BETWEEN FIXITY AND ABSENCE

Representation of the Bosnian war in visual art and its influence on the art scene

 

Andrej Đerković’s work "To forget kills (2005)" originates both from the Bosnian culture and history. It consists of three almost identical representations of a standard Drina cigarette pack. In three different languages (English, French and Bosnian), the same text is shown: To forget kills / Oublier tue / Zaborav ubija. Đerković here selected a feature from the popular and contemporary culture to be the basis and model for his work: the well-known Bosnian cigarette brand Drina. We can see that the origin of his method is the Pop Art movement, which emerged in the 1960’s in the USA. The general characteristics of this movement converge with the work of Đerković.

 

Pop Art artists drew their inspiration from the mass culture and capitalism of that time period. People and motives, which were present in the contemporary time, appeared in works of art, collages and posters. The presence of irony and parody in the Pop Art movement was significant. Artists wished to design their works in big sizes with flatness as the central characteristic (Sterckx & Jacobs, 2014). After mentioning some of Pop Art’s general characteristics, we can again confirm that Đerković can be seen as an adherent of this. Đerković connected his work to the contemporary Bosnian culture by taking over the lay out of the Drina cigarette packs. These are widespread to be found in daily life since Bosnia is known to be a country with a high number of smokers. Furthermore, the aspect of irony is to be found in the text. The public knows this is an adaptation of the regular warning messages, which are placed on cigarette packs: smoking kills. By changing this, Đerković offers the observer an opportunity to reflect on the essence of the work. As a central characteristic, the flatness and large sizes are again common. The work does not have a distinct forefront and background and is thus two-dimensional. The large size is to be found in the comparison between an original cigarette pack and the displayed version: it is of course a lot bigger.

 

The content and the design of this poster are equally important. However, the content is much less revealed. Although we get the link with the cigarette packs, the initial intention and inspiration of the artist does not stand out immediately. The event, which influenced Đerković directly, was the Srebrenica massacre. As we saw before, this has inspired numerous artists to create. Đerković wants to show that it is unacceptable to forget the events as a way to escape reality. He wants to react against the aggressive campaign used to discourage smoking. According to the artist, the focus is laid too heavily on the anti-smoking campaign and the preservation of health while death is already around people. In other words, Đerković focuses in this way on death, which is already there and may not be forgotten instead of death, which is still preventable. He also feels like the word ‘death’ has become ordinary in today’s journalistic language. Death is not only to be found in smoking but also in the daily life around us. For Bosnians, it is situated in the confrontation with history.

 

Đerković here creates an opportunity for reflection through an abstract graphic representation. Through these graphics based on a familiar design, the observer is not directly confronted with the events. Still, it draws the attention to the war history on a more intellectual level.

 

Laura Van Den Bosch

Gent, August 2014