By Kelly Caputo
She turns blank canvases into oil paintings, students into artists, and now, Natalija Mijatovic looks forward to turning Harpur College's Art Department into a renowned program.
The new Art Department chair and associate professor says that she came to Harpur not just because she was ready for a change from Savannah College of Arts and Design, but also because of the prospect of helping transform a department.
"I was very excited with the opportunity to be an integral part of the transformation of the Art Department at Binghamton University," Mijatovic says. "The challenge was very appealing to me, and I was excited to bring in my years of experience and enthusiasm for arts to help our department grow."
Mijatovic is no stranger to challenges. Born and raised in Yugoslavia, Mijatovic was a young teenager when the European nation's civil war started, which she says was both traumatic and formative.
"I learned to appreciate my presence here, and the fact that I am able to be and make what I want is such a luxury," Mijatovic says.
Mijatovic says that she tries to spark such realizations in her students through the art that they create.
"I would like to make them aware of the world that we live in," Mijatovic says. "The issues that challenge us and confront us in our daily lives need to find a place in their artistic expression so that art is also a part of vital contemporary dialogue."
She also likes to remind students that she knows what it's like to be in their shoes.
"Every new day in the classroom I feel like I'm starting all over again," Mijatovic says. "The moment I open the door I encounter my students and the challenges that face us with the humility and memory of what it's like to be a student."
Mijatovic is thrilled to be opening the door to a new body of students at Harpur.
"I'm very excited to be working with the (Binghamton) students and I have both majors and non-majors in my painting class," Mijatovic says. "I find it a refreshing challenge to work with people who are encountering art expression for the first time."
But despite their different levels of experience and different academic interests, Mijatovic says that she sees all of her students as, first and foremost, artists.
"I tell my students that the moment they step into my classroom they are artists," Mijatovic says. "I care about their other majors only to the extent of what they can bring from it to my painting project."
Mijatovic, who also expresses herself through Byzantine chant and enjoyed writing poetry as a child, says that she hopes her students learn to express themselves through art, as well as other disciplines.
"I think visual art is only one form of the language through which we express our inner words and make it accessible to the outside," Mijatovic says.
Her appreciation for many types of self-expression will help Mijatovic easily fit into the Harpur community.
"I am still excited to be meeting new people and learning about the University and am very encouraged by the support that I meet," Mijatovic says.
Mijatovic especially looks forward to expanding the Art Department, and says that she hopes to bring in new faculty and updated facilities. She is thrilled about the new graphic design iMac labs, and hopes to transform the department from Bachelor of Arts to Bachelor of Fine Arts, as she sees much promise in the school.
"I think we have potential when it comes to support from the University, facilities and also relative proximity to larger centers for art and culture," she says.
Just as she looks forward to seeing the department grow, Mijatovic loves to watch her students grow.
"It's like birthing pain," Mijatovic says. "Once they go through it, students get really excited with the work they make that didn't seem possible only several weeks ago."
And just as her students face challenges, so does Mijatovic as she embarks on a new path as chair and associate professor, not forgetting how she got here, but letting it help her grow.
"Every time I'm faced with a blank canvas it reminds me of the hard journey I had to make in order to be able to work," Mijatovic says. "I'm both marked by it but also grateful for it."
Last Updated: 3/1/17