Interview – Alena Mehic, Bosnia – USA


When did you first start painting? Were you born with a paint palette in hand, or did your interest in art develop over time?

I have always loved to draw, though I didn’t get serious about it professionally until towards the end of high school. I mostly used graphite and colored pencil up until I graduated, and only started to paint when I took an intro to painting class my sophomore year of college.

Your parents immigrated from Bosnia to USA, where you were raised. How did your bicultural upbringing impact your worldview?

It’s interesting, because I don’t really feel like I “fit in” no matter where I go. In America, I am a foreigner. My parents have heavy accents, I got criticized by other kids for bringing pašteta and Nutella to school, and not a single one of my classmates from Kindergarten through my senior year of high school ever pronounced my name correctly. In Bosnia, it’s the same story! While I was born in and lived in my hometown of Zavidovići for a couple of years, I grew up in America and went to school there; when I speak the language, I know everyone can hear that I have an accent no matter how hard I try to mask it. That is a symptom of being an immigrant — you never really feel totally comfortable. However, I think that experiencing two different cultures has helped me understand concepts and ideas that others struggle with. Many people in America, particularly young people, don’t know much about Yugoslavia, or the war, or any of the countries post-war. People have asked me questions like “are the roads paved?” and “do they have toilet paper there?” and “so… where is it exactly?” Most of me makes art for me but another part of me makes art about where I’m from because the people I am around do not understand it. I delve into ideas of communism and capitalism because I know that many Americans have already decided that they know what those concepts mean and entail, despite not really understanding them. I think it’s important to bring a fresh perspective.

In your opinion, what is the most challenging part about being an artist?

Making money, of course, and getting people to care about what you’re making (those two things just happen to be connected)! Going to college in America, there was a lot of “but how do you get other people to understand or connect?” during critiques. One time a girl told me to put starving people and misery in my propaganda prints in order to really “deliver a punch”. Clearly, she really missed the point. You can’t force some people to feel the things you want them to feel when they look at your work, but I hope to someday reach a point where people think it’s worth showing. I just don’t want to become more palatable or more gory in order to do that.

Your artwork is about nostalgia, how do you feel being in the capital of former Yugoslavia?

I love being here. Seeing the old monuments, the structures, the history… it’s so easy to place historical figures and events in my imagination. Despite never having been here before, all cities I have visited in the former Yugoslavia have a similar “feel”. It is comforting — it feels like seeing my family again after a long time.

Did you find what you were looking for in Belgrade? Do you find yourself influenced by this experience?

Absolutely. The remnants of Yugoslavia are still very present in the city, and the busts of Tito in the apartment definitely help! Watching people so effortlessly interacting with friends, singing in the street, laughing together — there is still a sense of community despite the city’s size.

What is going to be your next project?  

I hope to complete some large-scale paintings that call upon some of the photos I’ve taken during my time here, mostly nostalgic pieces. I would also love to do some propaganda prints, but unfortunately I will not have access to a press anytime soon. But I can plan ahead!

What do you like about Belgrade?

The accessibility of everything, the feeling that it’s never completely quiet, the number of museums and the architecture… really, a lot of things.