It’s been a great week for me, and the generally handsome and charming men of that ex-Yugoslavian nation I once passed through en route to a beach in Croatia. And then again when I stumbled in relatively aimless backpacker-form through the streets of Belgrade last summer in the midst of a trip through Eastern Europe…
But let’s not dance around the point.
I’ve always enjoyed the splendid people, food and music of the Balkans. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to meet my friend’s cordial and HOT new Serbian beau at ‘Hidden City’ last week; and then to be so graciously invited by a Pikto employee (the very next day!) to a Serbian photography expo at her print store in the Distillery District!
While my friend’s new beau was tall, gay, Euro-stylish, fair-haired and pleasantly chatty (with perfectly chiseled cheek-bones, I might add), Vuk Dragojevic was his dark and mysterious alter ego… less chatty, though equally pleasant and handsome, with a more solemn and humble demeanor that oozed creativity.
And then what I’d originally taken for solemn I later qualified as laid-back and unassuming, as we stood, chatting about the streets and parks of Belgrade over a glass of Serbian plum brandy that had been distilled by monks in a monastery in the South of his ethnic homeland.
I had walked into the Pikto gallery in the Distillery District around 8pm, Thursday, accompanied by the entirety of the PWB team + 1 boyfriend. We were greeted at the door by a group of bearded, and yet good-looking, young men and then drawn in by the sound of Balkan folk music played LIVE by a 2-man crew with a violin and a button accordion. (http://lemonbucket.com/)
We were immediately absorbed into the casually schmoozey, good-looking arts crowd that spread out in friendly clumps of conversation across the print-shop-turned-gallery.
We quickly ended up at the fairly expansive food table, featuring a cheese plate and a variety of mushroom, spinach, and cheese-tomato burek made by the artists’ own mum! (or was it his aunt? Maybe both – I really can’t remember at this moment as my mouth is busy salivating over the delicious smell that’s wedged so accurately within my memory) …and of course, a variety of honey-sweet Balkan-style dessert squares.
Steam Whistle beer was flowing at the compliments bar, along with red and white wine, and tiny glasses of that aged Serbian Plum Brandy I mentioned before – a libation so strong that even the stealthiest scotch-drinker might risk committing minor nudal-indiscretions after intake. I nursed my glass well into the show…
After we’d sufficiently soaked in the initiatory Balkan vibes, and crowd-spotting and ease-dropping got old, the PWB team headed over to the gallery wall to check out the display. We were accompanied by a tall, gorgeous Brazilian babe that Dani had met traveling in Morocco last year and we’d ran into here by chance – her boyfriend turned out to the cousin of the artist, Vuk.
We’re in Toronto people, this s**t always happens!
So we moseyed on over to the wall of portraits and photographs of a young man’s past – a collection filled with such casual and yet touching images “at once foreign and familiar” ( of a distant identity he struggles to keep as his own.
A common identity ‘split’ so many “half-breeds” and global souls (anyone read Pico Iyer?) in Canadian families face growing up. How much of each culture to emphasize, and how to process what exactly this ethnicity and entire cultural past mean to you in your life NOW – and how to properly give homage to that side of you.
Art seems in many ways, the perfect resolution – A shared and enjoyable dedication that might even inspire curiosity in those around you.
“I am interested in exploring the tension between geographical distance and emotional closeness.” (
Vuk’s spent half of his life exactly in Canada, and the half before that in Serbia; “13 years living in each” as he would tell me in conversation later. (He also told me that the Serbian plum brandy we were sipping together gingerly was not in fact available at the LCBO, and that little tidbit made me feel warm, welcome and a little special at this superb show. The brandy’s high AC didn’t do much to deter that feeling.)
What Vuk offers us in his selection of photos is a personal and entirely nostalgic peek into his own history. People and places of importance to him are shown in casual activity, alongside images of simple ‘things’ and knickknacks almost depicted as figments of an ethnic imagination – “how it used to be” – like digging in your mums old chest from your childhood, only to find that little gold box that was always hers, not yours, and you never knew quite what to do with then.
Vuk’s Photography Exhibition ‘Belgrade House’ will be running until March 31st at the Pikto Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District.
Check out this and other exhibits at the Pikto Gallery in the upcoming months.
“Vuk Dragojevic is a Toronto based artist who works in a range of media including animation, (installation, mechanics),video and photography. He has produced work that has been shown in group exhibits and festivals - both locally and abroad - as well as featured in print and online publications. (Belgrade House) is his first solo show.”
His roommates describe his work as: “confusing,” “unnecessarily artsy,” and “what is it?”
View More of Vuk’s Work including ‘Belgrade House’ at: www.partialpictures.com