'All That Remains - Life, Death and Rebirth: Kosova 1996-2002'
Martha Grenon's short visit to Albania in 1992 was so powerful and affecting, she has made 10 more trips there and to Kosova, recording with her camera the area's tumultuous upheaval
If life is a journey, photographer Martha Grenon is making the most of it, witnessing the experience of others half a world away and creating visual documents for history.
Grenon's current show, "All That Remains Life, Death and Rebirth: Kosova 1996-2002" is the latest chapter in an engrossing work-in-progress that began in 1992, with no end in sight. It should not be missed.
In 1992, Grenon returned to Greece, where she had lived for two years on the island of Corfu, swimming distance from Albania. Closed to the world since 1945, Albania had opened its borders in 1991, and Grenon, drawn by the allure of the forbidden, took the opportunity to visit. "I was jumping off a cliff backwards and had no idea what to expect."
Grenon's first trip was powerful and affecting. "The people were so kind, and it was also the poorest place I had ever been. I was only there for three days and thought I had to go back."
Since then her life and art have been rerouted. Grenon's short stay was the first of 11 trips to Albania and Kosova (the Albanian-preferred spelling of what's also known as Kosovo), in what was neighboring Yugoslavia and largely populated by ethnic Albanians. "For me, it has been my other life," says Grenon. "It is so totally different than my life here."
Before it opened to the world, Grenon recounts, "Albania was the hardest core Stalinist country in the whole communist network. Even China became too liberal. You could not travel to another town without official permission, and it was a crime to leave the country," punished by years of harsh imprisonment. Grenon said the Greeks used to joke grimly of their neighbor, "They'll let you in, but you'll never get out."
Back in Austin, Grenon showed slides of her trip to a group of Austin Albanians. There she met Aferdita Dauti, or Dita, who became not only a friend and extended family but crucial to Grenon's later experiences. Grenon's center shifted to Kosova, where she met many of Dita's family and friends.
Each trip recorded more of the area's tumultuous upheaval, which in Kosova led to civil war and the massacres of Albanians. Grenon saw trickles of refugees fleeing "ethnic cleansing" swell to a river. Grenon later visited the massacre sites farms and homesteads and these photos have become part of all that remains.
"All That Remains Life, Death and Rebirth: Kosova 1996-2002" is on display through Feb. 28 at the Julia C. Butridge Gallery in the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 397-1469.