Mary Evelyn Porter
Nihad Nino Pusija is a photographer originally from the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He and his wife Patricia and their son Namik, have called Berlin home for more than twenty years. Patricia is a museologist. At present she is working in a Museum of Technology.
"I was born in Sarajevo fifty plus years ago. When I was a kid, Sarajevo had a very mixed population. My grandmother, Kata, was Roma or Sinti, originally from the Italian coast city Bari. She was ostracised by her family because she married a Lovro, who was a Croatian Gadjo. He might even have been part Roma, who knows. Kata moved to Croatia with him. Her son, Petar, Nino's uncle was raised Orthodox Christian." Nino's mother, Katarina, is Catholic. Nino's father, Jusuf is Muslim. His parents divorced when he was two and Nino spent a lot of time with his stepfather Muztafer (Mustafa).
"My mother hid her Roma background because of the Porajmos (Holocaust) of the Second World War. When I was a little boy, I sometimes spent holidays with my Croatian family from Zagreb. I was the darkest one at the beach. The other kids didn't want to play with me and called me Cigo (Gypsy)."
Nino studied political science and journalism in Sarajevo. In 1986 he became a volunteer photojournalist for the newspaper, Oslobodjenje, (Liberation). He received some commissions and took photos of a pilgrimage earning 5000 Deutsche Marks. Then he decided to travel. Nino moved to London and lived there for four years studying and working. Then he lived briefly in the U.S.
By 1991, the war had started in Croatia, the former Yugoslavia. The war then moved to Bosnia. "I could not believe this. Bosnia is so multi-cultural. Before the war Sarajevo was like a small Jerusalem with several religions and many ethnic groups."
Reuters began to train local photographers. Nino returned to Sarajevo in 1992 just before the outbreak of the conflict. "I hated photographing the war. Some of my colleagues already worked for news agencies (AP, AFP and Reuters) and were also documenting the war. Two were killed. Just the few weeks I spent in Sarajevo produced post-traumatic stress syndrome. Mine was mild compared to some of my colleagues."
"The vultures from news agencies would run toward the chaos – for example a grenade attack. They would begin immediately to photograph. I would run there also but my first reaction was to see if I knew anybody, if I could help. The press didn't understand that an empty shoe, a dropped purse in a blood puddle also symbolizes the impact of war. I couldn't feed that beast with my images."
"Then I left. I flew to Belgrade, to Serbia where nobody expected a someone with a Muslim name to go. My grandfather taught me. Go where you are least expected, and you will not be checked. I could not stay in Belgrade because the army was picking up people on the streets and sending them to the front lines. I could not fly back to London; all flights were closed. So, I caught a train to East Berlin and lived with a friend. He helped me get a visa. I found an unused studio and began to work again."
"Two years later, I managed to move to West Berlin and change my refugee status to temporary resident. I could finally travel again. Once in West Berlin, I began to go to gay bars and photograph drag queens. This again was an unexpected choice. As a photographer you have this possibility of entering unknown worlds taking photos, spending time with people and leaving."
During this period, between 1995 and 1997 Nino also worked with Bosnian Roma refugees from the former Yugoslavia who had 'Duldung' (Toleration) status in Germany. This impermanent status, neither citizen nor non-citizen, traps refugees in a cycle of uncertainty. The Duldung photographs part of a Cyclops Photo Factory exhibition project, became a chapter in a book published by the New Society for Fine Arts, Berlin.
The Roma refugees recognized Nino as Roma even though he did not know it himself. The refugees explained how they had managed to reach the west. They followed what they called the "Gypsy Way" using point by point landmarks, buildings or natural formations, rather than maps. There are now many Roma from the former Yugoslavia living in the US, Canada or Australia. They call themselves Bosnian, Croatian or Serb, not Roma. They hide their identity because "Gypsies" are not welcome anywhere. There are several thousand Roma now living in St. Louis, Missouri.
"It took several years to get recognition. Then invitations began to come in. I went to Italy and photographed Roma people in the refugee camps."
"I declared myself to be Roma in 2005 at an exhibition in Graz, Austria."
In 2007, the Alianz cultural foundation Germany and the Open Society Foundation sponsored the 1st Roma Pavillon in Venice. Timea Junghaus curated the Roma artist Exhibition Paradise Lost, bringing together artists and performers from all over Europe.
"I photograph families rather than just random people; in that way I built up contacts. I have kept the contacts going. Between 2010-12, I created a book of images of the children of those in Duldung status who I had photographed in the 1990s. Their parents were either still in the same status or they had been deported back to Kosovo or Bosnia."
Nino's collection of photographs from the 1990s to the present, "Down There Where the Spirit Meets the Bone," published in 2018 by Peperoni Books, currently distributed by Lehmstedt Verlag, is available in English and German.
At the moment Nino is working on several projects and exhibiting in Berlin.