Engaged Art and Artistic Protest in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Pre-war and war period: Engaged Art.

During the siege in Sarajevo, Sadudin Musabegovic (philosopher) raised the question about the meaning of the tragedy, given the fact that the tragic action had left the field of the imaginary as it had become reality. Unlike in Banja Luka, where hardly any contemporary art was produced during the war, Sarajevo’s rather vibrant scene survived the years from 1991 to 1995. Before the war, in the 1980s, Sarajevo had been one of the hotspots of modern Yugoslavian art. Back then, Jusuf Hadzifejzovic was one of the first Sarajevoan artists to practice so called engaged art, involving with the socio-political context. He is one of the internationally established Bosnian artists who returned to their home country after the war. We met Juzuf at a very crowded exhibition in Zvono gallery, a gallery he had co-founded in the 1980s and which used to be the city’s centre for contemporary art.

zvono Zvono Gallery in Sarajevo

That night, he promised to show us his private collection the next morning. His collection from outside:

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 An (in)different kind of tragedy?

In one of Sarajevo’s smoky pubs I met Aida Salketic, a young woman who used to be a curator for contemporary art but who is now working for an NGO. She is quite critical of the romanticization of the “vibrancy” of the art scene during the war period. In her view, however, today’s situation of contemporary art is not to be glorified either. Against the backdrop of the lack of public cultural institutions, organizations and infrastructure (like galleries, an art market etc.) and the nonexistent cultural policy, which would provide the basis for a dynamic art scene, she describes how young artists just remain invisible. Thus, they often do not see any reason for having exhibitions. Apart from internationally established artists as Juzuf Hadzifejzovic, Gordana Andjelic-Galic (see e.g. her performance “Washing”: https://vimeo.com/38520587), Halil Tikvesa, or Maja Bajevic (who will be at the Venice Bienniale this year), the contemporary art scene in BiH seems to be stagnating. Even Zvono gallery, which used to be a self-organized place run by students, is more pub than gallery nowadays, according to Aida. But is it only the lack of institutional infrastructure that has to be blamed for the problematic situation of contemporary art in BiH? As so often the case, it is more complex than that: As Elio Krivdic, the author of “Krieg. Kunst. Krise”, suggests, another reason is the mentality of the people who are populating urban spaces today. Since only a very small minority of intellectuals stayed in BiH during the war, many people from the countryside, who were lacking understanding of art, moved to the cities. Hence, today the public discourse is dominated by ethnic-nationalist rhetoric and does not give much space for cultural production that is stepping aside from the nationalist mass culture, financed by the government.

Against the backdrop of the wide-spread hostility or indifference towards art, it was a nice surprise to visit the exhibition “SHARE – Too Much History, MORE Future” at the Museum of Contemporary Art RS in Banja Luka. There, artists of the older and the younger generation dealt with questions of remembrance: “Does an excess of history, a past with which we have not yet come to terms, block our view of the present and the future? But is future conceivable or possible without remembrance?”

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austellung-2Art works from the exhibition in Banja Luka

Artistic Protest

Young artists like Jelena Topic, Emir Hodzic, or Nemanja Cadjo place their actions in public space, blurring the lines between art and activism: For forty days Jelena stood on a pedestal on a public square in Prijedor and, mute as a statue, protesting against unemployment.

jelena-topic-protest-protiv-nezaposlenostiPhoto: BetweenUs Blog

Nemanja did a performance, crawling on the Prijedor’s streets. He also addressed the problem of unemployment (watch his performance on: https://vimeo.com/52943216). And Emir is one of the founders of “Stop Genocide Denial” from Prijedor (see: http://stopgenocidedenial.org/), which initiated the White Armband Day and calls for a politics of remembrance.

What would BiH be, if these voices would be taken more seriously? Internationally, nationally, and locally?

Johanna Maj Schmidt