East European art scenes have long invited mostly negative comparisons with their West European counterparts. During the Cold War era, external perceptions often blurred the many differences between state socialisms and their related cultural fields. For their part, local artists and art historians in the countries of Eastern Europe criticized such homogenizing accounts, pointing instead to the many, and wide-ranging, Western connections of individual artists or artist groups with the West, as well as their distance from so-called official art. Another question was also rarely asked: whether there was any dialogue between artists working in different state-socialist societies of Eastern … Read more
Category: ARTMargins Online: Special Issue
In 1978, Nick Waterlow, the artistic director of the third Sydney Biennale, “European Dialogue,” visited Budapest and agreed with the Hungarian art historian, László Beke that he would put together an informative exhibition of documents and original works covering the activities of several Hungarian artists. Beke, who was by then an internationally renowned advocate of East European Conceptualisms accepted this task but avoided the burdensome role of a national consultant by involving artists not only from Hungary but also from four other socialist countries. As he stated in the catalogue, he did not attempt to make an objective representation of … Read more
The following roundtable was convened online on November 18, 2022, in conjunction with ARTMargins Online’s current special issue on Art and Solidarity. AMO’s editorial collective invited a panel of East European artists, theorists, and curators (Suzana Milevska, Olga Kopenkina, Dmitry Vilensky, Rena Raedle and Vladan Jeremic) who all have consistently engaged with the dilemmas of defining and practicing artistic solidarity. We asked participants to examine the forms and interpretations of solidarity they find the most effective, why expressions of international solidarity often fail, and what lessons the legacy of socialist internationalism may have for us today.
The online conversation moderated … Read more
The fourteenth edition of the nomadic European biennial Manifesta took place in Prishtina, Kosovo, from July 22 to October 30, 2022. The biennial included 25 exhibition venues in an urban parcours throughout the city, ranging from (dilapidated) historic monuments and institutions to public squares, abandoned buildings, and unused or unexpected urban spaces. Four of these venues have been declared “major pillars,” namely the Grand Hotel Prishtina, The Center for Narrative Practices (a former library), an abandoned brick factory on the outskirts of the city, and the so-called Green Corridor, an unused train track that has been transformed into a walking … Read more
Equating all types of work and workers in his writing, Edvard Kardelj, one of the main ideators of the Yugoslav workers’ self-management system, set the scene for the understanding of the role of artists in Yugoslav society.(Edvard Kardelj, Pravci razvoja političkog sistema socijalističkog samoupravljanja (Beograd: Komunist, 1978), p. 25.) The idea of class solidarity and the equal value of work—regardless of it being intellectual or physical—was embraced, and many initiatives followed this idea, such as the art program at the Ironworks complex in Sisak, in present-day Croatia, where workers assisted artists, and collaborated with them in the creation … Read more
“I Refuse to Accept This State of Affairs”: An Interview with the International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War in Ukraine
While Russia aggressively wages a major war in Ukraine, how can contemporary art help launch an antiwar movement worldwide? At a time when art workers in the post-Soviet region are more ethnically divided than ever, the International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War in Ukraine demonstrates a unique ability to unite around a platform for promoting antiwar and anti-colonial messages. Initially intended as an alternative Belarusian pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, this digital platform quickly evolved to include and showcase antiwar artwork from a broad spectrum of countries including Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Germany, … Read more
Introduction to the Special Issue
The articles and interviews contained in this ARTMargins Online Special Issue address a wide range of approaches to artistic solidarity, some motivated explicitly by historical precedents and others by specific conditions of the present. They explore artistic projects, online platforms, curatorial approaches, and activist stances, presenting a diverse array of perspectives on what it can mean to stand with each other, even when we are apart—sharing common strategies and common visions, in search of a common future.
The special issue brings together voices from throughout the artworld to explore the ways artists, cultural workers, and … Read more
In March 2022, the General Assembly of Budapest announced the winning team of the juried competition for the public memorial, Memory of Rape in Wartimes: Women as Victims of Sexual Violence, a unique memorial project that aims to address the difficult history of violence against women during wartime. The winning proposal, Memory of Rape in Wartimes, by Slovakian-Hungarian artist Ilona Németh, architect Gabi Mészáros, and poet Anikó N. Tóth, is to be realized in 2023. Hedvig Turai recently spoke with Ilona Németh about their project.
Hedvig Turai: To set up a memorial to wartime victims of rape is … Read more
“The grave is better than not knowing”: this is how Kumrije Jahmurataj expressed her sorrow while anxiously awaiting news of her missing husband, Smajli, who to this day remains unaccounted for after the 1998-99 Kosovo War. Jahmurataj was interviewed as part of research conducted by The Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo (HLC Kosovo), a non-profit organization that was first established during the social upheaval of 1997, before the war began. In the post-war context, HLC Kosovo has played a key role in
Banja Luka-based artist Mladen Miljanović has had a long-standing interest in monuments and practices of remembering, from his The Garden of Delights (2013), an installation that emulates tombstone engravings created for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, to his Draft for a 20 Minute Monument (2019), in which nine disabled men and war veterans sit for 20 minutes on a discarded pile of stones. This conversation, part of our Special Issue on Contemporary Approaches to Monuments in Central and Eastern Europe, was occasioned by his upcoming exhibition Realtime Monument at Budapest acb Gallery (March … Read more
Invocation Trilogy – A Conversation on Monumentality, Language, and the Past with Miška Mandić and Kuba Dorabialski
Kuba Dorabialski’s film series Invocation Trilogy stitches together an unlikely constellation of encounters and mythologies centered around the Eastern European Socialist project. Narrated in a fictional Slavic language invented by Dorabialski, the trilogy plays with truth, fabrication, and legibility as it unpacks histories and memories of Eastern Europe from the insider/outsider migrant perspective. In this interview, artist and filmmaker Miška Mandić speaks with Dorabialski about this work and his practice.
Miška Mandić: The Invocation Trilogy is a series of three video works made between 2017 and 2021, each with a bigger scope than the last. Rather than a sense … Read more
How can we, in the middle of a heated debate around public monuments as highly visible and dominant bearers of history around the world, perceive the more layered and subtle aspects of commemorative practice? Reflection on anti-, counter- and performative monuments has not abated, but been absorbed in the current worldwide struggle to remove, replace, and otherwise neutralize monuments spatializing unjust power. That is all to the good, as long as we don’t forget that monuments, and artists, can do things that bear witness against impossible odds—and without erecting anything permanent. In this essay I look at several iterations of … Read more
A new memorial project in Budapest, Memory of Rape in Wartimes: Women as Victims of Sexual Violence, will commemorate female victims of wartime rape, while establishing a culture of dialogue around rape and violence in Hungarian society and the region. Initiated by the General Assembly of Budapest in January 2020 and to be completed in 2023, the project goes against the grain of the practices of the current Hungarian government’s illiberal system of erecting nationalist monuments and statues without public input, through an open, democratic process that includes artists, historians, scholars, an international jury, and representatives from public institutions. … Read more
This interview focuses on the film Otranto (2019–2020), created by the artist collective Latent Community (Ionian Bisai and Sotiris Tsiganos). Otranto explores a relatively unknown tragedy: the story of the refugee ship Katër i Radës. The ship departed from the Albanian port city of Vlora, carrying 120 people fleeing the violence that had engulfed the country following the massive collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997. On March 28, 1997, the Italian navy warship Sibilla—acting in accordance with an Italian blockade of Albania to prevent refugees from entering the country—intercepted, rammed, and sunk the Katër i Radës in the strait of … Read more
ŠTO TE NEMA (Where have you been?) by Bosnian-born artist Aida Šehović is an annual nomadic monument to the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide that has traveled internationally to 15 different cities from 2006 to 2020. This participatory public monument, consisting of more than 8,372 fildžani (small porcelain coffee cups) that have been collected and donated by Bosnian families from all over the world, addresses issues of trauma, healing, and remembrance. The first in a series of articles that make up our Special Issue Contemporary Approaches to Monuments in Central and Eastern Europe, this interview is occasioned by Šehović’s
Introduction to Special Issue
What new practices of commemoration, and what new kinds of memory, do contemporary monuments make possible? What can contemporary art do to help us remember, and what does it mean to make a monument in today’s conditions? This Special Issue highlights a broad range of contemporary practices devoted to alternative forms of commemoration and the problems posed by monumentality within present-day Central and Eastern Europe and its diaspora. Such practices include documentary projects, performances, and interventions that occupy the post-socialist public sphere, as well as works that explore the fraught legacies of socialist-era monuments and subsequent … Read more
Ines Johnson-Spain (dir.), Becoming Black (2019), Film.
Becoming Black(Becoming Black, by independent filmmaker Ines Johnson-Spain, is a Kobalt Documentary production that premiered in 2019 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Since then, it has been screened at several international film festivals and received the 2020 Best Diaspora Documentary from the Africa Movie Academy.) opens with a picturesque view of waves crashing on the Togolese shore. Off-camera, the first-person narrator recalls being a ten-year-old girl in an East Berlin apartment with her mother, who recounts a story to her as if she is divulging a secret. It … Read more
Race is a social construct based on images of “otherness.” In Eastern Europe, where self–identification relies on “whiteness”(See also: “Historicizing ‘Whiteness’ in Eastern Europe and Russia,” Socialism Goes Global, last modified June 26, 2010, http://socialismgoesglobal.exeter.ac.uk/conferences/.) as a construct, systemic racism along color–codes has been, and still is, experienced as irrelevant, “far away,” and without any actual real impact on society.(Ian Lew, Nikolay Zakharov, “Race and Racism in Eastern Europe: Becoming White, Becoming Western,” in Relating Worlds of Racism. Dehumanisation, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness, eds. Philomena Essed, Karen Farquharson, Kathryn Pillay, Elisa Joy White, … Read more
The documentary film Black and White (1968) begins with a scene in which a small child marvels at the skin color of an adult African. The child asks: “Are you really so dirty?”, and concludes with the words, “You’re black. What’s your name?” The little girl is curious and in her ignorance she symbolizes the protagonist of the film – Czechoslovak society confronted with the racialized other. The voiceover in the film speaks on behalf of Czechoslovak society. However, the creator of this documentary is not a Czechoslovak citizen, but Krishna Viswanath. Born in Calcutta, Viswanath studied at university in … Read more
This essay showcases the different strategies of representing race and ethnicity deployed by five Polish artists in relatively recent solo shows. The theme of race was central to some of the shows, while it appeared more marginal in others. Representing race turned out to be complicated by the viewing context, including the location and the medium in which the work was exhibited.
There are two major ways that ethnicity and race play a part in Polish history and in present-day Poland. One is the historically strong Jewish presence, which ended with the Shoah. Additionally, after the war ended, mass emigration … Read more
In this interview, artist Yevgeniy Fiks speaks with art historian and curator Ksenia Nouril about The Wayland Rudd Collection, the artist’s ongoing project that brings together a wide range of Soviet images depicting Africans and African Americans. Established as a collaborative project that incorporates contemporary interventions, the Rudd Collection nuances what is typically projected as a monolithic Soviet culture while also enhancing our understanding of race in and beyond contemporary Russian society.
Ksenia Nouril: What is The Wayland Rudd Collection?
Yevgeniy Fiks: The Wayland Rudd Collection is a participatory, conceptual art project at the center of which is … Read more
Introduction to the Special Issue
This special issue gathers scholars, artists, and critics who examine the relationship between art and race in a region not commonly associated with that issue – Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the investigations presented here are recovery projects, efforts to pay close attention to artistic narratives and works that received little attention in their own time or have been forgotten with the passage of time. These authors ask how contemporary artists have understood racial categories, and how race makes itself visible in artworks and films. The impetus of our special issue was provided by, … Read more
Introduction to the Special Issue
In recent decades, the history and criticism of Western contemporary art has turned its attention to art institutions and their curatorial and administrative practices. This attention derives, in part, from the rise of institutional critique as an almost ubiquitous artistic strategy, and from the corollary realization that institutions—including museums, galleries, heritage associations, membership organizations, nomadic biennials, funding entities, arts and culture nonprofits—play a key role in establishing the social spheres in which diverse audiences encounter contemporary art. If we consider Eastern Europe during the Cold War era, there is one type of institution that played … Read more
During the establishment of the new socialist regime in Romania, “in order for visual artists to be it was felt necessary to create a new form of organization, a new organism that [would] become an active factor in the work of culturalization of the masses, and for the development of creation.”(“Introductory remarks for the future Country Conference of the Romanian Artists’ Union (UAP) of the Romanian Popular Republic (RPR),” File 1/1950, Fund UAP, The Central National Archives of Romania (ANIC), f. 1.) This article is an adaptation of part of a forthcoming book about the role of the … Read more
“Criticism Should Open Up Horizons for the Future”: The Albanian Union of Writers and Artists and the Status of Art Criticism in the People’s Republic of Albania
This article presents part of the history of the Union of Writers and Artists—the official organ devoted to literature and the fine arts in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania—and examines (in an incomplete way, of course) the contours of art criticism produced in accordance with official doctrine in Albania, especially in the 1970s decade. Like much Socialist Realist criticism, the output of the Union of Writers and Artists was frequently formulaic, but it also offered a field for artists working beyond the visual (and the union’s critics were almost invariably also practicing artists) to navigate Albanian art’s place vis-à-vis … Read more
During the past decade, contemporary artists in Central and Eastern Europe have renewed their interest in Artists’ Unions, and have begun to self-organize.(This article is based on a study by Johana Lomová and Karel Šima, “Sjezd Svazu československých výtvarných umělců v roce 1964. Poznámky k úspěšnosti performance,” (The Conference of the SČSVU in 1964. Notes on the Success of One Performance) in Umění a revoluce (Art and Revolution), ed. Johana Lomová and Jindřich Vybíral (Praha: UMPRUM 2017), 512–545.) After years of what scholar Piotr Piotrowski termed “anti-communism,”(Piotr Piotrowski, Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe (London: … Read more
Money and Morals Then and Now
While at first glance the Artists’ Unions seem to be fossils of Eastern Europe’s state-socialist past, in fact they are still living with us, in several ways. First of all, they persist in the dream of a political utopia: after the short belle époque of welfare states, the current precarization of the cultural sector—especially affected by the COVID-19 crisis—provokes debates on the possibility of cultural workers’ unionization even in Eastern Europe. Secondly, while new institutions emerged after the political transition of 1989, the Artists’ Unions did not completely lose their importance as integrators of … Read more