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(E) The Beauty of Hands
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/28/2002 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) The Beauty of Hands
The Beauty of Hands 
“I have a dream…” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) 
      Vesna Krezich Kittelson is an outstanding Croatian painter from the Mid-West. She lives and works in Minneapolis (Minnesota), where she teaches painting at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Vesna was born in Trebinje, and raised in Split. While at Cambridge (England) studying law, she met an American scientist, David Kittelson, married him, and left for the other side of the Ocean. Her art work has been exhibited in Cambridge, Berlin, Split, Minneapolis, and in a series of museums and galleries in the Mid-West, most recently at the University Gallery of the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. 
     Ms. Kittelson entered the forefront of American mainstream art during the nineties, mostly through her remarkable series of “War Paintings,” her artistic reaction to the horrors of the war in Croatia. After this dramatic, post-modernist phase in unusual formats and materials, Vesna has reverted to more standard forms of panel painting, her color scale has brightened, and the critics have been comparing her new style with the art of Pompeian frescoes and the paintings by Tiepolo. Not long ago I have had a chance to see one of those paintings – “The Hands.” 
     In front of a turquoise and brown background, two hands with beautiful, long fingers bind themselves together by an almost invisible thread. At a closer look we recognize a children’s game played, I believe, all over the world, and known in English as “The Cat’s Cradle.” Upon those intertwined hands descends, from above, something like golden rain. And in the middle, we can see an outline of yet another pair of barely visible hands. 
     For an artist, the image is primarily a fantasy of light and color, but the beauty of Vesna’s hands has reminded me of something else. Two hands, two Croatias. Our “Most Beautiful Homeland,’ and the Croatian communities abroad, all around the world, the “Iseljena Hrvatska.” Two parts, two halves of our national being, almost identical in numbers. One half in the small southeast European countries called the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina; the other half scattered all over the globe, mostly in the far away, overseas countries, the Croatian Outremer. 
     In Vesna’s painting, both hands are beautiful, and they equally participate in the game of recasting the thread. Skillful fingers produce harmonious, symmetrical movements. The thread links the hands as they act in unison. 
     For many years, I have had a dream, shared, of course, by hundreds of thousands of my compatriots both at home and abroad. It was a dream of a harmonious relation between our homeland and her daughters and sons around the globe, of a great Croatian global community encompassing both the homelands of Croatian people, the Republics of Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all our communities abroad. Briefly, of a harmonious and happy Croatian world community, a Global Croatia – Globalna Hrvatska. 
    This happy state of union Vesna’s hands so much remind me of has never been a rule in relations between Croatian homeland and its lost global children. Since the moment we can with some historical accuracy follow the emigration of the Croats, in particular into the lands across the Ocean, since the time when Louisiana was still French, the authorities in Croatia, mostly foreign or foreign controlled, have been doing their best to keep the hands apart. Croats, especially those who had gone overseas, found themselves in the leading countries of modernization, urbanization, and free markets, countries which “invented” democracy, right to self-determination, human rights. As such, the diaspora Croats have for more than two centuries stood behind a dream of a free, democratic Croatia; and as such they were anathema to the home rulers – be they Austrians, Hungarians, Venetian, Turkish, French, Yugoslav, or Communist. Croats were not leaving Croatia. They had been departing from the Habsburg, Austro-Hungarian, or Ottoman Empire, from the Venetian Republic or the Illyrian Provinces, the Kingdoms of Italy or SHS, or from the Communist Yugoslavia. As the Croats abroad systematically supported opposition movements against all of the above, the hands stayed separated. There was no thread to link them together, no golden rain to celebrate the beauty of their union. 
      The authorities of the new, sovereign Republic of Croatia have also failed to produce the magic thread. The former government extended their hand to some, too few, groups abroad, and the current one behaves as if our diaspora did not exist. Even the hated word “emigrant” has made a comeback. 
      We live in a period of globalization, as agreements signed between Croatia, and, for us most relevant “global” body, the European Union, clearly indicate. We are a small nation and it is only natural that some fear that process. National identity seems to be threatened. 
      However, if we add to the Croats living in the constitutional homelands of Croatian people – Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – all those living abroad, we become a much bigger, more experienced, and more affluent people. We may be cursed by the fact that we have had to leave and settle in almost every corner of the world, that we went away, as a Croatian proverb would have it, as “crab’s children” (“kao rakova djeca”), but there is a silver lining to that curse. As I have said and wrote many a time, Croats need not fear globalization. Simply, we have already been “globalized.” Let us turn vice into virtue, and take advantage of it. 
     This means: bring together the hands that have been separate so far. 
     This means to recognize and take advantage of all that knowledge, experience, goodwill, political influence, and, yes, material wealth amassed by the Croats abroad, combine it with the Homeland’s great human, intellectual, emotional, and natural resources, and create that Global Croatia, a true partnership in which all of us work for the best interest of all. Let me put it in very clear terms: the Homeland has to understand that there are Croats abroad, quite different from those back home. The Croats abroad have to understand that there is a Croatia, a real land quite different from the one in their dreams, without which, we abroad, remain a crowd without roots or identity. It is, therefore, a question of a partnership of hands, not of a domination of one hand over another. It is a question of discovering (or inventing) that miraculous thread which may bind the hands together; of recognizing, even, those barely visible hands in the background which may breathe more unity into the activities of the two more prominently displayed hands of the Global Croatia. 
      Maybe I should tell you more about my personal dream as I keep watching a reproduction of Vesna Kittelson’s lovely painting. And the dream has to do exactly with those “invisible hands.” What are they? I experience them as those beautiful impalpable values – culture, education, the arts. And I dream of the moment when they bring the hands closer together. For this to happen, the hands must get to know each other. And what better way to do so but by telling each other their dreams, their visions, their hopes, and even nightmares. This is what can be so well expressed and communicated through the arts and culture. 
     Several years ago I wrote that culture may be Croatia’s best weapon in an ongoing propaganda battle for the political and economic goodwill of the world’s power centers. But, it is also true that the home hand can learn a lot about her sister abroad by listening to the stories of her dreams. 
     Yet, how often do we see artists such as Vesna Kittelson, Marko Spalatin, Anton Cetin exhibited in Croatian museum and galleries? How many diaspora writers – from Chile, Argentina, the U.S., Canada, or New Zealand – are members of the Croatian Writers Association? How many Croatian institutions of higher learning offer courses or programs dealing with the Croatian diaspora, or with Global Croatology? How many diaspora organizations specialize in promoting Croatian artists and culture abroad? 
     Let us ask ourselves these questions, and then, let us admit: Global Croatia is still a dream. The impalpable, invisible hands are one of the major roads toward the realization of that dream. I never asked Vesna Kittelson what she meant by painting “The Hands.” As an artist, she would have probably answered that she was looking for a certain harmony of color, a certain light; this or that type of expression. If I were to tell her my dream and intuition, she might agree, and she might not. Which does not prevent me, or any of us from having a dream. Of hands linked forever, permanently fertilized by a golden shower. 
Vladimir P. Goss 
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