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Bos/Hrv/SrpShqipМакедонски 28 Aug 12

Docu Genre Answers Bosnia’s Postwar Hunger for Facts

Vogue for documentary art in Bosnia, in film, image and on the stage, reflects a conviction that post-war audiences need to confront the factual reality of the recent past.

Amina Hamzic
BIRN Sarajevo
Children toys on an exhibition “Objects of children killed in a besieged Sarajevo from 1992-1995”

In the play Hypermnesia, by Bosnian theatre director Selma Spahic, actors tell their own intimate stories to the audience.

Damir Kustura, playing one of the starring roles, tries to overcome his intense emotions and expose his heart to an audience that could just as easily condemn or justify his actions.

His tale is dramatic. Kustura was born in Rogatica as a child of parents of different religions and nationalities.

His father was a Bosniak [Muslim] and his mother, Serbian. In the second grade of school, without his parents’ knowledge and acting on his own religious beliefs, he had himself circumcised.

At the beginning of the 1992-5 war in Bosnia, he and his family escaped from the Bosnian Serbian army, hiding in the woods, a virtual beggar in various villages.

In 1994, he reached the besieged capital of Sarajevo through the tunnel, where he found a job as a muezzin at the mosque and became a follower of the austere Salafi branch of Islam.

But he then abandoned high school and started to use drugs. Following eviction from his apartment and after running away to Istanbul, Kustura only finished school in 2000.

Then he enrolled at the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo, where he graduated as top of his class. Nowadays he participates in numerous plays and teaches acting.

Childrens drawings from the “Objects of children killed in a besieged Sarajevo from 1992-1995”

Whether it is accomplished through theatre, exhibitions, film or some other artistic medium, the use of documentary is an important phenomenon in art in Bosnia, compelling audiences and authors alike to face sometimes unwelcome facts and memories.

It also seems that in art in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the documentary form is inextricably linked to the experience of war.

Spahic says she opted for documentary theatre partly to deal with herself, which is why she put on the show, Hypermnesia.

“Documentary theatre concerned me, as a member of the audience, in a completely new way, often causing intense emotion,” she recalled.

“I was faced with my own self, honestly and painfully. That prompted me to put on my own documentary show,” she added.

She says the region has seen a new wave of documentary theatre plays as artists wrestle with their own pasts as well as with the present.

“The new generation of artists has a need to review the past in order to deal with the present,” she continued.

Spahic believes that making documentary theatre plays needs to go deep into the topics it deals with, to overcome prejudices.

“Documentary theatre is alive in a special way, precisely because of its authenticity and the actuality of the theme at the moment when it occurs.

“But that theme, on the other hand, can have a very short lifespan, if it's only kept on the daily-political basis.

“It is no coincidence that this region has a whole new wave of documentary theatre,” she concluded.

Actress and visual artist Arma Tanovic-Brankovic has also used the documentary approach, while preparing her exhibition of objects that belonged to children killed during the war.

In the exhibition, “Objects of children killed in a besieged Sarajevo from 1992-1995”, which opened on May 8 in Sarajevo War Theatre (Sarajevski ratni teatar) she wanted to give authentic objects a new, symbolic dimension.

“School supplies, toys, clothes and diaries from exhibition become evidence… a metaphor for all human suffering, anytime and anywhere,” Tanovic-Brankovic told Balkan Insight.

The aim of the exhibition, which formed part of this year’s “Module of Memory”, was also to share the memories of the parents of killed children with the world, and so turn them into collective ones.

The president of the Association of Parents of Murdered Children, Fikret Grabovica, said the exhibition was very important for parents, since it is was presenting truth.

"For us parents whose children were killed in the siege of Sarajevo, truth and justice are important, and this exhibition is another way to present our truth,” he said.

Nihad Kresevljakovic, head of the Memory Module and author of several short documentary films, of which the most famous is ”Do you Remember Sarajevo?”, says the experience of the siege and the war marked his artistic path forever.

For him, the documentary film is a tool for mapping reality, though such movies, which deal with the facts, inevitably also bear the author’s own mark and signature.

Kresevljakovic says that war should not be rejected as a subject for art as it is part of people’s reality; through our own ability to cope with it, we can also help others to raise awareness of what is called the human essence.

“Experience of the war is certainly an interesting phenomenon, and by preserving the stories of our experiences, we can at least help others to become aware of what the human essence is,” he said.

Kresevljakovic believes that art must deal with the post-war reality in which people live every day.

“I’m slightly suspicious of those colleagues who say: 'I’m tired of war, we should work on some other topics,’” he said.

“This is insincere, and their working on other topics is just a fear of dealing with what unfortunately is a reality for us today, almost 20 years after the war,” Kresevljakovic added.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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