Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Scene

Even though I only visited Sarajevo for a few days this summer, I did not get the impression that the city has a thriving contemporary art scene.  We toured the National Museum and the Bosnian History Museum but did not have enough time for gallery-hopping.  Sarajevo is a great city for strolling through the narrow, bustling streets but one does not see public art while walking.  In fact, the only public art that I did see was outside the National Museum- an ironic concrete block with the inscription: “Under this stone there is a monument to the victims of the war and Cold War.”  I snapped a photo as I am interested in public art and memorializing without realizing until today that the piece is by the only Bosnian artist I know, Braco Dimitrijević.  In October 2007, I drove four hours from my university to hear him speak near my parent’s home in Philadelphia.  He spoke at the Slought Foundation on his series “The Casual Passer-By” and although my father fell asleep in the audience and I did not understand everything he discussed, these early experiences led me to study the Balkans today.

Still, there must be more to Bosnian contemporary art than Braco Dimitrijević.  Today I am thrilled to read an article in the NY Times travel section discussing this very topic.  The article illuminates the struggles of contemporary art in Sarajevo, the gallery scene, and hopes for the future.  I am pleased to read that abandoned spaces in the city are now used to showcase local contemporary art.  Apparently the Ars Aevi contemporary art museum is open by appointment only because of financial reasons, but other galleries are mentioned that I would like to check out on my next visit.  Finally, I learned that Bosnia is planning a biennial for contemporary art to begin in 2011 if all goes according to plan.

Organizing a biennial with Serbia’s Ministry of Culture shows commitment towards creating a unified national identity and forging a future of tolerance and acceptance.  Hopefully the Council of Europe will follow through on their promise of finances, because this event would be a great opportunity for Bosnian artists with different ethnic backgrounds to work together.  I am a firm believer in the powers of art to create a sense of community.  If this biennial is a success, artists currently lost in the country’s rehabilitation process will be recognized.  Maybe Bosnia and Europe will see the need for more public art especially in the city of Sarajevo in order to help the country deal with the past.  A Serbian friend once cynically remarked that the Balkans have bigger issues than worrying about modern art.  Although I admit to being somewhat idealistic, I think that art is a great way to deal with some of these “issues”.  A greater importance placed on art in the Balkans in general and Bosnia specifically means steps towards a future of acceptance and peace.  The article in the NY Times today gives me hope.

For those traveling to Sarajevo, these are the galleries noted in the article:

Charlama Depot Gallery, Centar Skenderija, Terezije; (387-33) 203-178. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday (9 a.m. for the Sub Dokumenta exhibition).

Galerija 10m2 and Duplex/10m2, Stakleni Grad, Ferhadija 15; (387-63) 952-197; and Both galleries are open 2 to 7 p.m. (closed Wednesday and Sunday).

Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art, Obala Kulina Bana 22; (387-33) 665-304; and; visits by appointment only.

Obala Meeting Point, Hamdije Kresevljakovica 13, Skenderija; (387-33) 668-186. A cafe where mini-exhibitions are often on display; video pieces by artists are sometimes screened in the adjacent cinema.

    • Gordon
    • January 17th, 2010

    I find artwork you’ve photographed truly striking. It seems to play with nothing less than the concept of irony itself, on several levels.

    Firstly, the allusion to absence – or rather, enforced, crushed absence – an ironic gesture, which, forgive me, calls to my mind that line from Marx ‘the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’, from ‘under this stone’ – an ironic gesture considering the actual monument itself.

    Secondly, the space within which the monument is situated – I notice the proximity of the pavement, and the building just in the background, seemingly at odds with the grandioseness of the ‘promise’ of the inscription [may you comment more on the space within which the monument stands, please? I find this quite interesting].

    Thirdly, it strikes me that the statement of the inadequacy of memorials promoting symbolic reconciliatory reconstruction is itself undermined by the rough, war-torn look of the stone itself – as if the statement itself is that the broken cityscape that existed – or still exists – is directly monumental in itself.

    All in all – the three ironic gestures seem – to me – to provide the viewer with a profound space in which to reflect on the nature of memory. Quite something, really. I remember Ben Lewis [] mentioning once that humour within symbolic representation could be viewed as a tool for many things apart from mere subversion: it could potentially serve a double function of being both interrogative, colluding with the viewer, as well as removed, allowing a similar sensation of space within which the viewer may insert herself as the interrogator.

    I agree entirely with your views on the relation between art and memory; reconciliation and expression. I join you in thinking that the promotion of interrogative, post-emotive artworks like the Dimitrijević piece here serve to promote a more insightful reconstruction of historical identity.

      • Christine
      • January 17th, 2010

      Gordon- thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

      Interestingly enough, this Dimitrijević piece is situated right in front of the National Museum in Sarajevo. It is visible from the street, and each side states the sentence in a different language (Bosnian, French, German, and English). The monument’s close proximity to the museum, a typical place for public art, adds to the irony. Because of it’s massive scale I didn’t consider the stone “battered” standing next to it, but I agree with you on this point now that I look more closely. Like Sarajevo today, one really needs to search for physical signs of the war as the country recovers.

      Hopefully in the near future, the city of Sarajevo will commission additional public works such as this one to aid in the process of creating a new identity for a multi-ethnic country.

    • Walter B
    • January 19th, 2010

    I believe I was just resting my eyes and found the discussion to be very thought provoking. I am looking forward to a return of Mr. Braco Dimitrijevic to the Philadelphia area.

      • Christine
      • January 19th, 2010

      I look forward to seeing another Braco Dimitrijevic exhibition with you.

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