One month before the “Occupy” protests began in New York, artist Damir Niksic decided to occupy the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, pissed because the authorities announced its closing. We decided to contact Damir to see how it’s going with the occupation, as well as to support his mission
Damir is still there, in the now defunct gallery, where he holds lectures, speeches and interviews with various artists, discussing the state of art and culture in the country, but also many other problems Bosnia is facing. He set up a YouTube channel where he posts a videocast every day. So far the channel has got 63 entries (and counting), one for each day he spent in the occupied gallery. Also, because there is no Ministry of Culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, only the regional ministries, Damir took over the role of ‘Mini Star (eng: minister) for culture’.
You started the occupation before the Occupy Wall Street protests. How did that happen?
On the 26th of August, after it was announced that the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be closed for public, we scheduled a protest via Facebook in front of the gallery. We came to support the people who worked there and their decision to try and point out to the alarming condition the Bosnian cultural institutions are in. On that same day in a show on Radio Sarajevo, I suggested we should occupy the gallery. Us, artists. That evening, we entered the gallery, set up the speakers, played some music from the balcony and I declared the occupation. The gallery was officially closed later, on September 1st, and I started my daily report on September 6th. Later that month, Wall Street was occupied too.
How is it going with the occupation so far? Is it getting any attention?
Not only did the occupation help putting a focus on the problem, but it also helped people understand the problem from the right perspective. The state apparatus is now completely alienated from the citizens with “special” needs, such as the needs we have when it comes to culture, art, information and common sense.
It also helped us realise that we have no state, which also means that the state no longer should have us. An artist who creates any success abroad is automatically labeled as “Bosnian and Herzegovina artist” even though that very Bosnia and Herzegovina did not participate in the artist’s education, or the production of his work, anything, it didn’t participate in it with a single dime. We need to put an end to that.
Contemporary artists should distance themselves from such a government, from the Jim Crow constitution, segregationist and racist as it is right now. We need to distance ourselves from the state, like real dissidents, to become state’s critics, to criticize it’s dysfunctional apparatus, as well as the international community itself and all the other involved in this farce called Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We need to treat this state as a bastard, because it distances itself from us and behaves like an evil stepmother. It is important to produce a reversed patriotism – a patriotism that will despise Bosnia and Herzegovina the way it is right now, and mock it internationally. A patriotism that will despise Bosnia and Herzegovina fully and completely. Such activity is necessary, because the patriotism that wants to preserve Bosnia and Herzegovina such as it is right now is by definition, wrong and futile.
The very moment any Bosnian citizen does anything stupid abroad, for example shoots at the embassy or something – suddenly there is a discussion about international affairs, relations between entire administrations, historical relations, etc. I am truly jealous of the power that comes out of such an idiotic act, power in international relations, in media – as opposed to decades of work and trying.
This happens because we don’t respect hard work. There is a general state of despair and laziness. Man who is not used to working – he doesn’t know how much work, besides knowledge and talent, is necessary to achieve anything. Lazy people and frauds… That’s why we have such a distorted system of values today.
Do you think your act of occupation can change that?
It is important to exchange the ideas, attitudes, opinions, and I do that everyday. I publish my own ideas just like I did so far, only now I do it from the Art Gallery itself. The reactions are mostly positive, even though the process is still in development, and the process is what matters the most. We know what we don’t like, what we don’t want, we also know what we like and want. Now we are still searching for the road, the right way of expression, and in art, that’s the key task. Art is not only “what”, but mostly “how”.
*More info: www.damirniksic.com