What to Take with You from Serbia

A poncho eaten by moths introduced Ana Brdarac, an economist by profession, to the world of weaving. In the workshop “Snovatica” in Zaječar, she learnt all the “commandments” of the patterns and techniques from the Bible of weaving. Today, amazing handicrafts are created in her workshop RARA, in a fairytalelike village of Donja Kamenica, at the foot of the Old Mountain.

In the Latin language, rara means rare, and Ana is certainly and truly a person one does not meet every day, just as her works with flaming colors are, too; even when light-colored, they are characterized by exuberant silver and gold colors, delicate detail… Her scarfs, cloaks and bags are woven from unusual mixtures of berlin wools, threads, sometimes leather as well; when Ana is in question, however, the materials she works with are but a means for her to express her luxuriant and unceasingly vigilant imagination. She usually says: “The universe always establishes order.” Below is the story of how that “celestial order” ultimately brought her to Donja Kamenica nearby Knjaževac.

A Student of “Snovatice”

Ana is married and is the mother of two children; she has a university degree. She once hoped she would have quite an ordinary life: she began to work as an advisor at the National Employment Service, but was not finally employed for an indefinite period. Then, quite by accident, while searching for a shop where she could fix her favorite poncho her father had given her as a gift, which on its part had also been damaged by moths, she appeared at the door of “Snovatica” – an association for the development of ethno-tourism and hand-weaving from the town of Zaječar, which also had the workshops where future weavers were being trained. Carried away by the atmosphere at the Association and having no permanent employment, Ana registered herself at the school, mastered weaving patterns, became closely familiar with the weaving loom, and most importantly, discovered that she had a gift, that the forms and colors easily flowed out of her, like water does from a spring. At that moment already, she came to an idea that this knack of hers should be raised to the level of haute couture, provoking with brilliant colors, blends of the warm and the cold, the rough and the soft.

When Ana sold one of her first scarfs via the internet to a woman from Pula, she received a message reading: “It’s heavenly. I wish you to wrap the whole planet Earth with your scarfs.”

A Rare Bird

The “celestial order”, i.e. synchronicity, as the phenomenon is referenced in science, wanted Ana to meet her fellow citizen Djordje Ilić, a member of the Birds Protection Association, who was showing her birds catalogues, only to make her realize in that way, and to her big surprise, that her works already contained a myriad of nuances, ornaments and unimaginable blends of colors. It was then that she consciously started weaving, inspired by this explosively colorful world. Thus, the creatures of the blue quail, tropical toucan, violet-crowned hummingbird, bird-of-paradise, snow-white howl… have been translated into her scarfs. When we asked Ana how she explained this inspiration of hers, she told us: “My arms are like widespread wings. I’m a rare bird, that’s why birds’ feathers inspire me. Based on those nuances, I look for appropriate natural yarns: cotton, wool, silk so that the weaving could have that softness and warmth, colorfulness and vivacity of a bird’s wings, and artificial yarns are only here as a contrast providing the dimension of the urban, since rare birds must live in a contemporary world. Fashion insists on creative toying and provocation, and my creations are modern indeed.”

Loneliness and Identification

Ana is often alone, that’s the nature of her job, but she says that she never feels lonely: “Everything surrounding me and surrounding us is here. I’m more preoccupied with the mystery of loneliness. Its movement, since nothing moves so magically as loneliness, and nothing experiences such a transformation as it does. I’m alone just like the materials in which I want to weave all emotions – both mine and those of other people – because I insist on recognition in what I do.” Ana does not only weave the birds’ world. She absorbs herself in everything surrounding her and makes efforts to weave the essence of nature into her each “knit”: “I don’t silence one single tone of nature; I don’t desultorily perform one single bird, spider, tiny little bug,” Ana tells us.
Her workshop is located in the complex of the former leather fancy goods manufacturing plant, where again, through lucky coincidences, she was taken by Oliver Jelenković, the former owner of the plant, who Ana calls a proper gentleman. Today, she sits at the weaving loom and weaves, looking out onto the mysterious little church of The Most Holy Mother of God, erected in the 14th century, which with its two towers reminds us of a mediaeval castle. To a careful spotter, this stone beauty changes itself from day to day, from hour to hour. It is different when floodlit, or sunlit or moonlit… Ana has transferred some of the most beautiful plays of lights on the façade of the church of the Most Holy Mother of God onto her scarfs.

Transfiguration of the Ordinary into the Unordinary

The workshop and the brand she has been creating are called RARA – the basic meaning of the name being rare, and in a figurative meaning – unique, authentic, unrepeatable, one-of-a-kind. Why exactly she chose that name, Ana told us: “To be rare means to be individual; today, rarities are both rare and nice. In the midst of the existence of the need for everyone to look the same, it’s a rare thing to see something nice, and it’s also nice to see something rare. I want to initiate in people the need for individuality. I feel I can give a start to something similar. I fight for that, although I know I’m one of the rare. If I weave a scarf, it’s going to be different and it’s not only going to warm. I put the aesthetic before the functional. If I weave a bag, it’s also going to be different, such that it not only may contain what an ordinary woman’s bag does, since it’s not an ordinary bag, but one whole life not perceived through the material, but through the spiritual. A bag sufficient for a freedom, or a dress suitable for the sky.
While sitting at the weaving loom, I feel like Gaudy, and Beethoven, and Dali, and Warhol, and Basquiat, and Pollock, and Manet, and Monet… I weave until I’m finished. What? My own self, and someone. And someone, yet again my own self. In the end a product – renaissance. That’s the essence of my art – transforming the ordinary into the unordinary, the unexpected,” inspiringly concludes our collocutor.

Text: Milena Mihaljčić
Photo: Rara design