I paid a visit to Madison Bouckville Antique Week. It’s the biggest vintage fair you will see without a doubt. It cannot be covered in a day and people tend to return on more than one of the days during its running. I saw some captivating objects – it really felt like being in a time warp with American history sprouting through the fields and tents. It is difficult to decide what to acquire and what to only admire. Objects are seductive and I struggle with decision-making, so many potential directions to take.

In the end I went for a miniature sewing machine, a ceramic boot that shouted flamboyancy and although I didn’t buy any, I was drawn to fishing lures, they coaxed me in with their fluorescent and vivid colours only to repel at the harsh image of ripped flesh by the small, sinister hooks.

As I sit in my studio I notice a growing collection of glass objects in the form of plates and light round globes.

The many thrift stores surrounding Utica are full of glassware and somehow this material feels right to work with. As I visit the Salvation Army Store, just down the road from the residency house, I am overwhelmed by the amount of ‘things’ inside. Masses of handed down items ranging from furniture, clothes, stationary and anything else you can imagine, it’s all there. There is a large children’s section. I swirl around enticed by the weight of history, memory and nostalgia as I shift each hanger across the metal rail. There is something beautiful and sad about seeing so many children’s clothes hanging hypnotically row by row. I am pulled in as I contemplate the impossibility of returning to childhood. Yet that child is always calling out for our attention, in various and remarkable ways.

I go to the swimsuit area, the most charged and concentrated, placing us in time, space and activity. Swimming, playing, family, brother, sister, water, sand, sea, fishing lures, glass, water, bodily fluid, function, rolling thoughts of one to another. Faded memories bleached by the sun, history condensed, suppressed, repressed, memories fold as objects unfold. And so I choose the more memorable, vivid colours. I return to the studio and sandwich a child swimsuit between glass plates, encasing the arrangement in resin.

I did want to write more about a trip to The Corning Museum of Glass but it is getting late here and I need to be up at dawn to catch a train to NYC. Suffice to say it was inspiring and thorough, a brilliant glance at the history of glass as well as a viewing of a beautifully curated exhibition of contemporary art and design in the gallery section of the museum.

As I return to Utica in one week I will be getting prepared for community workshops with the local refugee community. I’m looking forward to revealing more information and thoughts on this in my next blog.


Utica has not had a presidential visit since 1952, making Trump’s visit today an exceptionally unique occasion and I am in slight disbelief, as I get ready to protest alongside Utica’s relatively small population. He is to host a fundraiser event for Claudia Tenney, the woman whose emphatically devoid and detached speech about child migrants’ separation from parents in the US Mexico border went viral in the UK.

We are all feeling a little nervous, questioning our safety at this demonstration. How secure is our national position and can someone abuse his or her power to affect our livelihood? A Canadian University lecturer here in Utica explains that she could lose her green card if she goes, and recalls knowledge of it it happening to others. She also explains that she encountered a Mexican volunteer who made calls to fellow Mexicans during elections in the US to encourage voting, however many were fearful of showing their feelings and views and refused to go out and vote. When your position is so vulnerable you may assume that this is the time to stand up and fight for your security, however more often than not the opposite happens, we quietly recoil and shield the impotent nature of our position. Protest and conflict in these circumstances feel like dangerous places to be.

Fighting for citizenship can be an extremely difficult journey, one my family and I have experienced. The expression of being stuck between a rock and a hard place is fitting. My parents fought hard for that green card and refugee status during the years of the Yugoslav civil war, whilst we were living in London. It was a fight for a place in the world. They wanted to be able to work legally so that they can put food on the table and pay their rent. These were years of complete desperation, not knowing from one day to the next what would happen. We were at risk of being sent back to Yugoslavia even though it was a warzone. This would have meant being separated and returned to different regions, as my parents have differing ethnic origin. Once returned, there was then the very real and valid fear of persecution and death. Anxiety filled the household. Today we often walk on, in that robust Yugoslav way, shedding the old skin that once kept us together. Sometimes we aren’t sure how much to let go of. As glimpses of the interior surface start to appear, we wonder what to make of it, is it safe now? But anxiety surrounding safety can be hard to let go of.

I wonder as I walk through the quickly forming crowds on Genesee Street, what stories and worries are burdening people today. Does it feel threatening to have Donald Trump arriving to a ‘town that loves refugees’? A safe haven so to speak. I run into a woman of Puerto Rican descent. She is wearing a Puerto Rican flag across her back and shouts to the counter protest group of people on the other side of the road as they shout back at us. She has the confidence of someone who has secured her citizenship at birth and is aware of her position. She tells me how difficult life can be here for her and her family. She recalls a story of a man shouting abuse at her from a car, referring to her non-American roots, and how she then cried for an hour, devastated by this. This almost surprises me, as I want to believe she is impenetrable through her outwardly tough demeanour. Her worry is that Trump will give further green light to people like this man. Then the worries go further and she mentions what I’ve heard others mention, that bigger wars are approaching and that there’ll be more serious consequences for Americans. Her concern is for her kids and their future. I am struck by her passion and sense of urgency, a life force of energy.

Resilience, humour and determination intermix throughout the protest. This is apparently a very big crowd for Utica, perhaps the biggest ever seen in the city by some. I observe people, many of whom work for various charities helping refugees to settle and integrate. We are all aware what a unique moment in time this is. A city with more refugees per capita in the whole of the United States and whose city was revived through the settlement of refugees during the 20th century, now visited by a man epitomising the negative rhetoric and policies towards the vulnerable.

And yet what is shocking is the lack of media coverage of the protest here in the US, minimising the inhabitant turn out and focusing on the counter protest instead, portraying it to be bigger than it was. In fact it was a relatively small group of counter protestors who stood with homogenous signs such as ‘We love Trump’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. There was an absence of humour, wit, colour, double layered meaning that we usually see in protest signs and props. Instead there was a real life size placard of Donald Trump. A cut out ready-made representation of ready made dogmas. There is a certain numbing of brainpower and humility, perhaps more brain numbing for us observing than those participating. I imagine for them it was a unifying experience that we felt on our side of the street too. As I looked on at this small crowd I noticed a mixture of adolescent provocation meshed with more fermented dogma.

At one point a man from the counter protest crossed the road to our side, wearing his red cap backwards with the slogan ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’. He stood in the centre with his back to all of us at the very front, so that those words stared straight back at us. He held up a heavyweight American flag, resembling Terminator style strength, unflinching throughout our noise, directed straight at his ear. I think of the scene from Mulholland Drive where a senior couple are in a car smiling in a sweet and sickly manner, a smile that just won’t go away. As his presence stubbornly stuck, our chanting became louder and louder and I don’t think I have ever got so carried away in a protest. Trump was close, I was looking at the red cap and I started to shout at the top of my voice to the various verses being called out. I wanted the power of our voices to extinguish the presence of this RED into a powder of dust. I recalled all the gypsy magic I have seen in films and thought maybe it’s really possible to achieve something surreal here with our union of energy. Maybe we can bend this flagpole; maybe he will collapse and wither. I focused, immersing myself in the repetition of movement and sound, ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!’.

Later, as I returned back home after the commotion of the protest began to die down, I thought how similar I felt to when leaving a rave, rhythm and beats ringing in my ear, lost voice, body drained, content, united, light, heavy and in desperate need for sleep.


I woke up this morning feeling restless; I still haven’t found a way in to the Bosnian community. I had started to sense that perhaps they have settled in a particular part of Utica, where all the restaurants seem to be and where there is a mix of different migrant backgrounds, but I needed a point of contact. After some unsuccessful trips to Bosnian cafes and restaurants, many being closed due to holiday season, I thought I’d try my luck at one more. So I took the Sculpture Space studio bike and set off in the morning. As I cycled I found myself reaching the same area again, near the other Bosnian cafes and restaurants. I finally reached the destination, Ružnić Market, a restaurant and retail store. I entered and dived in, speaking in Bosnian to the older man running the shop, we quickly entered into a conversation with him showing me a book titled ‘Bosnian Refugees in Utica’. He pointed to the cover explaining it was a picture of his family.

It’s clear that writers, journalists and perhaps artists have regularly visited this community over the years. I soon discover the successful life this family have made for themselves here, they arrived with $100 to Utica and today they have their retail and restaurant business and are also property developers, showing me pictures of properties in Croatia and Bosnia as well as mentioning the houses they have bought and developed in Utica. They are grafters, I notice the restlessness of the old man, he doesn’t want to stand still, there is always something to do, to show, a nervous energy.

As we chat the bell above the shop door keeps ringing as customers enter and leave. Majority are Bosnian. The man’s son enters – his name is Samir. I observe that he seems to be a big character in the community – confident, funny and lives life by his own rules. For the next 3 hours Samir chats to me about day-to-day life, his businesses and outlook on religion, nationality and life in Utica. As he talks to me and serves customers I walk through the shop, observing the eclectic mix of Bosnian food, music, books and clothes. There’s an air of eccentricity in this community hub, a creation of a world they want to live in, reminiscing the ‘old times’ of Former Yugoslavia. He says, ‘I’m a communist’ with a glare of childlike excitement. He proudly shows me, with his father, a folded up Yugoslav flag they keep above the shop till. I ask to take a photo of his phone cover, also depicting the flag, which he happily displays. He makes clear that he is not into ethnic patriotism.

As a backdrop, the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of six republics making up the Federation of Yugoslavia post World War II, alongside Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Macedonia. This changed during the Yugoslav Civil War and these regions have now become independent. The region of Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of a population of mixed ethnicity, Bosnian Serbs who are Christian Orthodox, Bosnian Croats who are Catholics and Bosniaks who are Muslim Bosnians. How people view their identity is complex in this region, some are drawn to their religious ethnic origin whilst others prefer to refer to themselves as just Bosnian, without religious connotations. This is a complex subject and I may refer back to it during the following blogs, but for now you get the basic idea.

As I stand in the shop, feeling the stereotype of a nosy tourist with a camera dangling from my neck, I wonder if I am being strangely imposing. However, Samir soon offers to give me a ride in his car on his way to the bank and show me some things around the neighbourhood. I took the chance enthusiastically, and it turns out Samir is the perfect man for the job. We start driving through the neighbourhood and he starts to point to every single house in the neighbourhood that is owned by Bosnians, all within one specific region, near his shop. Incredible, I thought, as I wouldn’t have known otherwise. But as I look closer it suddenly becomes obvious; the façade, colours and presentation is quite typical of houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, people tend to make their own houses, taking a lot of pride in the finishing stages of presentation, if there is money to complete the job. Here in Utica they have created a quirky architectural hybrid of American and Bosnian suburban housing, echoing what must be a cultural hybridity, with sons and daughters adapting further into the American way of life.

Our car journey was filled with spontaneous talk and references and snippets of Samir’s life. He mentions some health issues that were life threatening and the miraculous recovery he has achieved every time, proving doctors wrong along the way. He still lives with medical issues but this doesn’t faze him, his joie de vivre outlook is a mixture of negligence and resilience and I’m not sure which side to fall on. But somehow he has convinced a stranger that he’ll survive anything. He has, after all, survived a war. This is a big character, a man of the community, saying hi and exchanging jokes with everyone he sees, American, Bosnian and any other background, and I have only had a small window of insight. As we end our meeting we discuss plans to meet again when he has time away from the shop, where he can hopefully show me more sights and locations in Utica, and I’m excited about the prospect.

Thank you Samir, a great and generous inside introduction to life in Utica.


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Praised as “the town that loves refugees” in a 2005 issue of Refugees, a periodical publication of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, Utica appears to be a unique city. From those I have spoken to in the last few days I have seen passionate responses regarding the settlement of refugees here, many have worked and helped refugees personally through various charities, others are simply happy to recount the positive effects the refugee community has had on Utica’s economy and spirit. This is owed in big part to the famous and respected organization Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR), who have done remarkable work in helping thousands of refugees to resettle since 1981.

Bosnians, who arrived to Utica in the 90s fleeing the tragic war that raged in Former Yugoslavia between 1992-1995, make up the largest migrant refugee community here. They have done notably well in their resettlement, flourishing in businesses and making a real home of this town. I feel strangely at home myself here, as I walk and cycle through the streets I hear Bosnian music echoing from cars and cafes and I convince myself for a moment that I could be in Grude or Sarajevo, regions in Bosnia and Herzegovina I lived and exchanged my time between. Utica resembles these places, nature and industry working both harmoniously and paradoxically, with a scent of turbulent history shooting sporadically out of the earth’s crevices. Time is slow and space is vast.

There is a world here that echoes the one I remember being a part of as a child and of course I am nostalgic, feeling the pang of what I lost and what people had to suffer and endure. This successful assimilation, that I too had been tasked to reach, arrived slowly and not without its painful obstacles. I see movement and life and all the subsequent experiences growing like ivy around this irrevocable life event. It cushions and seals the original pain through new inevitably growing content, which of course is vital and must be this way, but the mourning for one’s home land is an on-going experience. After the thrust of the initial upheaval, life continues, only it has the impenetrable hum of longing for a return to the womb of one’s origin.