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Interview 22 Mar 17

Vanished Mural Sparks Protests in Novi Sad

Artist Guillaume Alby aka Remed says Serbia’s authorities are trying to ‘keep people blind’ after his striking mural in the city of Novi Sad was suddenly painted over.

Ivan Angelovski

The French-born mural artist Guillaume Alby, known as Remed, whose works are displayed across the world, told BIRN that he believes his mural in Novi Sad, named “The Only Truth”, was painted over in an attempt to “keep people blind in a grey reality”.

Once he learned of “the current politico-social situation in Serbia”, he says, “everything seemed pretty clear; the erasure of this mural is another attempt to shrink the space for freethinking, free-expression, self-experience, truth,” he told BIRN by email.

Remed’s mural, painted in 2009, depicted a monster puppeteer moving two human figures who are cutting their strings, liberating themselves from it.

The mural was suddenly painted over on March 16, two days ahead of a rally in Novi Sad for Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is running as the candidate of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in the April 2 presidential elections. Vucic is often referred to as “the puppeteer” by the opposition.

“It makes sense that he wouldn't appreciate this symbol of freedom standing over his fragile charisma,” Remed noted.

The move angered some locals in Serbia’s second city who in protest painted a penis on the blank wall the following day.

The following morning this drawing was also painted over, only for another penis drawing to appear on March 18.

The same pattern was repeated on March 19. The drawing still stands.

On March 19, activists and locals Novi Sad gathered for a protest and to demand that the city authorities, led by the Progressives, explain who painted over Remed’s work and why it was done.

Nenad Jelovac, one of the protest organizers, told the rally that “at least three permits are needed” for anyone to touch the wall in question.

“Approval for the machinery to enter the pedestrian area, a permit from the city service for the protection of cultural heritage and one from the urban planning department,” he listed. “These things cannot be done [without official approval],” Jelovac said, of the whitewashing process.

City authorities claim they have no idea who painted over the mural.

Dalibor Rozic, member of the city’s culture council, on March 20th said the city would find out what had happened with the mural, promising new murals all across the city.

“We are planning … to dedicate space for several murals by local and renowned international artists, which is also proof that we support this [form of] art,” Rozic said in a statement.

But the city would not allow “daily political rhetoric to be unnecessarily imposed onto culture”, he added.

Remed has also painted a mural in Belgrade. “La Santa de Belgrade,” was painted in 2008, inspired by the fresco of the “Three-hand Mother of God” that the artist saw in Belgrade.

“In a culture of fear, rulers seem to legitimize their power and limit freedom in the name of collective security, while insisting on trying to make you feel that your brother and neighbour is your enemy,” Remed said.

But he also said the protest rally in front of the wall showed all was not lost.

“Sometimes people from diverse horizons gather to dare to share experiences and perspectives, and that is good,” he said.

He added that, for him, his mural “still exists in those who witnessed it” even though it is now “under this grey veil”.

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