In Langscape Magazine Articles

Hvala – Thank You: A Meditation on Reclaiming My Croatian Heritage

July 07, 2020

Sylvia Pozeg

homeland of Croatia

Hvala—Thank You,” acrylic paint on canvas. Sylvia created this artwork after visiting her family’s homeland of Croatia, as a meditation on reclaiming her heritage. Artwork: Sylvia Pozeg, 2011

About the Artwork

My painting was created in gratitude to Croatia and as a meditation on reclaiming my heritage, from my own personal connection; no longer filtered through hazy childhood memories, not assimilated into some synthetic norm. I finally got to feel the storied land that shaped my ancestors, as strangely familiar as the lines on the palm of my hand.

I finally got to feel the storied land that shaped my ancestors, as strangely familiar as the lines on the palm of my hand.

My process involved the study of traditional textiles and the powerful sculptures I encountered on my travels. I reimagined my mother’s crochet work as a garment for the woman, unabashedly present with purpose. Her strong hand holds the vessel protectively, honoring kinship with the earth. The black border around the scene suggests a dream or vision, with the aromatic lavender providing a tangible link. The illuminated pathway calls beyond pains of the past, holding on to culture and language as a birthright, with a vow to uphold its intrinsic value.

Growing up in Ontario, Canada within an immigrant community, I knew my family’s homeland through the language, stories, celebrations, and food. In our local folklore ensemble, I learned dances and songs of seasons and harvests, village life and love. Our community hall was adorned with vivid paintings of Croatian scenes, shaping my path as an artist. With multiculturalism beginning to be respected in Canada, my family could provide access to my heritage, forming a haven for my heart.

The illuminated pathway calls beyond pains of the past, holding on to culture and language as a birthright, with a vow to uphold its intrinsic value.

We always grew vegetable gardens, and traditional recipes of the season graced our tables, while embroidered tablecloths were laid out with herbs drying and dough rising. My dad planted a linden tree (lipa) in the backyard as a reminder of his childhood, becoming a keystone for many tales. I savored learning about my grandmother’s natural remedies and foraged herbs to bring home, including dried elderberry flower tea (bazga). She revealed her dreams and skills, sharing the stash of handspun thread she made from hemp (konoplje) long ago.

We can each look back to our ancestors and homelands to find more harmony with nature.

My journey into adulthood brought relocations for school and work, and my culture became harder to sustain on my own. Intuitively and longingly, I began to reconcile with my heritage, cultivating strength in the face of disillusionment and destructive world events.

Seeing Croatia as an adult was profound: to finally witness the fabled villages, embrace relatives, and mend the fabric of my life. The southern coastal islands enchanted me with scents of lavender intermingling with the sea, visions of dancing swallows and old olive trees. I was inspired by the way ancient history and daily life persisted together.

Reunite with the trees, bringing shelter and memories of our roots, in reverence, resistance, and solidarity.

We can each look back to our ancestors and homelands to find more harmony with nature. We can create ways to ground these insights into our present lives. Dig up those old stories and songs holding wisdom, rekindle knowledge of the plants. Recognize the vital presence of the earth’s Indigenous Peoples. We are all interconnected with the earth, and reclaiming that link can bring us into deeper relationship with each other. Reunite with the trees, bringing shelter and memories of our roots, in reverence, resistance, and solidarity.

handspun hemp thread

“Interwoven.” Handspun hemp thread made by Sylvia’s grandmother, with Croatian textiles, stones, and medicinal herbs. Photo: Sylvia Pozeg, 2020

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Sylvia Pozeg.

Sylvia Pozeg is an artist, writer, and designer from Ontario. As a first-generation Canadian, she was raised within her family’s Croatian culture, which provided her with a creative legacy and inspired a powerful connection to nature. Her experiences have fostered a deep respect for diversity and the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples.