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‘Living Museum’ Unites Memories in Divided Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

In a city where history itself has become a battleground, ‘Re-collecting Mostar’ strives to create an open archive, enabling people to remember what the city was and could be again.


Faced with a lack of jobs in museums, or even of museums, a group of young people on Mostar in southwest Bosnia have come up with an original solution: create your own museum.

Abart, an art production group set up by Mela Zuljevic, Amila Puzic and Anja Bogojevic started out with a project called Festival of Art in Divided Cities in 2009. Their latest project, (Re)collecting Mostar, is their most ambitious to date.

The goal of the project, supported through the UNDP Millennium Development Goals Fund programme “Culture for Development”, is to create an open archive, acting as a form of living depot of public memories of the city.

“Since division has become a metaphor for Mostar, we considered it necessary to take on the issue of public space in a direct and provocative way,” project coordinator Zuljevic told Balkan Insight.

The project involves a series of exhibitions, lectures, and workshops, culminating in “Urban Imaginarij“ / “Urban Imagination“, an exhibition in which the public has a chance to access the archive of “unwritten history” of Mostar.

The members of Abart view themselves as artists and curators who represent a direct reaction to what they see in society.

“Young people in the country can explore and achieve their potential, not only by working towards their own goals but by recognizing the responsibility of each individual to participate in the creation of an autonomous society,” said Bogojevic, who is a curator for Abart along with Puzic.

An important component of the project has been training students to take on the role of researchers and city archivists.

Dijana Kresic, a student of art and archaeology at the University of Mostar, researched the Rudnik neighbourhood in Mostar as a participant.

“I wanted to know more about my city,” she said. “Since I’m from the younger generation, I don’t know what Mostar was like before the war, what people were like, their mentality, where the main meeting points were.”

The idea is that the student themselves become mobile living archives, carrying their new-found knowledge of Mostar into all parts of the city.

“It was a two-way process, as we were also able to learn from the students, and work side by side with them in mapping, collecting and in the assembling processes,” added Puzic, who, like Bogojevic, is a university teaching assistant. (Puzic teaches at Dzemal Bjedic University in Mostar and Bogojevic at the Sarajevo Academy of Art.)

Abart sees its work as a way to envision society as it could be, not ignoring the serious problems now facing the cultural sector, but actively seeking to overcome them.

“It would be much easier for us to develop and realize cultural activities if there was a better legislative framework. On the other hand, our work can be thought of as a process of creating cultural policies in itself,” said Zuljevic.

Abart is housed in Youth Cultural Center Abrasevic, which is itself a historic pre-war icon of Mostar.

For Dijana, “OKC Abrasevic represents a place where young people can make positive changes to their city with their own ideas.”

Cultural institutions in Mostar are mostly divided along ethnic lines, comments Bogojevic for Abart, “so we found it particularly motivating to create a space of our own for arts and culture.”

Puzic explained how the project crossed virtual barriers through interactive social networks such as Facebook and Youtube.

“Through social networks, we were able to draw on the memories of Mostarians who no long live in the city but who still feel like citizens,” she said.

The archive exhibition was on temporary display at Youth Cultural Center Abrasevic in Mostar last month. It is now seeking a more permanent home. For now, the works and essays can be viewed at their website www.abart.ba.