This stark quote forms part of the exhibition guide to the DEAL WITH IT show, made by members of the German Porschismus collective, at Duplex 10m2 in Sarajevo. This little space, alongside the ARS AEVI collection, is one of two main spaces covering contemporary art in the Bosnian capital. 10m2 was established by two French curators at the end of 2004. The gallery claims an international perspective, with an obvious focus on contemporary Bosnian art. The current show features nine artists who have some connection with BiH, even if they don't actually live there. There is no sense of self-pity or introspection about this show; rather, it seeks to present the creative response of artists dealing with a virtually impossible set of cultural circumstances, yet still managing to keep making work and have it discussed and seen.
|DEAL WITH IT group exhibition, gallery 10m2|
Serious though the problems facing arts and arts education funding in the UK may be, they seem frankly trivial compared to the problems facing the various sectors of the shrunken Bosnian art world. This is a country where the government currently does not put a fenig towards the National Gallery and its serious collection of BiH, Yugoslav and European paintings, sculptures and photographs; this is the principal reason for the current indefinite closure of the facility. Shockingly, the new BiH government failed to take on the responsibility of maintaining the National Gallery after 1995, and this major collection has had to subsist on money from abroad for the last sixteen years. That the institution was open and maintained a reasonable programme, until recently, is in itself something of a minor miracle and a great tribute to the hard pressed staff there. Only once since independence- with Braco Dimitrijević's show in 2009- has Bosnia-Hercegovina been represented at the Venice bienale, a miserable record by comparison with all the other former Yugoslav republics.
On top of this institutional paralysis, BiH is home to no fewer than four art schools- churning out graduates into a domestic art market which only barely exists. Those who do manage to fashion some sort of career for themselves usually do so by either selling their work abroad, or by moving away from the country altogether. The well developed art world in BiH prior to 1992 was a casualty of the civil war, along with so many other aspects of society; many artists simply left, and the few that remained have had to cope with a catastrophic collapse in both government patronage of the arts, in the private art market, and indeed in the audiences for art; so many Bosnians now have to focus on sheer survival, that the leisure time available to go to an exhibition is a rare, luxurious commodity that not many can afford. Add to the permanent ethnic division of the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina-Republika Srpska has its own art academy and national gallery based in Banja Luka- and the small crumb of the Bosnian art world is atomised even further.
|Jusuf Hadžifejzović, Trophy's Depotgraphy, 1995|
|Diana Righini, 1978-2011|
This is a really thought provoking and interesting exhibition. Contemporary art either from or dealing with Bosnia-Hercegovina is, in spite of the absolutely abysmal circumstances in which it has to be made, is challenging to the viewer and contains many interesting insights into present day creative life. Together with the rich and well curated exhibitions, based on colour, in the National Gallery, both should form key parts of the face that Bosnia-Hercegovina presents to the outside world. After all, cultural tourism- in spite of the economic difficulties faced by the arts Europe-wide- should be a key facet of BiH's attempts to re-build for the future. That is is not, and indeed seems to occupy a marginalised and near-subterranean position in the stagnating, ethnically divided society, is one of many national tragedies. Sadly, until things are fixed at the level of high politics- and there is no end in sight to the permanent state of deferred crisis which has choked Bosnian re-development since Dayton- nothing will be fixed for Bosnia-Hercegovina and its artists, either.