research news

Symposium to examine queer, feminist Yugoslav diaspora


Published April 21, 2023

Jasmina Tumbas.
“Just a few days ago, an individual who saw the announcement of the symposium wrote me a message stating that it has been so nice to find a world that they have been looking for, and waiting for, all their life. ”
Jasmina Tumbas, associate professor
Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies

UB will host a symposium — the first of its kind in North America — addressing the displacement of former Yugoslavian feminists and LGBTQ+ individuals.

The four-day hybrid event will be held April 24-27 at sites throughout the North Campus, as well as via Zoom.

Promotional flyer for "Dance Yugotopia" featuring an airplane graphic and the words, "Sounds of the former Socialist Republic (1945-1991) with DJs Drugari.".

“Queer and Feminist Yugoslav Diaspora: Art, Film, and Activism” brings together scholars, artists, film directors and activists working from within the Yugoslav diaspora context. The symposium will feature multiple panels and film screenings, a keynote lecture, master class, book launch, dance party and an in-person performance.

The symposium and its events are free and open to the public. The full schedule, including Zoom links for those events being held virtually, can be found on the symposium’s website.

“We have a phenomenal lineup of scholars, artists, filmmakers and activists, many who are currently in the U.S. and Canada, and many who are in Eastern Europe and will join us by Zoom,” says Sarah JM Kolberg, a PhD candidate in visual studies, and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Media Study, where she teaches screenwriting, immigration and film.

The symposium is being co-organized by Kolberg, Jasmina Tumbas, associate professor of contemporary art history and performance studies and director of graduate studies in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Dijana Jelača, a faculty member in the Film Department at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and an Office of International Education Global Research Scholar in Residence at UB.

“There is great need and interest within our Yugoslav diasporic communities to discuss our migration histories and our connections to the complex region of former Yugoslavia, especially for those of us who are invested in resisting what diaspora scholar Gayatri Gopinath has called ‘the heteronormative and patrilineal terms of conventional articulations of diaspora,’” Tumbas explains.

Tumbas, whose first book, I Am Jugoslovenka! Feminist Performance Politics During & After Yugoslav Socialism,” has recently been published by Manchester University Press’ Rethinking Art’s Histories series, says that to be part of the Yugoslav diaspora means to be connected to the complicated history of socialist Yugoslavia (1945-92), a country that was built on principles of anti-fascism and gender equality, but was shattered by civil war in the 1990s and the rise of political conservatisms throughout the region.

“Many of us living in the diaspora share a sense of rootedness within a socialist cultural context that no longer exists and which is often misunderstood, disregarded or sometimes completely unknown in our new home countries and the post-Yugoslav region,” Tumbas says.

Traditional diasporic communities often further isolate, discriminate against and exclude feminists and LGBTQ+ individuals, who end up “permanently displaced” in more ways than one, according to Tumbas. She says that in addition to losing a country to war and experiencing pressure to continually “assimilate” to the worldviews of new cultural contexts indifferent to, or unaware of, the traumatic history of Yugoslav disintegration, the queer and feminist Yugoslav diaspora is without a home and has had few platforms within the arts, academy and culture to flourish, especially in North America.

“Just a few days ago, an individual who saw the announcement of the symposium wrote me a message stating that it has been so nice to find a world that they have been looking for, and waiting for, all their life. For many of us, this rings true, and I, too, have been waiting for a long time to have this important opportunity to exchange ideas, histories, perspectives and visions for our future in the context of the Yugoslav diaspora and its embodied queer and feminist legacies,” Tumbas says.

When asked about the importance of organizing a symposium like this, Tumbas says that several conversations, including with trans filmmaker and producer Orson Bogović, who is also a symposium participant and founder of DIASPORAMA, a Belgrade-based production office that focuses on transnational and minoritarian film productions, helped set things in motion.

“In general, the inspiration for me has been the work of many Yugoslav colleagues, especially Dr. Dijana Jelača, whose extensive engagement with feminist and queer approaches to film in the former Yugoslavia and today was formative for my own writing and research,” Tumbas says. “Jelača and I began discussions about the symposium in the fall, when we applied for her to come to UB as the OIE Global Research Scholar in Residence to co-organize the symposium, which we were thankfully granted”  

In addition to serving as a moderator for multiple panels and screening films, Jelača will be the keynote speaker, and is also leading a master class on “Queer and Feminist Yugoslav Diaspora in Film” for the symposium.

“I am thrilled that our students and faculty will have the chance to work with Jelača at UB,” Tumbas says. “I would love to host something like this annually. My hope is that this first iteration will inspire interest and support, and that we can begin to have discussions about future symposia dedicated to the queer and feminist Yugoslav diaspora.”

The symposium, co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, is also being held in celebration of Pride Month, which is held during April at colleges and universities across the country instead of June, when there are not as many students on campus.