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The rise of the Balkans

21 décembre 2016

Formerly a powder magazine, now fragmented and in search of stability, the Balkans are trying to exist elsewhere than in the column of armed conflicts. Contemporary Art is an outlet for a whole generation of artists who prefers to leave prejudices in the past.

Belgrade, city without past

Comfortably set up between the Save and the Danube, leaning against the Sumadija forest and proudly facing the plain of Pannonia, Belgrade is one of those cities whose ideal geographical situation has triggered many lusts and invasions. In the course of its long, winding history, the White City has seen a lot of tribes with the Goths, the Huns, the Romans, the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, the Austrians, the Turks and the Germans... Carrefour between the West and the East, this cauldron of two million inhabitants was destroyed more than thirty times, the last in 1999 after 78 days of NATO bombing. Another time, in the nineties where these republics of former Yugoslavia spent their time splitting and committing genocides based on ethnic differences as ridiculous as tiny.

Since, water has flowed under the bridges of the Danube and Belgrade, whose pulse beats at the same rate as the Balkans, invents itself a present and a future without complications or constraints and without paying attention to the past and its precepts. After almost a decade of torpor, the Berlin of the Balkans became the nickname of Belgrade. Between alternative character, artistic effervescence and cultural dynamism on the margins of the institutions, western artists converge while the premises emerge. Deprived of museums, the two national structures are closed, the private initiatives are plebiscite "as there is not much money, we tinker with quite a lot of poetry" explains Misko Necak, filmmaker. Ljudmila Statimirovic opened the Grad Cultural Center in Savamala, while the young couple of “Robin Hood’s” of culture, Maja and Ivan Lalic, invented the Mikser Festival, a kind of platform of Arts. Two remarkable initiatives among the hundreds of art galleries that are increasing in Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and around the region.

"We speak the same language"

The first children of this new contemporary breath that surges on the Balkans are Mrdjan Bajic and his protean artworks, Milica Tomić, whose violent sculptures are marked by past conflicts; Aleksandra Domanovic with her singular style between decorative art and modernity, or Biljana Djurdjevic who transcribed through her disturbing landscapes the horrors of the communist regime of the 1990s. 

(Mihael Milunović)

Mihael Milunović, a Serbo-Croat artist based in France, who won the prestigious Renoir Foundation's Prize thanks to his sculptures of high emotional value, and part of this first wave, describes this healthy but powerful emulation "We were born in a country, Yugoslavia, which no longer exists. Our identity cards have changed and we cannot draw the map of our country. We are given a label - Serbian, Croatian - but we speak the same language!"

From workshops of Mostar to the walls of London

A universal language that is called Art and is also widely spoken by a whole new generation of artists born between 1980 and 1990, whose past does not freeze their present or their future. The most promising of these are grouped under the banner of a completely new structure that was born at the beginning of 2016: the Contemporary Balkan Art (CoBA). The interest of the international scene for the artists of the region had been gradually extinguished by political and economic instability and the transition of a new Europe. The CoBA's mission is to represent and promote these artists whose important role in the public sphere makes their international presence crucial. Faced with the abundance of new artists from Podgorica, Plovdiv, Skopje, Tirana and Novi Sad, Contemporary Balkan Art has tightened its selection rules from the start. The lucky ones benefit from a sophisticated platform enabling them to develop their art and future trends better through workshops in contact with other artists and international experts. Despite its very recent creation, the CoBA is currently allowing six artists to exhibit in London at Galerie 106 in the heart of the Fulham district since 7 December 2016.

This is how the Londoners can discover Roman Djuranović, a native of Bosnia and a graduate of the Beaux Arts of Cetinje in Montenegro. Having previously held numerous solo exhibitions in Canada, Turkey, Germany and New York, Roman sees his work as part of the Pop Art tradition and as such he draws its influences from design, comics and cinema. His work is imbued with his own cultural experiences that produce his individual and poignant symbolism.

A native of Mostar in 1983 and after successfully conducting art studies in Belgrade, Nemanja Golijanin presents a playful line influenced by the humor of the art of cartoons. Tadija Janičić is from Nikšić in Montenegro, he is a custom of individual exhibitions in Hungary, Japan and Scandinavia. Irony, grotesque and paradox are his favorite means of expression. Žolt Kovač who is a kid from Belgrade, is co-founder and editor of the influential online magazine Supervizuelna. 

Finally, the last two artists that the CoBA presents in London are two young Serbs: Iva Kuzmanovic, who has barely been in her late thirties, who uses music as the main thread of her work and Petar Mirkovic who plays with shadows and reflections to create a kind of exciting urban mythology. These six talents are the leaders of a generation that should be talked about by the years and even months to come on the international scene of contemporary art. Dragos Burlacu (Romania), Mirza Dedac (Serbia), Lidija Delic (Montenegro) or also Stanimir Genov (Bulgaria) are far from the illusions drawn from Emir Kusturica films among the Kalashnikovs, Slavic drunks, destroyed cars and geese running through the muddy streets, and they hope to shine and colorize the Balkans with a brush in their hand.

Bonetti, the open artwork

Native of Sofia, in 1965, Bonetti was very early into Art thanks to his professor mother. His parents make him see the Europe and stroll through its old emblematic museums: the Hermitage, the Louvre, the Prado or the British Museum. After graduating in Art, he settled in Canada and then returned to Europe. Of all his excursions, Bonetti keeps in mind moments lived or places visited. He transcribes these images through painting in a process of destruction and transformation. His creation process results from several layers of acrylic paint worked with a brush or a sponge. He then covers his work with resin so that the painting is protected and immutable.

Inspired by the abstract expressionist Americans of the 20th century and by the German Gerhard Richter, Bonetti creates a new image in parallel with reality that represents the fragility of illusions and the perpetual change of the world. He leaves his work open to any interpretation. His painting asks a question and this is up to the viewer to propose answers.