BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters Life!) - Ethnic tension and the haunting memory of war vex Bosnia 15 years after Europe’s worst fighting since World War Two, but artist Mladen Miljanovic draws inspiration from such turmoil.
Working in a wide variety of media from painting to video, sculpture and performance art, the 29-year-old Bosnian artist (www.mladenmiljanovic.com) is attracting growing international attention with his take on the absurdities of war and Bosnia’s divide along ethnic lines.
“Culture in Bosnia generally needs to play a bigger role to connect those two opposite, separate, divided sides,” he said in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb half of the country where he lives.
“Subversive art, eclectic art, is affected by the crucial problems, so if there are more problems, you will see that there are more, and better, eclectic and subversive art.”
In one 2006-2007 project, Miljanovic, who served in the postwar Bosnian Serb army in 2000-2001, confined himself to a former military base for 274 days -- even skipping his grandmother’s funeral to his family’s chagrin -- to produce anti-military art.
One series of images shows the outline of human forms used for target practice, with bullet holes only outside targets. In another, he turned 30 army helmets upside down, filled them with dirt and started growing plants.
“It was one work showing how I can start to deal with my past, how I can transform my past,” Miljanovic said.
In 2005 he invited Bosnian Croats, Serbs and Muslim amateur artists who had lost limbs in the 1992-95 Bosnian war to spend several days together producing art -- but failed to mention their former foes would also be present.
“Everyone who wanted to give funding was very concerned that there would be an incident,” said the artist, adding it turned out to be a success with some participants becoming friends.
“It was important to the society as an example how the people who lost body parts can be together, can be creative and be good for society.”
Suspicion among Bosnia’s ethnic groups remains strong, and is accented in the current political campaign ahead of October 3 elections where many are expected to vote along ethnic lines.
Miljanovic, who has a mischievous sense of humor, often involves an element of performance art in his work.
After winning an award to mount a major solo show at Vienna’s MUMOK Museum of Modern Art that ends on September 12, he presented art based on the Serbian Zastava car.
“Although he is quite young, Mladen takes his chances and he will make his way, because he is working very professionally, meeting any Western artistic standards at a high level,” said Tina Lipsky, the show’s curator at MUMOK.
“It is harder for artists from the Balkans coming up with original, high-level international art pieces from classical modernism up to now because their museums did not have enough money for buying those works, art institutions do not have enough money for loaning them and maybe some of the directors are still not open-minded enough for cooperation.”
Some of Miljanovic's ideas are a bit zany. For the MUMOK show, he gave out his cell phone number and offered to drive museum-goers to the exhibit free of charge for the first week in his own Zastava (here).
“Artists need to find new strategies to involve people,” he said. “Most of them asked me: is it really free?”
For an exhibition in Sarajevo later this month, he plans to hang off a balcony on a busy street for an hour to highlight the precarious position of the artist in Bosnia and, more broadly, the endangered state of Bosnia itself. Inside, the display will have washing machines in which he will clean clothes of fellow artists; the washed garments will become part of the display.
“In the beginning they thought that I am weird, that I am crazy: who is smart that will isolate themselves for nine months for the sake of art?” Miljanovic said. “But after that crazy guy won some awards, they thought, okay, maybe that crazy guy is not so crazy.”
Editing by Paul Casciato