'It was so dangerous'

By Nancy West

(Extracts from the article)

Sad, hungry, tortured faces are captured in oil on a 4-by-6 foot canvas covering most of one wall in the small, third-floor apartment Bosnian artist Enko shares with his wife, Jadranka, in Manchester.
       Enko has painted himself and family members into the picture because they were there - living in the refugee camp of 5000 people in Croatia in 1993. It was supper time and there was no food for many of the refugees.
       The painting is realistic - the sunken faces, despair, tragedy - except for the objects in light blue like the figure of Jesus Christ on the cross, a baby stroller above Enko’s pregnant daughter’s head, the sword in his own hand and the glass of wine on the table in front of him when Enko could only imagine how delicious it would taste. Those are fantasy.
       The painting is called "Dinner at the Refugee Camp ‘Gasinci’ - Croatia." " It wasn’t so much the meal they were thinking about," Enko said picturing the scene at the refugee camp in his mind, "but the fact that nobody was thinking about them that night." The eyes of the many faces in painting speak of fear, anxiety and loneliness.
       Another painting shows a child about to be pushed into barbed wire. The bright red paintings depict the fighting ravaging his homeland. Another depicts a solder’s boot playing soccer with a human head.
       Enko talks of solders raping and murdering young girls for fun and how he escaped solders by hiding out in the basement for about one year.
       Eventually two Serbian solders, who had been his childhood friends, helped him and his family escape to a refugee camp, even though he was an enemy by virtue of his Muslim background.

        Once he missed being killed by solders by a lucky instant. When they came to search his hideaway, he had stepped into the basement to retrieve his cigarettes. The solders left. Another time he jumped into the river as solders shot at him. He swam under water as long as he could. They thought he was dead.
       "It was so dangerous, so dangerous," Enko says. It’s a statement he uses often to punctuate his story.
       Enko, 57, said it was his Muslim background that caused him to become a sudden outcast in his hometown of Banjaluka even though he had an important job as a mechanical engineer and often showed his paintings. He had also been a major in the army reserves, but chose not to pick up weapons when the fighting broke out.
       "Pick up arms? Kill people? Why?" he asked.
       Not all of the paintings depict war. "Pittsburgh in the Morning" is a mystical blue cityscape of downtown through the fog at the other side of the Monongahela River.
       Two lovers embrace in the foreground of another cityscape called "Zagreb." Colourful drawings by their grandchildren hang beside their grandfather’s paintings on the apartment walls.
       After the refugee camps, the family emigrated to Pittsburgh and in 1996 moved to Manchester to be close to be close to their grandchildren.
       Now at a time in life when many couples are thinking about retirement, the family is starting over again. Enko’s wife works at a day-care center in Manchester and hopes to again teach piano. Her husband, who worked as a mechanical engineer while gaining a reputation as an artist in Bosnia, chronicles the family’s escape in his paintings and also in the book he is writing called "The Unfinished Circle." 

As his English improves, Enko hopes to find work, a publisher and a place to better show his paintings in New Hampshire.
       "I find each new beginning difficult," he said. As does his wife. But together, they have met the challenge and look forward to becoming U.S. citizens next year.
        "I met him when I was 15 years old. It was a big love story," Jadranka said.
       Their lives were peaceful and prosperous before the fighting started. They sent one daughter to England. There was no going back after the war broke out.
       "He lost his job. I lost my job. We lost our home. I couldn’t tell anyone he was still alive," Jadranka said.
       The U.S. Embassy was first to help, she said. American organizations and Catholic Charities also were helpful, she said.
       At first she was embarrassed by the things the family didn’t have, simple things like matching dishes, but things like that no longer matter, she said.
       Anthony Poore, director of New Hampshire College’s community outreach partnership center, hopes to help Enko find the work he needs and the outlets for his paintings and manuscript. While in Pittsburgh, Enko had several shows and won several prizes.
       "He had one exhibit in Manchester at the International Institute. Ultimately, I’d like him to get more shows. He has 30 years experience as an engineer. I’m incredibly blessed to know him and his wife," Poore said.