CREATIVE INGENUITY IN SARAJEVO
By Stefan Jermann
While Sarajevo made itself a name in urbanism and architecture by such names as Juraj Neidhardt, Muhamed and Reuf Kadic or later on Ivan Straus who built the Unis towers and the Holiday Inn, we haven’t heard much about anything in the fine arts or graphic design world evolving out of the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. At least not until the siege of Sarajevo. That’s when three young graphic designers that went by the name of “Trio” started creating posters and postcards titled as «Greetings from Sarajevo» that spread the message of struggle in a way that has not been seen before. Bojan Hadzhihalovic, Dalida Durakovic and Lejla Mulabegovic formed the design collective and by the end of the 80's, shortly they became the most famous graphic designers in a completely new and unknown sort of "pop art meets punk" genre in a socialist state.
Now, some twenty years have passed and Bojan has become the creative director of one of the largest advertising firms in Sarajevo and at the same time he is the chair and a professor of the graphic design department at the Academy of Fine Arts. While he is looking after the younger generation as a teacher and mentor, he is running his own business and is involved in many different projects. Whether that is creating ad campaigns, corporate identities or a book project for Tarik Samarah who now also hosts a permanent exhibition in Sarajevo of the photographs he took while he was documenting the Srebrenica Massacre. Bojan had arranged for me to meet up with Tarik and have a chat with him. First we looked at the exhibition, which is thoughtfully curated and well put together. One cannot help, but to get goose bumps from this shocking piece of Bosnian history. Yet, some of Tarik’s photographs transport an alluring poetry and lightness — but reviewing the entire exhibition is vigorous and emotional. It is now on permanent display as a constant “memorial” for all visitors and its population.
When I meet Bojan at the Academy of Fine Arts, we look at the some the student’s work displayed and he discloses: “The young generation is more creative than we were, there’s great output here, but they need to elevate their creative language in order to survive on the market; and at the same time not selling out to callous commercial work that is solely abusing their talent.” One of those very accomplished people is Anja Zatric, who is a former student of Bojan. Anja and Bojan have been collaborating on various projects. Her core focus is to mapping the urban fabric away from a “grey and dull zone as Anja explains: ”Sarajevo is creatively hyperactive, but visually a monotonous city that’s struggling for its identity. The Urban Calendar for the City of Sarajevo is a public art project of Zatric, consisting of 12 ideas carefully integrated into urban fabric. The Urban Calendar is an art piece that is not for sale. It is an attempt for the city to gain a contemporary image and seeking a discourse of exchange with its citizens.
Another “creator” of importance in Sarajevo is Nina Masina: A vastly talented illustrator, graphic artist and font designer and in each of those categories Nina has been stirring quite some buzz. Whether she designs the latest cover for novels in the league of Khaled Hosseini, Orhan Pamuk or Paulo Coelho, or designs for magazines and commercial clients — her signature style has crossed far beyond the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lately, Nina has stepped into a new venture and that is the «Sarajevo Dingbat Font». She analysed and first photographed the objects, buildings and architecture in Sarajevo that she particularly liked. For every letter; she has created a symbol that represents an iconic piece of history in Sarajevo. The project has gotten such massive attention that the Dingbats are now being produced as tote bags, posters, postcards, refrigerator magnets — the list is endless. Nonetheless, Nina is not exactly able to retire on the money she earns. She lives in a cute, but humble little one bedroom apartment with all the very few tools that she works with. Lately she has started to sew quite a lot in order to make prototypes of bags, pillows and purses. While many artists in that discipline have completely moved to digital, a lot of Nina’s work is truly handmade and boosts her very own signature style, which has received international attention.
Nina’s work is colour- and playful, yet her brushstroke’s are sophisticated and transport a fragile quality with a well thought out colour range that is never screaming or looking for attention, because the drawings and illustrations speak for themselves.
She is well aware of the city’s recent past, but she points out that manifesting the war repeatedly in art pieces is getting old: “There are other great topics within the city besides the war that creatives can identify with.”
In 2007 Bojan Kanlic won a contest together with his classmates Adnan Alagic and Amila Hrustic to have their design of a bridge being realized. At the time, they were three product design students at the Academy of Fine arts and competed against reputable design studios and architecture firms: “When we won the contest it was like a shock and at first people were laughing, because they were thinking that we are just kids.” That was in 2007; some five years later the project actually turned into reality and got realized. "The basic idea of the bridge is the union of the secular and spiritual," explain the designers, noting that the academy was formerly a church. "The loop on the bridge acts as a symbolic gate."
That’s 38 meters crossing the river — the construction was pre-fabricated and then finished on the spot. The “Festina Lente” bridge consists of a steel and aluminium construction and in the looping part you can sit and have a rest and it is equipped with sophisticated LED lights. Bojan reveals: “Before there was no way to cross the river, you had to walk all the way to the other end. Now, this acts as a connecting link.” While I visit the bridge a few times during my stay in Sarajevo, it is heavily frequented by families, tourists, students going to the Academy or people just wanting to see one of the nicest «little» attractions in Sarajevo.
In my opinion, this bridge stands for much more than an architectonic sensation that can be credited to three students that were at the tender age of twenty something when they won the contest. It is a manifestation of a new and modern Sarajevo, one that has conquered the wounds of war, one that is looking forward and apparently remains welcoming to the unaccustomed. After all, this city needs a break and deserves more «micro-interventions» such as the Festina Lente bridge. What Sarajevo really needs is not another ultra modern mall or more skyscrapers; it urges more quality public space at no cost to the citizen. There is green space, there are gardens, there are buildings that can be re-used or transformed for new playgrounds and innovations, most of it is already there, now it demands more individuals like the ones we featured in this issue that stand up and fight for their city, people that care for the long run and don’t’ take no for an answer.