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Local Voices Croatia: Dunja Janković, ŠKVER!

Dunja Janković is the force behind ŠKVER!, an experimental and fringe art festival taking place each summer in and around the shipyards of Mali Lošinj, a town on the island of Lošinj.

Dunja has been publishing comics and illustrations in various magazines for the last ten years and has had her work exhibited in countries around Europe and in the US. She lives a double life between Croatia and Portland, Oregon, where she teaches comics in the Independent Publishing Resource Center. I caught up with Dunja to learn more about ŠKVER!

Tell us a little about ŠKVER! Where did you draw the inspiration for the festival?

I was working on my sailboat four years ago and suddenly the beauty of the shipyard really struck me, with its industrial landscape and enormous vessels with such a strong visual effect. I then had a flashback of these images from my childhood – my father has been working in the shipyards his whole life – when everything looked even bigger.

Photo by Domagoj Blažević

I immediately knew something had to happen here. I knew so many artists would love to be able to create in this environment of heavy industry. It actually looks so much better than any gallery out there!

I have always been more interested in the process of creation than the final product. That’s why what happens in ŠKVER! stays in ŠKVER! Murals remain on the walls, sculptures stay in the space, and moments become woven in the memory of these shipyards.

It’s the energy that happens in those seven days that counts and, hopefully, leaves mark on everything and everybody. It’s crazy how many interesting universes can be created through the collision of multiple artistic egos.

Croatia has 1185 islands. What made you choose Lošinj specifically?

I was born and lived on Lošinj for 18 years before I left to study in Zagreb and then further on to the United States. But I keep coming back every year. In fact, for the last couple of years I’ve been splitting my year between Lošinj and Portland, OR.

It’s impossible to leave this island; there seems to be some invisible rope that ties me to it. If I have roots, they must be deep in the soil of this island.

Photo by Domagoj Blažević

I love that you selected the shipyards as the setting. How come?

Yes, the title of the project, ŠKVER!, means “shipyards” in the local jargon. The combination of art expression and this environment of heavy industry is really special and creates a strong impact. If you put ships in this equation it becomes even stronger, as ships are vessels of communication. We are all immersed in the sea, this fluid that connects everything.

ŠKVER! takes over the shipyards’ role of building vessels of communication and creates a dialogue between different art scenes and artists who work in diverse fields, in different countries and lifestyles.

Photo by Ivana Armanini

The art represented in the project comes from different fringe areas and it’s experimental in expression. Shipyards have the same fringe position these days. Unfortunately, they are one of the last remaining industries in Croatia. And it’s not looking good for them in the long run. So there is a mutual understanding between artists and the workers of these shipyards. They share solidarity and persistence.

Tell us about the highlights of last year’s festival, which was the inaugural edition. What were the biggest hits?

One of the guest artists, Igor Bezinovic, created a project where he assembled shipyard workers into three groups and gave them three cameras to record whatever they wanted for a couple of weeks. The result was a documentary film made by the workers themselves, which was screened on one of the last days of the festival. It was a hit!

Another guest artist, sculptor Matija Kralj, was welding a big monster inside the shipyard’s hall. One of the workers joined him and made his own sculpture – a very special looking female! She was a favorite among the visitors and artists.

We tried to involve the local community so we had some of the festival happening in the city, in an old dilapidated palace in the town center. There were free workshops, zine library… So the whole thing became a little bit more visible.

Photo by Domagoj Blažević

On the last day of the festival we had the open doors. It was such a lovely thing to watch, people from the island coming to peek at the artwork and stroll through the shipyards. Workers, artists, locals and tourists all mingled together. And the workers organized a little fiesta at the end.

What do you have planned for the upcoming ŠKVER! in June? When exactly is it taking place?

Besides the standard mural actions, this year we will have mask making, performances, sound recordings leading up to music shows, video projections, analogue VJing and more.

Like last year, we have more than twenty artists coming, from different parts of the world. This time, we will be focusing on a collaborative multimedia project that the artists will be working on together.

Photo by Domagoj Blažević

This year’s festival is taking place from June 11 to June 17. Right now, judging by the amount of artists who are coming, it looks like we might have two open-door days, filled with music shows, performances, video projections, live VJing and more.

You can learn more at skver.tumblr.com

Can you describe a typical ‘Croatia moment’? A scene or setting that you feel represents the spirit of the country?

Croatia is very diverse so I would have to pick one part of it. I will choose the Adriatic. Here’s an avalanche of random feelings and thoughts that come to me: huge palette of various kinds of blues, bright sun light, warm stone under naked ass, tall pine trees with millions of cicadas, stillness, sailing boats, seagulls, bura and jugo winds, diving until your lips turn blue, inner peace, complete connection…

Would you share your three secret spots? Could be anywhere at all in Croatia. Places you love to go.

I’ll keep the secrets secret but instead give you three very special islands, where anybody can search for their own little secret spot. These islands are Lošinj, of course, Susak and Silba. All of them beautiful, some weirder than the others.

What’s your favorite season in Croatia, and why?

I love spring, May in particular. Usually, I’m on the island then. It’s still quite empty, the weather is nice, green colors are bursting, it gets warmer and the days are longer and longer. I get ecstatic waking up out of winter hibernation. I spend a lot of quality time with my family, friends and nature.

Any strong stand about Croatia’s entry into the EU? What do you think are the pros, and what are the contras?

That’s a tough one. I’ll try to simplify my thoughts. I’m theoretically against it. I don’t see the EU as a good creation. It’s not working for many bigger and stronger countries that have been there for a long time. So I don’t think Croatia, as a small and weak country, will get a lot out of it. We might even lose some of our qualities in order to blend in better.

Photo by Domagoj Blažević

On the other hand, we can’t stay independent because we’ve never learned how. The people who are willing and eager to go into politics and lead this country are mainly opportunists. Such was the case with our government of the last ten years. Thieves. They brought Croatia to its knees, robbed it, destroyed the industry and sold everything else, while the majority of the people were supporting them. So, obviously, we can’t be on our own.

I don’t like to end with bad thoughts so I will just say – there are many positive and capable people doing great stuff in Croatia. Also, if the people who have left and are leaving the country in search of better opportunities eventually return and bring back the knowledge and the energy, we will have a great wind at our back.

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