Astrid Kuljanic

"Breathe Freedom" / "Why Are You Gone?"
Artistic Discipline: Music
Category: Brooklyn Arts Fund
Grant Year: 2020
Location: Crown Heights

As an artist from Croatia residing in the United States, Astrid Kuljanic is fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of forming a cultural identity in exile from one's culture. This phenomenon has momentous effects on the cultures of both immigrant and emigrant nations, rippling outward from the lived experience of individuals and communities. One of her goals as an artist is to document these experiences, drawing on her own perspective as well as musicological research.

"Breathe Freedom / Why Are You Gone?" is a performance project featuring music connected to the experience of migration, from the perspective of immigrants as well as the countries they've left. The program will consist of music written during various periods of mass emigration from Eastern and Southern Europe as well as original compositions reflective of contemporary immigration issues. The performance will be preceded by a period of musicological/historical research with the goal in curating a program in line with these themes, as well as informing the composition of the program's original songs.

The project is envisioned as a series of three evening-length performances in public spaces in the neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Greenpoint, and Brighton Beach in late Spring 2020. These neighborhoods were selected due to the presence of diaspora communities (comprised of a mix of recent and longtime immigrants alongside U.S.-born individuals with a strong connection to the ‘old country’) that coexist to varying degrees with other, non-immigrant communities. Since this work seeks to examine migration from the perspectives of the communities it affects, from the ones emigrants leave to the ones they eventually join, one of its goals is to bring a holistic, empathetic perspective on migration to migrants and non-migrants alike.

Migration is a fundamental truth of human history, acting as one of the most significant forces upon the large-scale unfolding of events. It is also extremely personal, comprised of the most intense emotional experiences of millions of individuals throughout history. Due to these factors, the subject of migration is often employed as a political weapon, particularly in destination countries, where the factors that would prompt an individual, family, or community to undertake a traumatic and dangerous migration are viewed only in the abstract, if not ignored entirely. In an era where looming climate catastrophe is likely to make migration an immediate concern of a majority of the world's population, it is vital to promote a holistic view of the migratory experience. By focusing on the lived experience of migrants throughout history (through the adaptation of primary sources including correspondence, as well as the curation of music reflective of social conditions in destination and home countries), Kuljanic hopes to create a work that is relatable to immigrants and instructive to non-immigrants in its rendering of some of these experiences in music.