It’s been a little over a year since one of the greatest tragedies Croatia has seen in recent times: the disastrous earthquake that hit Sisak-Moslavina County in December 2020.
Often referred to as the Petrinja earthquake after the town which suffered the worst blow, it ravaged other towns and villages in the area as well, affecting the lives of many.
Shortly after the earthquake, Croatian photographer Miroslav Arbutina Arbe was hired by the Ministry of Culture to document the damage inflicted on cultural heritage sites, specifically in the town of Sisak. The result is a series of 82 black and white photographs that have since been displayed in a moving exhibition commemorating the disastrous event.
While the primary purpose was damage assessment and the photos are thus documentary above all, as a skilled photographer Arbutina aptly captured moments that would have likely gone unnoticed by an average observer. A music school diploma on a wall ripped in half by tremor, handwritten notes tacked above the kitchen sink, a marital bed buried in rubble, and perhaps the most poignant, a calendar forever stuck on the fateful December 29th.
Devoid of colour, framed and displayed in a gallery setting, the photos are loaded with emotion and take on an artistic property. It’s an eerie sensation, recognising an aesthetic quality in images of devastation and loss, but this only seems to reinforce their emotional impact.
This is also reflected in the very title of the exhibition, ‘Between Two Periods of Waiting’, referring to the horrifying uncertainty that people affected by the earthquake have had to live with. As the author himself stated: ‘Those who haven’t experienced such a catastrophe probably believe that losing one’s home is the worst part of it, but it isn’t. To me, the worst was expecting the next earthquake to hit, that period of uncertainty between two quakes.’
The exhibition was conceived by the author and organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, the City of Sisak and the Sisak City Museum.
The photographs were displayed in Zagreb and Sisak in late 2021, and are currently on display at the Rijeka City Museum (the ‘Kockica’ building). The exhibition is part of this year’s Museum Night programme in Rijeka, and will remain on display until January 29th. Entrance to the exhibition is free of charge.