Sonja Zelic is an experienced visual artist who has worked across art forms, and collaborated with a very diverse range of artists and audiences ― with years' of expertise working in participatory and often also ― site-specific settings.
Her inter-disciplinary, research based practice uses documentation and 'image' making, to explore relationships between the physical, social, and emotional environment. She devises, develops and delivers community based initiatives that respond to people, place and circumstance, that explore and seek to engender relationships between people, and between people and place ― working as an artist 'on the ground', in local communities where she has lived, worked, and studied.
Born in South Wales, she studied textiles/surface design at Cardiff College of Art, subsequently working on pattern repeats for textiles at Courtaulds, then as interior designer for London based company Antartica (for eight years) devising and managing major design projects from initial conception to completion, while also serving on the executive board of the Women's Environmental Network (for four years) advising on design, marketing and product development. She went on to study Fine Art (Critical Fine Art Practice) at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, 1991-1996.
While at St Martins; she also worked as a freelance textile designer for furnishings selling to the US via a London based agent; was instrumental in setting up and managing studio space for 6 artists in Tottenham, north London; worked for the Women's Art Library and its publication 'make', and started exhibiting and making site specific work.
Her background in textiles and interiors, and growing up surrounded by fabrics and items from her father's occupation as a tailor, together with her father's personal experience of war, and as a migrant worker, has had a significant influence on her work and ideas. As an artist she has questioned and explored these influences in her artwork and in writing ― examining cloth/textiles, their origins, structures, uses and possibilities, in relation to desire, gender, migration, language, memory, and loss.
Her work has included installing a 'screen' of purple silk covering the floor area in a basement below a Spitalfields synagogue capturing light from above, (19 Princelet St, Whitechapel Open/'Peopling of London', Museum of London); a 16mm film projection of a flock of geese ― the 100 metre film loop being contained and visible in a glass box (series, New Contemporaries 98); a projected 8mm film loop of mating silk moths (Blue Movie, Estonian Art Museum, Tallinn, Modern Muveszetert, Budapest); a transmitter set up to receive and print out navigation warnings at sea installed in a building at Cardiff Docks (states of emergence(y), Cardiff Art in Time Festival); and other works exhibited at; Cultuurcentrum Brugge, St Thomas' Hospital London ― curated by Beaconsfield, Architectural Association London, Royal Festival Hall.
She has worked in collaboration with individual specialists, such as shipping pilots, owners of small retail businesses, museum costume curators, a street dance group, and with individual participants, who have informed her work and contributed to it in many unique ways.
Since 2001, she has worked as a community artist (in a part time capacity) for Epping Forest Arts, (Epping Forest District Council); devising, developing, planning and delivering specific projects for targeted groups aimed at reducing isolation, improving confidence, raising aspiration and developing community cohesion; celebrating the lives of people who live and work in the district. She has worked with other creative practitioners from disciplines such as dance, music and live art, and with partners such as schools/special schools, care homes, youth clubs, voluntary groups, museums, and others e.g. Leonard Cheshire Disability, London College of Fashion.
In collaboration with dance artists Joanne Thomson, Victoria Quirke, and live/visual artist Helen Morse Palmer, she has devised and developed meaningful and engaging initiatives with adults in care settings and with staff who work in these settings, with young people, and with mixed age and ability groups; such as Sense of Place (2003/6), homelife and Close To Home (2006/7), makedo&mend (2008/9), Works Like a Charm (2011/12).
Arts and Older People
Her work with arts and older people, particularly with those in residential care, and in partnership with care homes in the district, has contributed to making Epping Forest District Council one of the leaders in this field since 2002. She initiated, led on, developed and delivered, in collaboration with Joanne Thomson, and then Victoria Tebbs, projects such as Sense of Place and Talking Objects, Living Memories ― inter-generational arts initiatives with older people in residential care and local schools, and Close to Home, a solo project directly involving care staff. EFDC has continued to lead on this with Transitions Epping and Transitions Essex ― artists working directly with staff and carers in residential homes.
She was Visual Arts Advisor for the Norwood Junction Underpass Public Art Project (2011), The Long Way Home, by selected artist Liane Lang, for Croydon Council, Arts Museum and Community Development.
"Collaboration ― whether with other artists, with partners, or with the people/participants I come into contact with in the course of my practice, is at the heart of how I work, and means everyone having an influence on the work in a unique way, and being part of the process."