In memory of Jonas Mekas by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi in My Art Guides

In remembrance of Jonas Mekas we have translated this moving obituary by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi, originally published by Artribune, which retraces the artist’s story from his arrival in America to “The Cinema of Happiness”.

It is not easy to express what Jonas Mekas meant to us, especially now, when the world seems to have, all of a sudden, worsened, an epoch in which the birth of a happy man seems improbable in the next one hundred years. The memories we have of him and the adventures we lived through together are many. The thought that these will not be lived anymore is hard to accept and disorientating. So perhaps it’s better to start with what everyone says about him.

Born in a rural village in Lithuania in 1922, at the age of twenty-two Jonas was captured by the Nazis while trying to get to Vienna together with his brother Adolfas. He spent several months in the Elmshorn labour camp; he attempted to escape to Sweden, but didn’t make it. Fortunately, the war ends. He spent another four years, revealed in the book “I Had Nowhere to Go”, in the Wiesbaden refugee camp and then Kassel. But he did not like to talk about this part of his life, in fact we hardly ever talked about it.

Finally, alongside his brother, a UN programme sent Jonas to New York. In 1949 at twenty-seven years old. He started off with whatever small job he could find and lived the life of a poor refugee. With the little money he had, however, he bought a Bolex, a light and very handy camera that he used up until the 2000s. He used it like a notebook; he bought a practically identical new one, only when the previous one broke. He collected five altogether. When we invited him to Venice in 2015 he was filming with a digital Sony with a broken screen: he held and moved it without looking, intuitively capturing the images he was after with his whole body. It was as if he were dancing or, as he said, practicing Kung Fu.


Above image: The Internet Saga in collaboration with Zuecca Project

Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.