the sleeper

Salam Alaikum, chetor asten?

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Came to the USA as an immigrant in 1997 after the civil war of the former Yugoslavia ravaged my identity. Lost with the disappearance of the country in which I grew up. America, zemlja obecana, Dallas, Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Dallas, … Bagram, Afghanistan.

When I had learned I was going to go to Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base to work as a contract laborer to pay my school loan debt, I was also told that as a part of my job I would be working with the local Afghan population. Morning or night hours, depending if I was working the night or day shift, going to the gate to pick the Afghan workers, working with them throughout days or nights, and then, at the end of the day, driving them back to the gate.

Fed with a daily amount of indoctrination through the media, I would be lying to say I was not afraid or at least had chills going through my spine from time to time. Alas, I really did not see any alternative but to go there. As soon as I stepped down on that stony ground, mainly made of gravel, all my fear was gone. I do not know why, it was just gone. Pretty much next day, I started working with local Afghan population. At first there was a kind of mistrust, power play, what not, the question was who will prevail. Then I started looking at them with more attention – wondering, who are these people that for last 30 years have known only about war while at the same time having in my mind the experiences of the war in the former Yugoslavia, knowing that the country, or countries, of my origin have had quite a hard time picking themselves up after 4-5 years of the similar destruction of a civil war. What about 30 years of the same?

Infrastructure destroyed, poverty on an enormous scale, fear of the enemy… who is who?

All of it is in my head; nevertheless I want to know who they are, who they could be otherwise? I believe, or at least it was my reversed projection of them toward myself, maybe they wonder themselves alike, Who am I?

As I was carefully observing their faces, I start seeing teachers, doctors, soccer players, poets, writers, what not. But that is only on the surface, once I start doing drawings, portraits of them, another world I was able to observe. Staring into person's eyes in duration of a drawing, lasting from 30 minuets to two hours, sometimes in few sessions, depending of the day, placed me into some difficult moments, worlds if I may say.

You see, we like to say that eyes are doors into the human soul. But how many of us actually went through them. I could say I did it, and it wasn't an easy trip. These moments of wondering through staring at each other's eyes, I felt as if I was allowed to see more than others see through only glances of each other as a normal part of an everyday interaction. It was as if I am seeing more than I should, but that more has nothing whatsoever nothing to do with the physicality of any and each of people I draw. After these sessions of drawing I felt exhausted, I believe they felt the same. Some would be falling asleep throughout drawing sessions, for regardless of stressful obsession of catching their correct physicality and geometry of facial expression, those moments of drawings were moments of relaxed contemplations, communication without a single world spoken, other than, "Ok, now wake up," or, "I know, you are sleepy, but come on let us finish it." And then eyes, the door, the feeling, questioning what is he thinking of me while I am drawing him? These would be the first moments, a warming up I would go through in a beginning phase of a drawing cycle. Then I got there, and no other explanation of that place of communication would be but to bring Kant's noumenon of each, him, person being drawn and myself, person doing drawings. It would be as if seeing a naked man, but not naked in his physicality but in his essentiality. And the place was somewhere in the space between him and me. The terminology of space in this case is useless to describe its location.

But I did not draw only Afghan people, for this Afghanistan experience was a place where I got back in connection with my origins. Afghanistan Air base, Bagram, and pretty much all Afghan Military project is a place where at least 30% of working population are people from the former Yugoslavia, Bosnians, Macedonians, Kosovars… Here I got connected with my roots, in this mountainous country of Afghanistan severed lines got reconnected. It is not only that I got interwoven with my roots, but with people of other worlds, Indians, another big working population on this project.

All these people found their way into my drawings, and of course led through the pathways of my persuasion, "hey, would you like if I do drawings of you?" But now projecting backward to these drawings, the most priceless experiences, moments of these drawings were not the drawings themselves, but the moments of experiences and shortly afterward these experiences of drawings. These are the ones I felt as if noumenons they were, and right in the aftermaths of the same was when I felt that a special bond had been created between me and the people I draw. One of them told me, "from now on you have another brother." Another person would call me, Mr. Goran all the time, and would always bring me food from the kitchen, for he was working in the same. With each person another type, kind of bond had been created.

If I were only able, just for a tiny moment, to depict the reality of these moments and kind of experiences, these noumenons I like to call, the drawings would be more. But, if anything, I hope I was able to depict how proud and decent human beings all of them are regardless of all of it that they've been going through.

Goran Maric