BiH Art in Focus

A new feature, where both SCB writers, and invited guests, focus on particular pieces of art from BiH in detail. The socio-political history of the country since 1992, often obscures the rich and interesting History of Art that unfolded before the long civil war. This series will investigate art (painting, sculpture, architecture, video, installation, performance, street art) made in BiH from the earliest times, until the present, as chosen by contributors. The only guiding principle is that the chosen works must have some personal or artistic significance to the writer. In addition to analysis of the work our contributors will also link to places of historical and contemporary significance in the text, to make it richer for visitors who don’t know the country or it’s history so well as those living here.

Got a piece of art that you’d like to write about? Drop us a copy of the image and write about it in 500 words and we’ll edit and publish it for you. The only criteria are that the work must be by a BiH artist, and not made by the text’s author…

Over time, we will be compiling and publishing this series as a book.

3. Ljubomir Denković, Monument to Đure Đaković, Prilep Marble, Sarajevo, 1971-73

Ljubomir Denković, Monument to Đure Đaković, 1972.

Ljubomir Denković, Monument to Đure Đaković, 1972.

This is a sculpture that has fascinated me ever since I first arrived as a tourist in Sarajevo over two years ago. It was fascinating because it was a good example of a sculpture from the 70s, which had survived a siege that had destroyed so many other cultural monuments and artefacts. Intriguingly, too, very few Sarajevans seemed to remember much about it.

The sculpture stands opposite Dom Sindikata, in a little park still called “Đure Đaković park” by older residents of the city; visually, it fits in well with the angular concrete forms of Živorad Janković and Halid Muhasilović’s Skenderija building, opened in 1969, and directly opposite the sculpture, on the other side of the River Miljacka. But whilst the forms of Skenderija seem today to be a permanent feature of the city centre, most pedestrians and motorists hurry past this sculpture without giving it much thought.

Ljubomir Denković, collaborating with the architect Dragan Kiridžić, won the competition for a sculpture commemorating Đuro Đaković in 1971, and the monument was officially unveiled in April 1973.  Đaković, who was born in Slavonski Brod in 1886, was amongst the leadership of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in the 1920s, and vocally opposed the January 6 dictatorship of King Alexander Karađorđević. The dictatorship had been imposed in the wake of the murder of Stjepan Radić, leader of the Croat Peasant Party, by a Montenegrin deputy in August 1928, to prevent the fragile young kingdom breaking apart. The Communist Party was outlawed in Royal Yugoslavia, and membership was a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. However, in the febrile atmosphere of early 1929, Đaković’s agitation invoked a far worse fate at the hands of the dreaded Royal secret police. Arrested in Zagreb, the trade unionist was driven to the Yugoslav border with Austria, and murdered on the 25th April that year.

Such a biography clearly elevated Đaković to the pantheon of Yugoslav Communist martyrs, to be commemorated in peacetime. He had streets named after him in Zagreb and Ljubljana, and a portrait bust made for public display in Belgrade. The competition for Sarajevo, however, was the most lasting and significant monument to his memory in former Yugoslavia. During those years, the street called Alpašino street today, was known as Đure Djaković Street.

The winning commission came early in the career of the chosen sculptor, Ljubomir Denković. Denković was born in a tiny village on the Serbian-Macedonian border; he studied at the Art secondary school in Skopje before completing his studies at the Art Academy in Ljubljana in 1963. He was just 35 when he was awarded the commission to complete the Đaković monument. He collaborated with the Sarajevo-born Dragan Kiridžić, who would subsequently achieve fame for his landscaping and design of the monument for the National Liberation War at Vraca. Kiridžić was prolific after completing his architectural studies in Belgrade in the restive year of 1968; he subsequently designed many banks and tourist facilities, in addition to public memorials, across Serbia and Bosnia.

The late 60s and early 70s, as Ivan Štraus recounts in his Arkitekture Bosne I Hercegovine (OKO, Sarajevo, 1995) was a time of building, expansion and re-development of the Bosnian capital. Skenderija had won the Federal Prize for Architecture; Enver Jahić had worked on the reconstruction of the GaziHusrevBeg Bazaar in Baščaršija; Mirko Ovadija’s Museum for the Jews of BiH opened in 1970; Štraus himself gained much ocal publicity for his astonishing prize-winning design for the new Museum of aviation in Belgrade. As such, the memorial to Đaković was another visible symbole of the transformation of the city in this incredibly rich period for architecture and design.

Denković’s solution shows the legible face of Đaković, impassive, surrounded by strongly carved rectangular planes. The monument combines the functions of legibility and modernity, making the point that the advanced nature of the Yugoslav state depended upon historical sacrifice. The stone itself, a gorgeous creamy marble from Prilep in Southern Macedonia, was chosen for its aesthetic qualities and durable nature. The sculpture itself is angular and imposing, giving evidence of months of painstaking direct carving work, with the surfaces beautifully finished.  Kiridžić fashioned the area surrounding the sculpture into soft pathways, some flagpoles, and what appears to be a fountain, not functioning in the present day.

The sculpture was officially unveiled on the evening of the 27th April 1973, with a speech by the President of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Branko Mikulić. The event was extensively covered over two days- the 27th and 28th of April- in Oslobođenje. Interviewed, the sculptor and architect observed that:

The competition committed us to the monumental appearance and character of Duro Đaković,  and our idea was to make the figure without sharp features, A stronger impulse is one of the most important characteristics of his groundbreaking work: a moment of thinking before acting.

The sculpture, in its early days, was illuminated at night, with a specialist installation provided by Dutch electronics firm Phillips. The aim was to show the white marble off to its most dramatic effect at night, and provide a spectacle as well as a meeting point for passers-by. It is not clear how long the practice of illuminating the park at night was maintained.

In the siege of the city from 1992-95, the sculpture was hit by bullets but remained largely intact. Although heavy traffic and the rather ‘decommissioned’ nature of the park today mean that few people stop there, it is still a very legible monument of a time past in the city centre, as well as being a well known meeting point,

Ljubomir Denković went onto have the significant career that this well realised early piece suggested. he completed public sculptures all over the former Yugoslavia and in Rome, all in collaboration with the architect Sava Subotin; the most noteworthy example perhaps being a Memorial Statue in Titov Veles (present-day Veles in Macedonia). Having worked full time as a sculptor from 1971-77, he returned to teaching at the Academy of Fine Art in Novi Sad, and worked there until his retirement in 2004- he is still living there today.  Sadly, Dragan Kidrižić died young, aged only 51, in 1991, in Novi Sad. As for the monument itself, it would be good to see the city invest a little bit of money to provide some information about it- for such a prominent piece, finding information on it was a ludicrously hard task. Certainly, a plaque and a tidy up would not go amiss.

See Also

Aida Šarac, Jedan Spomenik Revolucije Grada Sarajeva, 16 April 2013

Jon Blackwood

 2. Behaudin Selmanović

 I was about ten years ago when I first read Sidran’s article about the artist on which my school bears the name. I was not much interested in the biography of a recluse, as I introduced him to myself at first, rather I found interesting the sudden craze about his paintings and the famous exhibition that came to our school. Neither Sidran’s text was a reliefe. Instead, after every single sentence I was unweaving my tongue to grapple with a new unknown word, until finally the text was not stored in my head for always. When I found myself in front Selmanović’s canvases, Sidran’s unknown words were suddenly clearly translated to me.

Behaudin Selmanović (Pljevlja, 1915 – Sarajevo, 1972) studied at the National Art Academy in Zagreb between 1937-1943. Educated in class of Marino Tartalja, Selmanović returns to Sarajevo with great affection by Cezanne and modern art. The Bosnian art celebrated Salman as extremely hard-working man. Often benchmarked with medieval neglects for his dedication and perseverance, more than that he was the individualists whose spirit did not give so easy to negotiate. I remember that Sidran mentions that in Selmanović’s family house windows long stood the oil from which the painter made his coulors, or homemade cream that replaced white.  Under the false simplicity of Selmanović that is just the product long distances to the canvas, there is looming a large number of tiny, precise, detailed brush strokes. On Selmanovićevic’s  canvases coincidence is completely overshadowed by planned composing. With almost architectural stable language, Selmanovic used lines to make real forms. These are forms that do not emerge forced from pictures, but rather an act of their birth seem fully thought. In addition to monochrome and stylization for which he is  mostly praised for,  Selmanović’s canvases seem to me as a unique example of art where forms play with the ground almost to exhaustion, but never compromising clear delimiter between surfaces. Thus Selman’s line on one part of the canvas is completely and clearly defined, but on the second part takes the vitality of Quranic letters and Herzegovina wrinkled rubble. So calm use of color and form leads to that the Selmanović’s paintings stoped being a window into the ideal, miraculous world: Selmanović miraculous paintings are seeking the poetic in banal everydaylife or maybe thay become a window where the entirely known world becomes unique through artist’s eyes.

In 1949. Selmanović was among others that were rejected to participate VII Exhibition of Artists BiH. Selmanović rejection shows even stronger retreats to the studio, where his images become a unique answer to the problems of visual language. Like Cezanne, Selman was not painting to exhibit: he is doing it because painting is his only honest interlocutor. Sidran’s text ends with delight when he first saw Selman, and my will end with praising once again the one whom I first started to really watch.

 Elma Hodžić

1.  Danijel Ozmo, Noćni Život (Night Life), Linocut, 1932


Who? Danijel Ozmo was born in Olovo, a lead-mining town 50 kms north east of Sarajevo, two years before the outbreak of the First World War. He grew up in and around Sarajevo and through his abundant gifts in painting, lithography, woodcut and linocut, established himself as one of the most notable artists in the city in the thirties, having finished art school in Belgrade. Sarajevo was then the administrative capital of what was called the ‘Drinska banovina’ , comprising much of present-day BiH and parts of Western Serbia. Having first exhibited in Sarajevo at the age of twenty, in 1932, he went on to have a prolific career in the last decade before the Second World War; exhibiting regularly alongside the likes of Vojo Dimitrijević and Ismet Mujezinović in Sarajevo, as well as having his work shown in Belgrade during his lifetime.

Ozmo, alongside Dimitrijević and Mujezinović, was passionately committed to social themes, displaying the conditions of the ordinary citizen with particular sympathy: he is noted for his portraits of forestry workers in particualr, with whom he lived and worked in various locations. As part of Sarajevo’s then flourishing Jewish community, he also depicted many scenes of Sephardic Jewish life. Associated also with left wing politics, Ozmo was soon arrested after the occupation of Yugoslavia in April / May 1941, and murdered at Jasenovac concentration camp during 1942. After his death, Ozmo’s work was shown all around former Yugoslavia, and in a touring exhibition that visited the major capitals of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Work? The work is a night-time cafe scene, reflecting the changes and continuities in local night life. The composition of the band suggests a jazz theme, but also could be read as a more traditional, local folk band. The interior night space is claustrophobic; the picture space is shallow and the cafe guests pushed up close to the performers. The implied jazz theme and the tipping forward of the table top in order that the viewer can have a greater understanding of the volumes of the glass and pitcher display knowledge of Cubism and contemporary Art Deco. French contemporary art was a powerful pull in many parts of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the period between the two world wars.

But perhaps the formal elements are not so powerful in themselves, as for Ozmo’s manipulation of them in order to convey a sense of character and atmosphere. In terms of composition, the figures are united in their treatment and arrangement in a rough semi-circle; within this tight little space, however, a real sense of being alone in a crowd, and alienation in a developing urban environment, can be discerned. Having already undergone massive changes in infrastructure and patterns of social life during the Austro-Hungarian period, Sarajevo continued to mutate, albeit at a slower pace, during the Royal period. The diverse, multi cultural nature of the city at that time is hinted at by displaying the listener to the right in rather traditional dress, as opposed to the man sharing the table to the far left, in a business suit. far from being a united whole, the two listeners are presented as widely differing and perhaps sad characters, isolated in what should be fun surroundings, and their seeming indifference to the music gives the performers themselves a rather melancholy air, as though they are painfully aware of their small audience’s indifference.

European Equivalents

See, for example, the Paris-based Estonian Eduard Wiiralt’s Hell of 1930-33 (KUMU, Tallinn); Weimar Germany’s Christian Schad and Conrad Felixmueller; Jacob Kramer of England (particularly in regard to Ozmo’s Jewish subjects); Lill Tschudi from Switzerland.

Where can I see this? 

New Temple Gallery

Where else can I read about this?

Danijel Ozmo exhibition at Galerija Novi Hram, Sarajevo, 2008 (introduction by Ibrahim Krzović)

Essay by Azra Begić on Jewish Art in BiH

Azra Begić, Danka Damjanović, Ibrahim Krzović, Umjetnost Bosne i Hercegovine 1924 1945, UGBiH, Sarajevo, 1985 (catalogue still available from the National Gallery)

Jon Blackwood

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