Bosnian refugee artist's life shared in Bristol project

Published
Image source, David Bell
Image caption,
Dragana Smart's parents were caught in the Bosnian conflict and settled in Bristol as refugees in the 1990s

A Bosnian refugee who healed his trauma by making art in his newfound home is an "important part of Bristol's story".

Dragana Smart's parents were caught in the Bosnian conflict and settled in Bristol as refugees in the 1990s.

Her father's original work was destroyed in a "vicious shelling attack" during the war.

Now Dobrivoje Beljkasic's story forms part of Bridging Histories, a project that aims to show that everyone is connected to Bristol's history.

Bridging Histories is a We Are Bristol History Commission project funded by Bristol University.

Image source, Dragana Smart
Image caption,
Ms Smart's parents ashes are buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery and they lived in Barton Hill

"At first I didn't realise my story was relevant but then I thought that all our family histories make up this city," Ms Smart said.

"I wanted to share the story of my mum and dad and how they came to live here."

Ms Smart moved to the UK before war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. It lasted from 1992 to 1995.

Image source, Lily Wildgoose
Image caption,
Ms Smart's father loved to paint the bridges in Sarajevo but lost most of his artwork during the Bosnia conflict

"My dad was a painter and they called him a painter of bridges, as he was fascinated by their physical presence, and as a metaphor for connecting people, places and time.

"But a vast majority of his life's work burned down in a vicious shelling attack."

After the incident, Mr Beljkasic vowed he would never paint again but after joining an art club in Bristol he began to find the joy in it again.

Ms Smart said being an artist helped him to be accepted for who he was, rather than being defined by the label of refugee.

"It is fitting that he ended up in Bristol.

"Bristol is also called Brigstowe which means the place of the bridge," she added.

Image source, Lily Wildgoose
Image caption,
Ms Smart's father Dobrivoje Beljkasic took up painting again when he came to Bristol as a refugee

His artwork was exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy in 2020 and the MShed in 2014.

It has been permanently held in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the City Museum of Sarajevo.

Mr Beljkasic died in 2015 and his wife Gordana Beljkasic died in 2017.

Their ashes are buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol.

'Learn about ourselves'

Bridging Histories director Dr Joanna Burch-Brown said the project will help people "connect on a different level".

"By joining in, you're helping to tell the story of our city, and helping the whole city learn about ourselves," she said.

The compiled online stories will be exhibited in Bristol next year.

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