It was a dark, rainy night as I walked into the hollow exhibition building on Portland Oregon’s Eastside, just steps from the cold Willamette River. Hung on repeated clotheslines were notebook-sized hand-drawn pencil sketches, hundreds meticulously crafted in testimony to the ordeals of both past and present refugees.
How long does trauma last when a person must flee his/her country to survive?
This was a pre-production exhibit of Daniela Repas’ most recent film in progress. The white-walled, high-ceiling space echoed if you spoke loud enough. Photographs hung on the austere walls and the clothesline sketches lined up silently. A story unfolds of a deep grief.
Repas, a lovely, soft-spoken artiste extraordinaire, was introduced to me and we sat on a bench. She told me her story. She had left Lukavac, Bosnia, when she was a teenager. She was already a compulsive artist, with big plans for a mural in the center of her town. But as the incessant bombing of the Bosnian War increased, her artistic plans had to be changed and her family, prepared to leave.
Repas arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, with her family, drawing as she traveled and trying to adjust to her new situation. She had a hard time speaking. Her drawings were sad, but the best way she could communicate.
In the Swiss refugee shelter, she and her sister had an exhibit in the basement. A volunteer refugee worker associated with a museum in Geneva, impressed with the emotion and skill of her work, provided the lighting.
After years of temporary shelters and movement, Repas finally settled in Portland, Oregon, where there is a large Bosnian community. Now, she is married and has a young son.
Repas’ film, “Pour The Water As I Leave,” is about the exodus from Bosnia. Its presentation concept is like no other. It is the third in Repas’ unique multi-media genre that uses her own art as a basis for professional animators to create her film. In “Pour the Water,” she adds dance, performed by Whim W’Him Seattle Contemporary Dance and photographed by Simone Fischer, that will also be transformed into animation.
The film in progress, using dance, music, animation and testimony, will tell how love is found, despite being caught up in a genocidal maelstrom. The idea is to create empathy for all refugees from the past to the present.
I asked about the title, “Pour The Water As I Leave.” I was told that in Bosnia there is a ritual. After a family has left, water may be poured at the threshold of the door to wish those who left a good journey and a welcome back home. This is a hopeful good-bye and hello at the same time.
“There are 84 million refugees in the world,” explained the producer, Jessica Daugherty. In this film, seven or eight refugees from the 1992-96 Bosnia War will be giving their testimonies. They are hesitant to talk. They have survived, but at a cost. Some two million souls were lost in a war that changed the map.
Repas explains that Bosnians are a walk-it-off kind of people. “We celebrate life. No therapy – but parties! Resilience! My mom wears high heels and taught me life values: love people and the goodness of the world … I carry my trauma as a badge of honor. I don’t hide it. I’m not afraid to say I am vulnerable. Yet I am strong and happy. Being an artist really helps.”
Repas and Daugherty make a good team. Both have experience in documentary film-making that is preoccupied with leaving, loss and being forced from home. They are also both artists. While Repas is an exceptionally talented visual artist, Daugherty is a performance artist, using her body as a mode for expression, with the Living Theater in NYC where the goal is to process trauma and loss.
Together, they are hosting a grand fundraiser in the same hollow building on Portland’s Eastside on March 31, 2023. But this time, it will be filled with music, dance, libations and celebration.
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