One Thousand Pomegranate Seeds

Horsecross Arts commission and museum acquisition for Threshold artspace, Perth, 2017.
Photo by Fergus Connor
I am kneeling on a long, white piece of paper in a large venue. I am motionless. Different props are next to me. Chairs are on my left and right side. Doors open and the audience enters the room. I am looking straight to the wall opposite me waiting for a murmur to stop and people find the place to sit.
 
I get up and take a large, heavy, chopping board. I also take a wooden meat hammer, and I hit the board three times. Next, I walk on the paper barefoot, kneel, draw with charcoal, and spill the soil sample brought from Sarajevo. I cover the soil with the chopping board.
 
I roll pomegranates and walnuts on the paper. I destroy pomegranates slowly with knitting needles and meet hammer.  I smash walnuts with the meat hammer.
 
I smash my head into the debris of pomegranates and walnuts.
 
I raise my head, gather the debris to the three piles by whispering the words “jedan, dva, tri” (one, two, three in Bosnian). Next, I burn a match and lighten up three candles.
 
Finally, as I leave the room, lights go darker, and the sound is played from a loudspeaker positioned in proximity to the white paper. A field recording of the Muslim call for prayer and church bells ringing simultaneously in Sarajevo fills the room.
I have been wondering, what is the sound of oppression?

Is that a sound of a pomegranate being torn in parts open and bleeding?

How do we become oppressors, and how does that sound like?

The main actors in this construction are: soil, pomegranates and walnuts.

The imported soil represents a record of time, the land, my ancestors: it questions silently, what belongs to us, and where are we coming from?

Walnuts are interpreted in various cultural settings as a powerful symbol of masculinity, and they are common in Bosnian cuisine.

Pomegranates are a famous fertility symbol in ancient cultures, and as one of the oldest fruits, it is thought that Eve took a forbidden pomegranate in the Garden of Eden, instead of an apple.

The performance started months before it was shared with the public.

My family lives in Sarajevo, and they decided to help me in making a link between several ex-Yugoslav countries, East and West.

How?

My sister and my mother, Mirsada and Emina, took a sample of soil from the from of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

They packed the soil and sent it to Belgrade, Serbia by bus. (Heavy packages are often transported in this way in Bosnia).

The following day, at Belgrade bus station, my friend Milan took the soil and met Jasmina (from Slovenia) and gave her the package.

Jasmina then brought the soil to Aberdeen by plane.

While a play between the masculine (walnuts) and the feminine (pomegranates) can be recognised in the work, this was just one of the several dualities present. Some others are soil and fire, oppressor and oppressed, aggressor and victim, objects and action. These dualities created dynamic relationships within the piece, supporting the loose, non-linear, and symbolic narrative. 

Finally, the number three has a symbolic value and refers to the three ‘constitutive ethnic groups’ in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have hit the chopping board three times, I have made three piles from the smashed pomegranates, I have said, one, two, three in Bosnian. The number underlines the oppressive system imposed on the citizens of B&H that fails to recognise others, minority groups and groups who wish not to religiously or ethnically declare themselves. A Bosnian and Herzegovinian phrase ‘brojanje krvnih zrnaca’ portraits this in a picturesque way. The meaning is ‘counting of blood cells’, although in this context ‘zrno‘ means both ‘a cell’ and ‘a seed’. In the sentence, it might be used in the following way: ‘Svaka odluka zahtjeva brojanje krvih zrnaca’, which means that every decision demands the counting of blood cells/seeds. The phrase refers to the awkward and often absurd ways of determining ethnic identity where family histories, the religious connotations of names, and the overall affiliation and practice of religion are taken into account.