A familiar smile

 

Andrej Ðerković is one of those artists who carry the terrible light heartedness of Sarajevo into the world with a smile and dark eyes. At a time, when Dobrinja was the saddest place in the world, he opened a library. When he lost around him good friends in the trenches outside the city, he wrote poetry about the shadow of the moon. He came out of the war with a sense of humor and an eye for images so simple and clear that people with more complicated minds wouldn’t recognize them even when they were standing right in front of them.

 

I am one of those people. But suddenly, Andrej popped up into my life as if he had always been there. I had just not noticed him. I had seen the writers, the theatre directors and the photographers of Sarajevo wrestling with their memories. Some drowned in trauma. Some just kept on drinking. Some kept on producing images so light-hearted that they brought you to tears. It takes courage to be simple about the unspeakable. Andrej carries this courage on him like others carry a pack of cigarettes.

 

On a sweltering day in front of the Dutch parliament building, on the commemoration ten years after Srebrenica, I saw him fixing a long line of white papers on a gate aside from the crowd. Each of these papers carried the name of a missing person in Braille. We can no longer see them; we can only run our fingers gently along the letters of their lost identity, sensing their absence, feeling it run through our body. Andrej was sweating. The crowd paid no attention. He did his work in silence. While speeches were spoken and poetry was read, the white paper quietly floated on the edge of our conscience. The missing persons remained missing, but they were there.

 

Andrej’s poems, photographs and artifacts are like memories. We might forget them, but they will not forget us. Just when we least expect them to haunt us, we will run into them. On boxes of good old Drina cigarettes, Andrej printed his simple message: Forgetting kills. They will go up in smoke, but they will settle inside our hearts and lungs. We may inhale the future, but we breathe the past. There is something about the Ðerković smile. You will notice it once he pops up next to you. It is a familiar smile. 

 

Chris Keulemans, Amsterdam, 2005