New Working Paper Out

We have the pleasure  to publish a Working Paper on art in the public spaces of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Curator Danijela Dugandžić analyses a number of fascinating artworks that since the official end of the war in 1995 have dealt with some key themes: nationalism, the role of the international community during and after the war, forgotten emancipatory history and heritage, and post-war reconstruction. There has also been a significant production of feminist art.  Dugandžić shows how art can be  an urban practice that uses public space as emancipation for those who are less visible, or even invisible.

Working Paper no 2. Politics between Art and Space. Sarajevo after 1995. 

Retribution or reconciliation?

By Stefanie Kappler

On 5 March 2018, we hosted the interreligious choir Pontanima from Sarajevo at Durham University. Pontanima are known as an important peace-maker in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, composed of members from different ethnic and religious groups and performing songs from Bosnia’s different religious traditions (Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic and Roman Catholic). Through this, they send a powerful message of appreciating diversity and reconciliation. The eclectic elements of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s religious heritage are thus understood as an asset and precondition in which the trauma of the war can be overcome – based on a memory of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a multicultural nation.

Nedžad Avdić from Srebrenica was travelling with the choir on their UK tour (Cambridge, London, Durham). Nedžad is a survivor of the atrocities that were committed in Srebrenica, having been shot multiple times and witnessing the killing of many others. By telling his personal story, Nedžad is trying to raise awareness of the detrimental consequences of hate of any kind. He says that he had returned to Srebrenica to “show them I am still alive”.

In that sense, one might think the combination of the choir, which emphasises a notion of reconciliation, and a survivor who expresses the need to remember the atrocities, may seem unusual. Is this about retribution or reconciliation?

But it is exactly that that Nedžad Avdić’s story and the choir may be read as: namely the need for suffering to be acknowledged so reconciliation can happen. Independent of which side the suffering has happened, it seems to be crucial for pain and injustice to be recognised and taken seriously if they are to be transformed into a creative energy (such as music, with the example of Pontanima). This does not mean that we need to look at reconciliation as a linear phenomenon or with a clear directionality (suffering > acknowledgement > reconciliation), but instead to recognise the importance for personal testimonies to be listened to throughout.

Peacebuilding, I would suggest, should therefore create spaces in which suffering can be acknowledged. Those spaces can then give rise to conversations and transformations, where the arts can deploy their special impact. This is not to say that acknowledgment alone is sufficient to overcome societal divisions (indeed, a critique that has often been voiced against the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been its lack of focus on material reparations for the victims of apartheid). Instead, it means to engage in a serious conversation with those who want or need to remember and have felt the impact of war on their own lives.

Remembering War Childhoods in New Museum in Sarajevo

By Annika Björkdahl

The War Childhood Museum on Logavina 32 in Sarajevo is a new and important contribution to the ambiguous and fragmented memoryscape of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It is located close to the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazar and the historical and cultural centre of the city, yet hidden away, on a steep street and not easily found without a map. It focuses exclusively on memories of children affected by war.

The museum provides a careful selection of young memories describing war through the eyes of children. Through memories, testimonies, snippets of texts and video narratives, fragments of everyday life in a war zone are pieced together and as visitors we are transported back in time to the war in the 1990s and to the siege of Sarajevo.

The Museum started off as a project by Jasminko Halilovic to collect children’s experiences and memories of growing up during Sarajevo’s Siege. More than a thousand of these children, now adults and scattered around the world, responded to the call and shared their recollections and narratives, which were compiled in the book War Childhood, published in 2013.

One such narratives reveals the irony of children’s play.

 

“It is ironic that with everything around us what we loved to play most was war…we called it rat-a-tat-tat” Amir, 1987 (cited in Halimovic 2017: 100)

 

In addition to collecting the stories of war childhood, memorabilia from these childhoods such as extracts from a diary, a sad-looking, mangy teddy bear, a carefully knitted vest, a young ballerina’s pointe shoes, and a favourite book were donated making up the objects on display in the museum. In the exhibition, every artefact is accompanied by a unique personal story.

 

My brother’s “children’s police” badge is a short story shared by a sister who lost her brother in the war.

 

“How happy and proud he was the day that he received this badge with his very own name on it! Just imagine the honor! Imagine, he would be the one to protect order in our street. He could not imagine that he would carry it for such a short time. He could not even imagine that in a single day, during a UN ceasefire…in a single moment that day…in a single step…in a single misstep…that a single grenade…that a single a single piece of shrapnel…would ruin everything. Since that day, nearly twenty-five years ago, I, his sister, have carried his badge in my wallet – proudly, but with a heavy heart. Jasna, 1982 (cited in Halimovic 2017: 250)

 

Viewing the war through the memories of those who experienced it as children is powerful. The museum is overwhelming in many ways; it is backward-looking, recalling a difficult past, yet forward-looking and hopeful, it is sad and traumatic yet it reflects glimpses of children’s play, cooping ability, fun and wry humour. It is reflexive as it provides visitors from near and afar to confront the war traumas of the recent past. It holds a timeless wisdom, important messages, and it sharpens the eyes to the unique experiences of children in war zones.

In a society divided along ethnic lines it is reflexive, reconciling and forward-looking to establish a museum that avoids reinforcing ethnic boundaries and that belongs to everyone.

By exhibiting children’s memories, artefacts and narratives of war this museum holds the potential to give voice to war children of the past and the present.

Halilovic, Jasminko (2017) War Childhood. War childhood Museum, Sarajevo.

Exploring the memory kaleidoscope in Berlin

By Susanne Buckley-Zistel and Timothy Williams

When it comes to analysing the memorialisation of the past, Berlin has much to explore. The city is interspersed with sites that commemorate various victims groups of National Socialism and the German Democratic Republic: the
Memorial and Information Point for the Victims of National Socialist “Euthanasia” Killing, the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism or the Memorial, the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, the Memorial to the
Murdered Jews of Europe, to name but a few. Berlin’s memorials also pay tribute to moments of resistance, such as the German Resistance Memorial Center, or to perpetrators such as the Topography of Terror, adding to the diversity of the memoryscape.  These photos from a recent visit convey the kaleidoscopic array of different memorial and education attempts which compete and coalesce in remembering the Nazi past.

Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies

Timothy Williams participated in the conference Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies, 23-24 October 2017, University of Southern California, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research. He presented a paper concerned with his ongoing work on digital memoralisation and tourism: “‘Awful, but you have to go…’ Memory in the Digital Sphere of Tripadvisor.com Reviews of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia”.”

Time for the MSA Conference

The Second Annual Conference of the Memory Studies Association is to be be held in Copenhagen, 14-16 December 2017. Annika Björkdahl and Stefanie Kappler will present a paper entitled Professionalising or commercialising the transnational experience? Memory as a political and economic resource (Panel 3, Memory in Transition). Johanna Mannergren Selimovic  will present a paper entitled Massgraves, Memory and the Presence of Absence (on Panel 18, Amnesia and Failed Memory). Check out the exciting program.

 

The Image of War in Stockholm

Johanna Mannergren Selimovic will participate in the international conference The Image of War in Stockholm 24-25 November 2017 at Bonniers Konsthall. What is the theoretical status and the actual function of images of violence? Departing from the exhibition The Image of War, amidst presentations by artists, representatives of organizations like Reporters without Borders, The Swedish Institute for International Affairs, the daily paper Dagens Nyheter and Amnesty International will offer points of view to make up a larger conversation around subjects like witnessing, monuments and the use of images as evidence.