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Vanja Radisic is a local artist and academic who has called Melbourne home for over 22 years after immigrating from Bosnia in 1999. She is known for her captivating photography, which includes an ongoing exploration of Springvale Botanical Cemetery. We sat down with Vanja to learn about her art and her special relationship to this space, founded on love and loss.
‘I first discovered Springvale Botanical Cemetery when I was looking for a resting place for my dad in 2011,’ Vanja told us.
‘When my father passed away, my mother and I wanted to find a resting place for him that felt beautiful and hopeful. We were drawn to Springvale Botanical Cemetery as a place that is accessible for my mum who can hop onto the bus to visit, but also because it is an uplifting space that provides a warm and welcoming place to remember, grieve and heal.’
Taking photographs is an important part of each day for Vanja, so photography came naturally when she found herself among Springvale’s surrounds.
‘On Saturdays I would spend a couple of hours at Springvale, visiting dad and then going for a walk,’ she told us. ‘There are so many gardens to discover; tropical, seasonal and traditional. So much to explore and see.’
Vanja studied Fine art at RMIT and has a Master of Teaching from Melbourne University. She now teaches art in its many forms including drawing, painting and photography.
In her long career as an artist, she has explored diverse mediums, from paintings based on traditional Bosnian textiles to digital compositions that explore shape and colour.
‘Much of my work is about memory and remembering,’ she shared.
‘I am fascinated by textures, colours, light and the way it changes through the day. One of my works is an exploration of the textures and shapes of gum tree bark. Every tree has so many moments of hidden beauty waiting to be discovered and a story to tell.
Recently, Vanja exhibited one her works at the FLORA exhibition at Dandenong Heritage Hill Museum.
The artwork entitled, We’ll be together forever in the temple of gum trees and magpies, is a beautiful surreal-like exploration of grief captured through the subject of nature and the lens of her camera.
‘It was in autumn when I really got inspired by the colours, textures and birdlife,’ she shared, telling us that she made it part of her routine to start taking photos after each visit.
‘People would stare at first, watching me walk around with an iPad’ she said with a laugh, ‘I think back then it was a new idea that cemeteries can be things to be admired and captured, but these days it’s becoming much more common.’
‘“iPhonography” is the future,’ Vanja said, noting that these days you don’t need to lug around a giant DSLR to take a quality photo. ‘Many photojournalists carry phones or very small cameras these days not only for convenience, but also for respect and consideration of others through discretion,’ she explained.
‘The best camera is the one you have on you.’
Over the years Vanja has taken over one thousand photographs of Springvale Botanical Cemetery.
‘I think cemeteries are beautiful. In Berlin I would meet my friends there a lot,’ Vanja told us regarding the role of cemeteries in communities. ‘Cemeteries are great places to connect with others because they are serene, peaceful and soulful.’
For Vanja and her family, Springvale Botanical Cemetery is also the perfect place to gather for a very special annual tradition. Every year on the anniversary of her dad’s passing, they come together for coffee and cake at Café Vita et flores and take a moment to pause and remember as a family.
One of Vanja’s exhibited artworks is in fact a photograph from the grounds taken on her dad’s tenth anniversary and has very special meaning.
When asked about special moments she has experienced on the grounds, Vanja said, ‘for me as an artist, it’s not a moment but a series of moments.’
As for tips for other artists and photographers looking to get inspired by the grounds, Vanja is a big advocate for exploration.
‘Go there and get lost in the space,’ she said. ‘Go for a wonder and find something that speaks to you. Take your phone or your visual art diary and sketch.’
Like art, life can be a great experiment, and Vanja’s art makes it very clear that inspiration is all around us if you are willing to search.
You can find Vanja’s photography at her Instagram page or learn more about her art and background on her website.