Zoran Popović, Self-portrait, I am drowning, in July 1951…

Zoran Popović, Self-portrait, I am drowning, in July 1951, at 6 years and 7 months of age, in Boka Kotorska, a fiord of the Adriatic Sea


It happened in the Children’s convalescent home of the Red Cross, on a small island called Skolje (Our Lady of Mercy); prior to XV century a Benedictine and in the second half of XV century a Franciscan monastery. During the first years of the IX century a church dedicated to St Stefan stood there. Its founders were of Slavic origin. Urok (Hurocus) and Dana. There is also a Roman sacrificial altar devoted to Iuno Lucina, the protector of women giving birth, a rarity in archaeology


ZoranPopovic 1



On that hot sunny day, I was suddenly allowed to leave the darkened room in which I was enclosed for days, a room on the floor of the monastery building, which then figured as a children’s convalescent home of the Red Cross. Seizing the light of day, roaming around, I found myself for the first time on the narrow strip of land outside and around the monastery walls, where I saw the improvised outdoor WC, which was installed just above the sea surface. I climbed the toilet platform and in Divine peace, absent-mindedly stared at the shiny reflections on the even surface of the sea, for a long time. Completely spellbound by this gentle, glassy play of flickers, I caught myself increasingly overwhelmed by the magnetic power of the sea. However, at the same time, a life instinct started to work in me which immediately begun to wrestle with the magical force of the blue depths. Suddenly, a boy appeared from somewhere, who, by calling my name, distracted me from my sombre thoughts. I followed him for a while, and when he entered the yard of the monastery buildings, I continued my wondering around. I stole a little more time in order to savour the unexpectedly acquired freedom. Exalted, I went towards the mole, a short wall going around the larger of the small harbours. This white, narrow, brick-made path which appeared ahead of me, and which, it appeared, cut into the vastness of the sea to eternity, seemed to me to be an ideal platform for an enraptured expression of the enthralling sensation of unbridledness. In the beginning, I run on the mole purely on a whim of the freedom won, but I soon caught myself fighting ever more fiercely with every step, to look away from the surface of the sea, a gaze over which something huge and unknowable, was increasingly breaking my will. I run faster and faster, from one end of the mole to the other, now hoping that it would be precisely the acceleration that will liberate me from the unbearable pressure of the deathly veils which were irresistibly pulling me into the magical blues of the depths of the sea. Despite a strong desire, albeit, for some mysterious reason, I didn’t seem to be at all able to reach the safety of land. And so, running faster and faster, to and fro, on the snow-white, narrow little wall, now in a panic of desire to liberate myself from the surge of an unknown, frightening attractive force, the exact opposite was happening, my state of hypnosis with the sea was becoming increasingly hopeless. And just when I started to feel my will dangerously waning, when I, reconciled with the inevitable fate, decided to surrender to the menace and surrender to the last moment, just in that eleventh hour, as if from a far distance, I heard again the saving voice of the same boy calling me at the top of his voice. With the utmost effort, with the last atoms of strength, I would say, in the latest possible moment, I suddenly stopped to a halt on the very edge of the little wall, which was ending in the middle of the sea’s infinity. The boy therefore again summoned me to reality and once again prevented me from tumbling into the sea’s nothingness. We then walked towards the monastery gates.


The children and minders have just begun bursting outside. They were ready to embark on a small boat that had just arrived. It was said that this was for an outing into the old town of Kotor. Excited by this news, I hurried to join the group, brimming over with happiness that I will again, after so much time look at the outside world. However, in the middle of the crowd, her stern voice sounded. ‘Kapo’ of our convalescent home looked at me sharply and harshly yelled, ‘No, you are not going!’. I was again, without knowing why, cruelly punished. She delegated to the same boy, who was 11 years of age by the way, to stay with me and watch over me, the youngest child in the convalescent home. Not long after the holidaymakers had sailed away, the two of us were playing in the small harbour, not far away from the entrance to the monastery building. The boy was sitting on the short wall, next to the very exit of the harbour, paddling in the sea with his feet. From the short wall opposite him, I put my foot into a moored boat, and the other foot onto the boat next to it. The boy screamed in horror: ‘Don’t do that!’ – and immediately swam towards me. The boats separated. I fell into the sea plentifully swallowing the seawater in immeasurable, terrible fear; I thought ‘There, that is the end’.



Belgrade, June 12 and 13, 2004