COMMUNITY and place holds a special significance for Tamara Bajic.
Just seven when her family fled war-torn Sarajevo to emigrate to New Zealand and eventually Australia, the now Newcastle-based businesswoman has at times questioned her identity.
"Having experienced that early life, and a quickly contrasting second life, I am a jumble of identities," she says, crediting her parents' enthusiastic immersion into their new communities for her resilience and values.
That tactile, thoughtful approach is reflected in Ms Bajick's ceramics store Palinopsia, which has opened in Cooks Hill after a pop-up phase in the Hunter Street mall.
"Launching a business during a global crisis isn't how I envisaged the journey," she says, "but I think in some ways, the pandemic has helped to level the playing field for big and small fish like me.
"People's buying habits are changing as they look regional and local, for longevity over disposability in things. That creates new opportunities."
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Ms Bajic studied fashion design in Auckland in a strategic decision to understand textiles and manufacturing before working for 12 years in Melbourne and Sydney in brand, sales and production roles in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) space, including clothing, lingerie and furniture.
It gave her the confidence to conceptualise Palinopsia, a Greek word and a medical term for a visual processing distortion.
"Palin means 'again' and 'opsia' means seeing, so it means to see again, like when you look at sun then look away and you still have that image of the sun," she says. "That's how I feel about my pieces - the direction we are going in, bold pieces that stay with you, that make an impression."
The Palinopsia range was designed by Ms Bajic and is hand-made by a family-run business on the west coast of Portugal, known for its rich heritage in ceramics and where she travelled at length to develop the partnership.
"They were both experimental and traditional and I loved their values when it comes to reusing materials, their packaging, the environment," she says.
Ms Bajic chose ceramics for her business because of their history and function.
"When you hold a handmade cup or bowl, you think of what comes before it: where does that earth come from, what has that earth seen, what's trodden on it, what's lived and died to get to the point it is now, it's a connection to the earth and as a material it has endless possibilities - it's so tied into our everyday life," she says.
With a firm view of "breaking the tyranny of the white plate", the hand-made collections include the neutral-based Malo range , the colour block Sabe, and the "statement" Pollock range, the boldest and most textured.
Palinopsia is, she says, about bringing art back to the table.
"When you travel through Portugal or Italy or France and you go to old chateus and castles, you see what was on their tables and how it was displayed and the appreciation for art in dinner wear, it's always been celebrated!" she notes.
Ms Bajic is also passionate about supporting local makers via collaborations at Palinopsia and currently stocks ceramics by Teval Gunerand prints by Melody Suranyi.
She has been floored by the "support and generosity" of the Newcastle creative industries.
"So many businesses reached out to say how can I help, if we do well we do well, people have connected me to the network, that blew me away. I think Newcastle is a great launch pad," she says.
She plans in the future to work with ceramic communities beyond Portugal, for example in Mexico, Italy and Spain.
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