Artist Bojana Coklyat on how losing her vision opened her eyes

This is one of my favorite art stories so far, not just because Bojana’s stuff is awesome and her story is inspiring, but because she seems like such a nice person, too. And she’s from my alma mater, McNair Academic High School! Woohoo!

See the article as it appeared on, with pictures of Bojana Coklyat teaching art to blind students by the awesome Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey Journal.

Artist Bojana Coklyat on how losing her vision opened her eyes

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When Jersey City artist Bojana Coklyat lost her sight four years ago, she thought she would never paint again.

“I couldn’t paint the way I had before,” said the School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate. “I wasn’t able to get the detail I wanted and I was just so disappointed in what I had been creating.”

Coklyat became legally blind when Type 1 diabetes caused blood vessels in her eyes to burst. Coklyat, who was diagnosed at 10, said having to undergo dialysis and take insulin because of her disease was nothing compared to possibly losing her ability to do what she loves most.

“I was always drawing – even drawing on the walls when I was little,” said Coklyat, who participated in several arts programs, including the Visual and Performing Arts Program at NJCU while she studied at McNair Academic High School.

“In my senior year in the program, I really started to love painting and to see this as something I could do as career, do for rest of my life,” she said. “But when I slowly started to lose my vision, I sort of just gave up on painting.”

That all changed when Coklyat took the New Jersey Foundation for the Blind’s art class with art therapist Joseph Doric.

“He was so amazing. He really gently guided me back to a creative place and gave me faith to paint,” she said. “I saw that I just need to paint differently now and find a way that works for me.”

Coklyat said she has developed a “raw, emotional style” that makes her work more personal.

“I’m less focused on what I’m seeing and more focused on what I’m feeling. Before, I was always working so hard to get the right nose, right eyes, right bone structure. Now, I can’t really do that.

“But I have found a way to convey so much more feeling and emotion in one stroke, a couple of strokes in a space. At first it looks very simple, almost child-like – but if you look at it more closely, you see how much is actually behind it. It’s actually very thought-out,” she said.

“I use more contrast and thick black lines to guide where I’m going. The colors I use are very vibrant,” she said. “A lot of my paintings are just a visual diary. Since losing my vision, it’s become much more personal, more meaningful.”

In November, Coklyat received kidney and pancreas transplants that has freed her from dialysis and insulin injections – and might even at some point in the future allow her sight to improve. Whether or not she regains her vision, Coklyat said her experiences have opened her eyes and allowed her to touch others with her work.

“It’s amazing to me when people find connections in my art work they might not have found in any other parts of their lives,” said the artist, who said her work covers diverse topics from undergoing surgery to messy breakups.

Today, Coklyat inspires other visually-impaired people at the St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City where she teaches an art class to students ages 3 to 21.

“They amaze me every day with their enthusiasm and willingness to try something new,” said Coklyat, who said the students often work with clay, paint, finger paint and other tactile materials.

She said one of her students, Omar Tziz, particularly inspired her. The then 12-year-old said art was a “feeling language,” a definition which resonated with the painter.

“With sculpture or painting, you can kind of feel what’s going on. It means something to you and your memory, it makes you feel happy or sad. It’s a way of communicating without having to talk, even for those who are visually impaired or blind.

“I’m not saying it to be cheesy, it’s actually true,” said Coklyat. “You really can do anything you want. Sometimes you just have to adjust and tweak it, but you can do it.”

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About Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa is a journalist specializing in arts and entertainment. Among other things, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, singer-songwriter and actress. Her work has been seen in The Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal and other publications.
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