Excerpt from the text: Art and the Socio-Political Context in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Dunja Blažević

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In talking about the new developments in art and the emergence of a new art scene after the war in two main centres in BiH – Sarajevo and Banja Luka – it is important to mention the differences in dynamics and tempo that can be found primarily in the cultural openness or restrictedness of the two cities.

An essential condition for going beyond the local context to achieve visibility in a broader public art scene is the existence of a professional infrastructure (museums, centres, organisations) that will collect dispersed creative energy, recognise new appearances and provide logistic and technical support and assistance in not only the local but also the international promotion of the new art. The effectiveness and efficiency of such nuclei also have a substantial impact on the opening up of any cultural environment. The existence of such professional nuclei was crucial to the establishment of this new artistic practice in BiH which was, on the one hand, unaccepted (the majority of local cultural arbiters neither recognise nor acknowledge these appearances as art) and, on the other hand, unacceptable (entering the public space, the domain of the political arbiters).

The aforementioned artistic and professional conditions had been formed in Sarajevo immediately after the war (1996/1997).[1] The process of achieving broader recognition started in Banja Luka ten years later thanks to Protok – Center for Visual Communication and the Museum of Contemporary Art of RS.

Recognised institutions, both in Sarajevo and Banja Luka, stand behind art that critically thinks, reasons and reacts to the times and society in which it exists and in which problems and tendencies arise that touch not only the wider context the artists refer to but also the generation’s perception and interpretation of the same or similar topics ranging from identity to (war) trauma.

The internationally recognised “pioneers” of the new Sarajevo scene (Maja Bajević, Danica Dakić, Nebojša Šerić-Šoba, Alma Suljević, Šejla Kamerić, Kurt&Plasto, Gordana Anđelić Galić, Jusuf Hadžifejzović) promote the kind of art that the South African artist, critic and curator Kendeel Geers defined as the “realism of lived experience”.[2] The choice of the means and place of visual presentation depend on the content and intentions of the works. Most often these artists use “non-artistic” materials and objects or media such as posters, banners or postcards as well as “artistic” ones: installation, photography and video. The site of the work or “exhibit” has been mainly the public space, especially in the post-war years.

Dynamics and developments in Banja Luka’s new art scene involve different stylistic characteristics; artists of the young generation more often work in traditional fields such as painting on canvas, photography or graphics but use them in a new conceptual way. These artists use traditional assets and apply them to build new narratives within the given space. Most of them focus on a redefinition of painting, a reversible proceeding (transcription of one media into another), formal or content-provoking re-contextualisation and reinterpretation. Photography or film frames are used as a resource for oil or acrylic on canvas (Radenko Milak). Or the language of visual symbols from one field (e.g. the military) transferred into an artistic context produces a picture or a visual performance that has a completely new meaning (Mladen Miljanović). The artist does not disclose the cipher, but it is fully clear to the observer that the author’s intention is not to perform research inside the field of painting but to make the new picture convey an engaged, universal message.

In speaking of the artistic or “non-artistic” media being used by contemporary artists, it is important to note that video, in any form, did not exist in visual art in BiH before the war. (In other centres in ex-Yugoslavia – Zagreb, Belgrade, Ljubljana – it has been in use since the 1970s.) After the war in BiH, video became an inevitable part of the new artistic practice, in the form of independent artworks or as a part of more complex works: installations, video installations and projections. It started with SCCA Sarajevo, which enabled this type of production by establishing the multimedia unit pro.ba. Since 2000, video has been part of the art scenes in all the country’s centres, from Trebinje and Mostar to Banja Luka or Prijedor.              

In this overview of contemporary art in the socio-political context in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996, the change in artists’ behaviour and social engagement in the new social “landscape” have been mentioned, as well as the changes in artistic means as the consequence of the reality in which the artists live. The most important thing is that they have crossed over local frontiers and that many of them are present in a broader contemporary art scene. At home, these artists are still the OTHER.

Dunja Blažević

October 2013


[1] Primarily owing to the establishment of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in 1996, since 2000 Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art /SCCA
[2] Kendeel Geers: “The Work of Art in the State of Exile”; Milica Tomić, catalogue, National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Venice 2003