The Art of Anti-War @ Historical Museum of BiH, Sarajevo

9 September, 2021 – 25 September, 2021
Opening on Thursday, 9 September at 18:00
Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Artists: Alma Suljević, Alma Gačanin, Darija S. Radaković, Tanja Ostojić, Milica Tomić, Milica Rakić, Ivana Ivković, Ivana Smiljanić i Tomislav Pavelić, Šejla Kamerić, Sanja Latinović, Sanja Iveković, Lana Čmajčanin, Lala Raščić, Marina Marković

Curator: Ana Simona Zelenović

The idea of the exhibition is to show the public the position and role of women during the social processes that occurred in the Balkans from the 1990s to the present. Emphasis is placed on their role in anti-war propaganda, criticism of patriarchy and nationalism and their corollaries in society. Art is a testimony of time, the events that a society goes through as a collective and people as individuals – it speaks of all the micro-and macro-processes and phenomena experienced by a society, and it therefore offers an illustrative insight into the alternative history of those whose voices were not heard in mainstream historical and political discourses. The role of women in conflict zones is often one of peacebuilding and in the case of the Balkans, women’s activism has a history of struggle against war and nationalism. The primary role of the exhibition, therefore, is to place emphasis on precisely this role of women and their activist contributions through the presentation of socially engaged art that both indirectly and directly speaks of conflicts, war, nationalism and patriarchy. 

Since socially engaged art is critical of society and its beliefs, the exhibition includes works that are interpreted as comments and critiques of society and its “values”, although the works are not necessarily directly related to feminist pacifist activism. In a wider sense, they are reflections of the female experience of war, the struggle against patriarchy and nationalism in the specific circumstances of fratricidal wars in this part of the world, as well as the mood and social conditions of the post-war period. The intent of art is therefore to point out the various challenges that women faced during the times of conflict, war, violence, nationalism and the disintegration of the state. Such challenges left physical and mental marks on women, their bodies and souls, and the exhibition aims to divulge different aspects of these consequences, as well as our role in facing them. Therefore, the exhibition is also a testimony to the experiences of women and the telling of their stories, and in this context, it is a writing of personal women’s histories, as histories of suffering, but also of struggle – struggle that was the basis of accomplishments on which all forthcoming pacifist and feminist activism and socially engaged art was built and which ultimately led to the better position of women in the region as well. Hence, the exhibition was conceptualised to include all generations of female artists. Those who experienced the war first-hand and criticised it simultaneously as it unfolded, as well as those who live and create in a post-conflict period. This approach delineates the continuity in feminist ideas in socially engaged art created by women in the Balkans, and at the same time it offers an analysis of the consequences and problems of the present with regard to nationalism, patriarchy and the lack of responsibility to one’s own history and its consequences. The theme that pervades the exhibition and anti-war activist art in general, is violence against women in war and especially the use of rape and violence against women as a weapon of war, and there is also reflection on the post-war extensions of such patriarchal models and power relations. The theme of violence is also tightly linked to the inquiry into the treatment of female bodies in war and within a nationalist and patriarchal post-conflict society in general – whom does the female body belong to? How have women been deprived of their basic rights, their bodily integrity endangered and reduced to the object of male revenge, pleasure or domination and what can we do to deconstruct the discourses and stop the practices that lead to them? There permeates also the theme of testimony – what do women’s testimonies tell us, how are we to learn to safeguard these experiences and confessions in culture? Then there is also the theme of social responsibility for the atrocities of war and consequences of nationalism, discrimination and hatred, and within this theme the function of art is a call to take responsibility, pay homage to the victims, to remembrance as a caution and warning for the present and for the future.

The role of the female artists whose works are exhibited play the role of social critics, their art is political and personal, it speaks of the past and admonishes its consequences in the present, it isolates painful fragments of women’s experiences in order to inscribe in culture what its dominant discourse perpetually aborts – the dark side of history, human cruelty, systemic oppression, deliberate repression, non-acceptance of responsibilities and social negligence for the (any)  Other.

We owe a lot to the pioneers of anti-war art. Their art criticised war at a time it was endorsed by the state, they endured stigmatization because of their brave opposition to programmed violence, and finally they opened and paved the way for the coming generations of critically oriented female artists. They taught us how to allocate and assume responsibility, how to face the past and ourselves, and how to tirelessly expose social issues even when it jeopardises our own selves. Consequently, the exhibition brought to their side also the younger generation, so that we might attempt to reflect on what we are fighting for, where we are now and what remains to be done.