La Jolla's weather—the mild, sunshine-filled air—reminds resident Sejla Holland of her hometown Mostar, located in southern Bosnia. It's why she made the cross-country move from Boston to San Diego two years after fleeing the bloodiest fighting in Europe since World War 2.
The 1992-1995 civil war, which ensued after Bosnia and several republics of the former Yugoslavia declared independence, involved ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate sniper attacks and mortar shelling, concentration camps and a siege on the capital Sarajevo. The conflict created half a million refugees in the United States, including Holland, who refused to leave Bosnia for two years. She eventually moved to New York in 1994 with the clothes on her back and a tabula rasa.
“After the war, there were so many stories that didn't paint a beautiful picture,” she says. “I had this sense of pride and hope that our creativity wasn't destroyed and even became more powerful after something so traumatic.”
Towards that end, Holland wanted to highlight the perseverance and creativity of the war's survivors in a new exhibit titled, “Bosnian Born: 20 Years Later” at the GreenCube Gallery in Laguna Beach.
She showcases the works of 27 Bosnian artists – many of whom were refugees from the war. The exhibit features photography, paintings, fashion lines, jewelry, and even furniture.
A documentary titled “Back to Bosnia” also plays in the exhibit. Filmmaker Sabina Vajraca explores the meaning of home when she visits Bosnia for the first time in 12 years since she escaped the violence at the age of 13. It's a familiar story for refugees.
“It's hard because the notion of home got shattered,” says Vajraca. “You don't have this childhood home. You don't have something that you can always go back to. The country, as we knew it, went out with us.”
“We survived, and had a jolly good time doing it,” she recalls. “You just learn to take it as it comes and move on. I want people to look at Bosnians as survivors who can get through anything.”
The proceeds from the exhibit sales will go to Bosana Foundation, a charity organization which seeks to secure funding for economically disadvantaged Bosnian children.
“Bosnian Born: 20 Years Later” runs until September 1, 2012 at Green Cube Gallery, 264 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach.