by Sandi Radoja

Influenced by both impressionism and realism, Alexsandra Babic, MFA “Sasha” has an artistic talent that offers a reflection of her life. There is an emotional flow in her work, inspired by experiences endured and enjoyed, and by the way she appreciates the work of 19th century artists such as Rubens.

She has studied classical art with a strong focus on figures, although she has done a great deal with landscapes as well. Her preferred medium is oil. Each painting captures a different feeling she has at its beginning that is designed to preserve a particular time and place, like a photograph.

“My color studies are one or two-day paintings that capture only that moment, atmosphere, lighting, and emotion at that certain time; we will never see or feel it again,” she said.

Alexsandra came to America as a young girl in 1959, and used her art as a method of communication since neither she or her mother could speak English. She felt isolated, alone, and even mistakenly viewed her displacement as a punishment. Therefore, she says she was silent most of the time. Her peers at school ignored her or made fun of her. Her teacher changed the spelling of her name from Aleksandra to Alexsandra, explaining to her that her mother surely must have made a mistake when she spelled it with a K.

Art became her best friend and gave her a sense of belonging and acceptance in the midst of an unfriendly new world.

Eventually, she followed this love for art and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 2008 from Laguna College of Art & Design. She transitioned from figurative work to more of a focus on landscape and nature. In her Masters Thesis at Laguna College of Art & Design in Laguna Beach, California, she explained:

“As a personal visual journal, my paintings communicate a specific location where I have grown and progressed as an individual. I have created my series of canyon landscapes to emulate and reflect my experiences with relocation and change.” In her work she aims for the viewer to feel her experiences and varied emotional and physical transitions that she experienced as she was adjusting to her new home in America.

Exile is a series of paintings she created to express her emotional state of displacement during her emigration from Serbia. In her own words:

“I have chosen the imagery of the Laguna Beach Canyon landscape, which emulates yet another transitional moment in my life, the present.  I have become an artist here at the Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD) and I continue to pursue my passion for art.  This pursuit triggered consistent reflection on my childhood conflicts.  For Exile, I bonded with abandoned and relocated homes in Laguna Canyon. Accordingly choosing them, to symbolize human characters and my emotional state when I was uprooted from Belgrade, Serbia, my country of birth. The advance in years prompted me to reflect on social and cultural differences, a persistent tension appeared. This tension is symbolized through opposing elements: the natural landscape and the man-made homes.  The organic forms are permanent and the architectural structures are impermanent and uprooted just as my life has been. My childhood impressions were that I must have done something terribly wrong to be punished and put in exile. This series of paintings and thesis paper have given voice to my individual observations. Exile was the perfect analogy of my feelings of alienation when I came to America. Therefore, I have combined my present location in time with the emotional turmoil of my childhood.  The seasonal and “time-of-day” changes of this landscape series have become a metaphor of years of transition for me in order to find my authentic self.  This Master of Fine Arts thesis analyzes my work, explains my painting process, and translates into words my visual, personal journey. With this project I hope to heighten awareness and illuminate the viewers sensitivity to immigrants and their feelings of displacement”.

Displacement was not her only hurdle. She concedes being female added to her challenges.

“As a five-year-old female, I felt displaced moving to America. I was unable to communicate with others and spoke only Serbian,” she said, adding that art became her best tool for communication. “As a young female child, I felt unprotected without my father who remained in Belgrade. As an adult female artist, I did notice most of my colleagues and professors in college were male.”

She was told female artists could sell their work with more success if they signed only their last name, denying their “lesser” gender in the interest of success. Additionally, her immediate circles of friends were not entirely supportive of her pursuit of a degree in art.

“In regard to the Serbian community, most of my friends in California and the USA did not understand my passion and mission pursuing my art degrees at such a later time in life. Yet I was determined to become the artist and woman I had always imagined was possible.”

It was her own two children, her mother and father, and other family members who understood her and encouraged her. 

“Being a single female today, I believe that bringing awareness to others about my journey as a female immigrant and artist is valuable and empowering.  I am proud to be a female college art professor. I encourage women to bloom and grow into their true selves. My art has helped me embrace my challenges, to ground me,  and to help me understand my own diversity. Lastly,  it has empowered me when teaching, giving me a new way of expressing with my students.”

In addition to her original creative work, she is passionate about restoration. Currently she is working on three historic paintings circa 1937. Her experience in this field spans over 15 years. She also has an exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art and is a professor at Mira Costa College in Oceanside, California. She teaches private and group classes and has exhibited her work in seven museums internationally and throughout the USA. Alexsandra lives in San Diego.

As for signing her work, she chooses to simply use her nickname Sasha. I am not sure whether it’s because “Sasha” is not gender-specific or because the intimate expression of a nickname lends a feeling of warmth and acceptance. I did not ask, because it is not important. What is important is the gift of her art – for all of us who view it and for all it has done for her as a child, as an immigrant and as a woman. I can’t think of a better finish for this story than these words of Alexsandra’s:

“I have traveled Full Circle with EXILE. I am HOME.” 

Welcome home.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Alexsandra Babic “Sasha” by visiting her website. You can also contact Sasha by email by clicking here.

Sandi Radoja is a co-founder of FEMigration and has worked as editor of the official newspaper of the Serb National Federation for over 20 years. “As Alexsandra’s story unfolded during an interview for the American Srbobran, it became clear that it would also be a welcome addition and great fit on FEMigration,” said Sandi. “Presented here and in the American Srbobran on August 4, 2021, the story of her journey from child immigrant to accomplished artist and professor is about a long, difficult trip whose challenges are now enveloped by the pure joy of having arrived.” Sandi also assisted in the writing of “Janja,” the inaugural post on FEMigration. She continues to work with FEMigration co-founder Joanne Tica to uncover, write, edit, and publish stories about female immigrants who have been historically overlooked.