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Feature 23 Dec 15

Crafting a New Ceramics Culture in Belgrade

A new art movement is germinating among displays of asymmetrical coffee cups, boldly shaped vases and large, modernist sculptures in an intimate shop in Belgrade neighbourhood Dorcol.

Drew Adamek

As the world’s only store devoted solely to Serbian ceramics, Blatobran Galerija is quietly launching an ambitious project to establish a contemporary tradition of ceramic art in Serbia.

Along the way, it hopes to make Belgrade a European centre for ceramics exhibition and education. 

Blatobron Galerija is the exhibition and retail space of the Blatobran Creative Centre, an artists’ collective dedicated to producing and promoting Serbian ceramic art.

The ten members of Blatobran opened the gallery in April 2015 to showcase their work, initiate a creative community, foster a new generation of ceramics artists and host international exhibitions.

“The idea behind the gallery is to close the circle a little - to exhibit our work, talk to our colleagues about ideas and have a reason to go to the end of the world to get our supplies,” said Julia Draškoci, 30, a founding member of Blatobran. 

Draskoci’s enigmatic and fanciful clay tiles, cups and bowls are among the many handcrafted items for sale at Blatobran Gallery. Bojana Ristevski, also 30, offers whimsical vases, planters and tea sets that draw on food, animals and faces for inspiration.

Ceramic arts are not new to Serbia; the discipline has been a part of the curriculum at the Academy of Applied Arts since the 1970s, and there is a historical tradition of Serbian pottery, but the Blatobran collective is making the first attempt to systemically create a contemporary ceramic arts scene in the country.

“We are trying to make some sense out of it, to say: we are potters, we are designers and we are artists at the same time. We wanted to clarify that by opening the gallery,” said Draskoci.

Among the most significant challenges Blatobran faces is the lack of high quality ceramics supplies in Serbia. Only one retailer in Serbia stocks the necessary supplies and the quality is often inconsistent.

Blatobran artists have to travel to Slovenia to buy material, but this scarcity forces them to think in different ways.

“It’s like trying to cook your favourite meal and not having any of the right ingredients. But that hasn’t affected our ability to produce good art,” said Ristevski.

While some arts and crafts shops sell ceramics, it wasn’t clear in the beginning that a store specialising in the form would be financially viable.

There was a real risk in only offering one type of unfamiliar work, but public reception has so far been positive.

“Everyone is always surprised. They are always like, ‘We didn't know this was possible, this is great,’” said Ristevski.

The ceramics work for sale in the gallery ranges from large, museum-quality sculptures to whimsical housewares to delicate, miniature animals. Each piece is handcrafted by a member of Blatobran in Serbia and is entirely unique.

“We never sell the same piece twice. All of our items are individual works of art,” said Ristevski.

Blatobran Galerija has big plans for the future, including rotating exhibitions of European ceramicists, a visiting artist-in-residence scheme and educational programs for novices.

Ristevski sees collective action as the key to Blatobran’s future success.

“It’s easier to work in a group if you have expensive ideas - expensive in money and in time.  If we are a group we can make it together,” she said.

Blatobran Galerija is at Gospodar Jevremova 38. Opening hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Sun. Website: www.blatobran.com

This feature was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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