The freedom I had, now I have less of it

By Dejan Kitić

I am a teacher in an elementary school. I have a great experience with children. On the other hand, I have two children of my own who go to school. So, during the lockdown, we all got used to online learning. I can’t say that I was productive. Unfortunately, because of the time I had at my disposal, I didn’t create new works of art. I had no free time. As usual, I did sketches and jotted down ideas until three in the morning, with the hope of realizing them someday. Art demands freedom. All these stories about the pandemic have brought up some things that, in order to be responsible, one has to adapt to restrictions and consequently loses the freedom that is necessary for art and for the creation of any work of art.

Otherwise, I am quite sociable and I have had plenty of group and solo shows. Before graduating from college, I went to many art colonies. Now I am insignificant to myself, because of my children, because of my family, because of my friends, I am trying to help everyone and make their day better, at least for a brief moment, and along with this to have positive thoughts.

I try to find good in everything. Changes like these brought people closer, we’re all seeing that nature is cleaner, that we have more time for our families, for the people around us, people we love, that even if we don’t have time, we have to find time to think about ourselves and our community. And when we wake up in the morning we are happy that they are healthy too.

When it comes to children, there isn’t much balance. Children are needy. We have worked with pupils in school through social networks, mainly through online groups. I honestly tried to make it as simple as possible, because even children in this whole story… to simplify things for them, to have a task for them once a week, and the topic of the task to be something light and fun. I mean, I was busy 24 hours a day because I never knew when a pupil would send me a message or ask me a question. And I have managed to answer all questions they had.

One of the tasks that I gave them was, “How would I like my school to be like when I go back?” Or… I don’t know, I tried to respect the curriculum and, on the other hand, encourage children to use their imaginative and creative side, so, at least for a moment, they forget everything that is happening around them.

I am very close to my family. I am fully committed to my children. They had their own responsibilities during this time, such as distance learning through television. They were obliged to follow the lessons and do their homework accordingly. On the other hand, they were also in touch with their teachers, so the commitment around them was much greater.

Otherwise, I worked, probably more than when I went to work. And, when it comes to my children specifically, I also had a new task, so I had to work with them individually. Now, I don’t know if it was more difficult for me to help them with homework or engage and maintain correspondence with the children from school. I was between two fires. And I achieved it, and I’m still doing it since the new school year has just started, but I can already say that I have gained great experience, so this time around everything will be much better. I hope the kids are more creative, imaginative, and that will be a great relief for me too.

The important thing is for the pupils to get together and socialize online in the group, as often is the case with my course. I would say that everything is going smoothly, because I have acquired a great experience. I even attended some seminars, which were also held online. Everything is difficult at first, especially for children. It’s different when you’re face to face. I mean, I’m living for the day when I’m going to meet the kids at school and when we can talk about something bad that happened to us, and learn a lesson from this whole story, appreciate things more, value each other more and draw from it a positive lesson.

Children understand but are still not aware of what they can do to make everything as good as they can… because they’re children. We all know this, they are the most dangerous carriers of this virus. I would spare kids from all the bad stuff. So, the less they think about it, the more they enjoy their childhood… it will be a memory for them, this childhood they are experiencing now.

During this time, the main news in the media was about the pandemic, so it affected the way I think. At this time, we had a lot of information. I watched the news, the information on how many people are infected, how many people are dead. I never doubted whether the virus exists or not. None of my relatives were infected, but I know people who are sick and have concomitant diseases, so the virus made their condition worse. So, I’m trying to focus more on some of the other content on television, precisely because I would like to think less about both the virus and the consequences of the virus. Information changes from hour to hour, if you are completely into it and if you are trying to understand everything, it’s not healthy at all.

In the village where I live, I can’t say that people weren’t scared or that they were scared. It was both. Mostly older people were scared, they still follow the instructions, they take care of themselves and their families, while young people are mostly in favor of lifting those measures. I have a group of friends, they haven’t even heard of anyone dying from COVID—19. People tend to think that that happens to those who are less responsible. The older people that I know, to them maybe even just thinking about the virus would harm their health. Most of them have stopped following media coverage of the pandemic in order to somehow survive and stay mentally healthy.

Since the pandemic, the internet and media have been the only reporters on everything, even on culture, so if there’s any programs at the Culture House, it’s usually done through some social networks, in those forms. On the other hand, I think this is a substantial influence for creators and their environment, and friends, for example, who do the same work, share experiences and everything, it motivates me. If any of my friends made a new painting, then they take a picture of it and send it to me via Viber or Facebook and I see it, then I get to create something too and send it, not to him but to someone else and inspire them. Unfortunately, this is how it has been working for me for seven or eight months now.

The internet has everything so you get what you want. I mainly researched and followed those events and the way those events were established in relation to culture, art, and painting, first of all. And then, of course, if I like something, I share it with people who are in the same field as me, or they sometimes share something with me. Mostly we try to keep each other in the loop about what’s happening, so I have followed everything from serious art to cartoons and comics and everything else.

I think the pandemic has affected my work more than I wanted. In fact, the freedom I had, it’s not that I don’t have it now, but I have less of it, because I am preoccupied with some things that are happening to me. And then, of course, this has an impact on my activities and work, which honestly is bothering me because I would definitely be painting and doing something else.

The theme is mostly life, looking at things from a positive angle. My work is mainly, so to say, optimistic, and this work of mine now can’t be as optimistic as it used to be, precisely because everyday life is the way it is. Basically I haven’t changed my life, but this situation, the pandemic has changed it, it has changed the themes of life which I work on. If I painted, I painted from life, that life in my paintings was positive, I even think it has influenced observers that way. These were some of their comments. And now, this time, if I do the exhibition I am planning, I think they will not be as happy as they were. So, they will still have a message and a lesson. My new work will definitely be related to this time.

Dejan Kitić (b. 1982) is a visual artist from Pristina. He received his master’s degree from the Faculty of Arts in Zvečan, Department of Painting, under the mentorship of Petar Đuza. He has participated in many group shows and has earned several art prizes. Besides painting, he plays music. He works as a teacher of figurative arts at Knez Lazar Elementary School in Lower Gušterica. He is a father of two, Sara and Stefan, and lives with his family in Ugljar.