exploring the unknown to me territories was what was around these monuments and the contrast between the dominance of the past and the simplicity and fragility of the present.

So, I started making more photographs of the towns they are situated in opposed to the monuments themselves that as the project continued they naturally turned into the landmarks defining the territory I followed.”

Was there anything you didn’t expect out of this project?

“Distances are much harder during winter as the monuments are located in high altitude and usually in remote areas so the beginning of the project which took place during winter months was more challenging.”

Can you tell us more about this particular monument and who designed it?

“This monument was created in 1970 by architect Petar Krstic and is located in the city of Sanski Most in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It commemorates the location where civilians were executed by Axis forces during the National Liberation War (People’s Liberation Struggle) (1941-1945).”

What has your experience been like working on this project?

“While making this work, I came to realize that my homeland Greece had an archetypical aura and ambiguous personal importance in it. I never experienced war but I have been part of a nation surviving transition. And what remains behind and within it.

Contested landscapes appearing peaceful but carrying so much tragedy in them. That is what makes the towns I photographed vulnerable in my eyes. Making the connection to more personal territories, made me realize that what I seek to do in this series is explore the relationship between fragility and dominance, sameness and otherness, the past and the present.

Eventually, my work focuses on what lays beneath the surface and underneath the skin of these monuments; the untold versus the dominant; the powerful and solid patterns of solitude and nostalgia between the still barriers of the past and the fragile peripheries of the present.”

Written by Yung Tsai. Photos © Ioanna Sakellaraki.
Visit her website for more work and info.

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