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21st Red Dawns: Đejmi Hadrović – Unveiling the Silence

Authors: Ana Grobler, Eva Jus, Tamara Klavžar.

The 21st edition of The Feminist and Queer Festival Red Dawns will be opened with a solo exhibition of a young artist Đejmi Hadrović, who, in her artistic practice, addresses feminist topics inside a specific post-Yugoslav space and time, with references to the recent history. The artist ‘holds a strong position in the contemporary generation of Slovene artists, her work indirectly refers to capitalism, to the relationship between work and capital, and to patriarchal social structures.’ [1] Through the media of video, photography, and performance, she insightfully and consistently tackles the questions of gender, multifacetedness of identity, migration, and discrimination based on religion and ethnicity, and with a sharp view, conveys a complex critique of the society.

Feminist engagement in Đejmi Hadrović’s artwork quite evidently refers to a strong artistic tradition of now already established feminist artists from ex-Yugoslav republics and their crudely straightforward and harrowing works. We can draw parallels between Šejla Kamerić’s (1976) artwork, especially her shocking Bosnian Girl, [2] and  Đejmi Hadrović’s Apartment 102 (2019), [3]  which thematises brutal physical violence of Yugoslav wars, the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, and systematic rapes (as a despicable ethnocide’s and religiocide’s strategy), and exposes the problematics of Western, colonially coloured view of the Balkans. The starting point of both works is autoportrait; what they also have in common is their black and white technique (at the start). The video asks questions about the experience of trauma and takes us into a complex field of transgenerational collective trauma caused by war violence in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Đejmi Hadrović enters the field with an empathic standpoint: she ventures into the centre of the trauma and clearly positions herself as a subject who was affected by war horrors personally, albeit indirectly.

In the video, the author’s face is layered with questions of uncertainty, shame, fear, humiliation, and violence. Public proceedings of collective trauma usually deal with its experience, rather than with perpetrators of violence, whereas Apartment 102 does not stop at re-experiencing trauma. In the moment when questions culminate into Do you wish you didn’t survive?, the black-and-white film changes into a coloured one, the sound of whirr appears, and the artist answers the question from the beginning of the film: To stay silent or to speak? The author adopts a strong standpoint that violence is unacceptable, she empowers victims and directs her attention to the perpetrators of violence. In this way, she cuts into the continuity delineated by trauma. The double view of the problematics is strengthened also with the play with the role of the gaze – at the end, the video reveals the person behind the lenses, which can be understood as a symbol of the viewer who can actively participate in both the execution of violence and the prevention of it. In this manner, the artist warns us about the danger of a narrow view that is focusing only on the violence itself without questioning the position of the observer and viewer.

Apartment 102 was created as a result of anxiety relating to the contemplation on the unpredictability and incomprehensibility of human nature, which seemingly can force anyone to commit gruesome acts under extreme circumstances. The video thus acquires the look of a historical document helping us to see the pores through which traumatic experiences are inscribed into collective history. Meanwhile, it connects us with the implications of the past, which have become ingrained in the spirit of the age, and faces us with the ahistorical moment that opens the timeless question about the ontology of evil.

The artist’s deliberation on the topic is pouring into her installation Unveiling the Silence (2020), which also touches upon war crimes in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Even more than in her aforementioned work, Hadrović establishes a very intimate communication with the viewer, who can see the contents of the work only with the help of a UV lamp, which outlines the names of the accused of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Haag. In this way, the artist additionally draws attention to individual names hiding behind mass crimes of institutions, and, simultaneously, warns about the absence of female voices in recognized narratives of the recent history of the Western Balkans. The work underlines the invisibility and absence of women in the dominant discourse. The official history writes about the dead – predominantly men, criminals, those in power. The female perspective and historical memory have no space of their own in it; rather, they reside in the oral tradition and experienced consequences of war, somewhere on the margins, in threatening absence, under the veil of mystery.

In the foreground of the majority of the artist’s work is situated the appropriation of abused (ethical, religious, and other) symbols and subversion of their enforced negative meanings as well as the emancipation of the position of the Other. This becomes obvious already at the first visit of her webpage, where a skilful calligraphy initial of her name – Đ., welcomes us. The letter, which was, besides soft ć, the base and reason for nationalistic hatred in Slovene space, especially after the independence, the artist puts on the pedestal, appropriates it, and empowers everyone in connection to it. Her photographic series Zahida Is a Feminist (2016) works in a similar way. The series questions western feminisms and activist feminisms, and explores what feminism can be at the intersection of religion, ethnicity, and the relationship between “progressive” West and “undeveloped” East or the Balkans.

The artist warns us that predominant approaches of western feminisms, which won an authoritative position on the colonialist and neoliberal bases, are segregating themes that are not western, therefore they cannot be universal; alongside them, on an equal footing, she puts engaged approaches of her grandmother, Zahida. Đejmi Hadrović’s works show that the past and present emancipatory practices of Balkan women were and, doubtlessly, are feminist, despite the fact that western ideological practices see and show the Balkans as patriarchal, traditional, provincial, undeveloped, mystical, exotic, and horrifying.

[1]  Marina Gržinić, Đejmi Hadrović: The Depiction of the Convulsion of Postsocialist Turbocapitalism in Slovenia, a solo exhibition, June 2019, Worker’s Home Trbovlje, Trbovlje, 2019.

[2]  Seila Rizvic, What Does a Victim Look Like? An Interview with Šejla Kamerić on the Legacy of “Bosnian Girl” at: https://balkanist.net/what-does-a-victim-look-like-sejla-kameric/

[3] The video pays homage to the activists Jadranka Cigelj and Nusreta Sivac and others who survived the concentration camp in Omarska, Bosnia and Hercegovina. The title of the video is a literal summary of the title of Jadranka Cigelj’s book, in which she writes about crimes committed in concentration camps in the area of Prijedor, Bosnia, and Hercegovina.


Đejmi Hadrović Human and Its Disintegration in Contemporary Society

“Mr Locke, there are perfectly satisfactory answers to all your questions, but I know you don’t understand how little you can learn from them. Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers will reveal about me.” Interview clip from The Passenger 1975, Michelangelo Antonioni, UK.  

A scientific abstract can be perceived as a realm in which an author is expected to compress up all academic ballast produced so far that hardly anyone will read it. It becomes a space that looks like an advertisement in a TV commercial, where you have only five seconds to convince your audience that the next few paragraphs are those they wish to devote half an hour of their existence. Presumably, what you will read in the following lines will not change your life drastically but I can assure you will need to fasten your seat belt and get ready because it’s going to be a hell of a journey, or more likely a ride with a bike. No, in fact as we say in Bosnia, you will go on foot!

The text in front of your eyes is supposed to talk about the latest work made by Jusuf Hadžifejzović, titled  »Museum of Discarded Objects 2019« at Charlama Depot in Sarajevo. Although the author of this text is not entirely sure if the written text is a linguistic depiction of his work per se or if it is rather about how the author of this article perceives Jusuf’s artwork. Whether the author of this text exists or not, whether he/she is dead as Roland Barthes would say or if the writing subject constantly disappears as Foucault would phrase it, the author of this text does not know it either. Maybe this text was written by Slavenka Drakulić, or dead souls lying on someone’s bookshelves. Perhaps we would agree with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, that one has no thoughts of their own, but only an accumulation of all societal constructs. But, when I saw the exhibition of the Museum of Discarded Objects by Hadžifejzović, only one thing was certain: the sentiments of melancholy provoked by the art piece were mine!

The exhibition consists of objects and items collected in a longue durée process that has been discarded, left behind, forgotten, or put away as the artist himself would claim. The second part was bequeathed to Jusuf by his friends, colleagues, and visitors to the Charlama Depot Gallery, whom he invited to contribute things that are no longer of use to them. In a presentation of his work moderated by Prof. Dr. Marina Gržinić at a recent conference titled CRITICAL INVENTORY – Towards a Methodology of Contemporary Art History, conceived by Noit Banai and Gregor Pirgie in Vienna, Hadžifejzović denoted this aspect as follows: “There are donors who have brought things that remind them of bad memories, remind them of people and events, and there are others who wanted to show objects from the past that they are proud of since they link them to a better period of life.”  

Following the turmoil of the ’90s that led to Yugoslav’s dissolution entailed a transition from Communism to Capitalism which subsequently induced the proliferation of a brutal new era best described as turbo-capitalism and turbo-fascism, that were actualized by the highest political instances and »their« state apparatus.

Commodity fetishism indicates the state of social relations in capitalist market systems. Social relations are managed by goods; people are connected through goods. People only see things, in terms of goods that can be bought, goods provided by capitalism. Humans nowadays no longer crave for tranquillity, empathy or meeting of minds, but prefer the latest version of I-Phones and expensive cars. We are dominated by the products we buy. It is essential to recognize that, as a result, relations between people have been alienated, and people are putting goods inbetween mutual relations. Eric Fromm has magnificently outlined in passages: »Modern man’s happiness consists in the thrill of looking at the shop windows, and in buying all that he can afford to buy, either for cash or installments. In a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and in which material success is the outstanding value. «

We can withstand low aesthetic standards, which is why we encounter kitsch as one of the distinctive faces of capitalist culture, an environment characterized by the rapid rise of consumerism and the commercial system of social intervention. The main purpose of the so-called cultural machinery is instant momentum, which as a consequence quickly turns into boredom. The cultural industry fights against the thinking subject – the subject legitimizes the existing position and does not resist. The aim is to preserve the collective status quo and the apathetic nature of the individual, to avoid any encounter for social agitation that could inspire better social order.

Kitsch suggests a poor or less quality of products, which makes previously expensive goods commercially available in favor of quantity. Commodities represent an escape from the banality of mundane routine, so people’s need is based on boredom and encourages the consumption of rapidly satisfying products.

Turbo – capitalist society fetishizes the disposable, which means the frequent occurrence and replacement of various standardized forms where the market is filled with repetitions. The society of the “spectacle” subconsciously negates everything that borders with avant-garde and skepticism to current socio-political issues.

Jusuf Hadžifejzović in his latest masterpiece Museum of Discarded Objects creates an unexpected twist of the narrative where dramaturgy remains classic but the suspense is omnipresent in the instance you enter the gallery room and stumble upon the mise-en-scene. Hadžifejzović brilliantly breaks with the existing academic underestimation of the masses in different tastes, styles, and attitudes as something that is predestined to a low and inferior status not only in aesthetics but also in the social sense. As Raymond Williams separates the divisiveness between the social exclusivity of high cultures and cultures as a whole way of life: “Culture is not elite – as one that is separate from ordinary people…”

All in all, Hadžifejzović is a new Sarajevian epitome for a bricoleur. The French word bricolage denotes the hobby of a home-maker who, through ingenuity, improvisation, and commitment, solves the problems that arise in his daily life. The work is a contingent result of all the random occasions on which the stock could be restored, enriched, or preserved through the remnants of the previous assemblies. It is defined by the fact that the elements are collected and preserved following the principle that »this will come in handy.«

»I wonder if the viewer has the feeling that  he/she  becomes a part of the exhibition in a way that he/she becomes a discarded, disposed subject in a museum of discarded objects?« [1]

LITERATURE:

Fromm, Eric, The Art of Loving, New York: Harper and Row, 1956.

Williams, Raymond, Culture is Ordinary, 1958. Cultural theory: an anthology (2011):53-59.

Papić, Žarana, “Europe after 1989: ethnic wars, the fascisation of social life and body politics in Serbia “, Filozofski vestnik, Special Issue The body, Marina Gržinić (Ed), Ljubljana: Institute of Philosophy, ZRC SAZU: 191-205, 2002.

FILMOGRAPHY:

The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni, UK, 1975.

[1] Robert Jolly, a colleague of Đejmi Hadrović, Whatsapp conversation, 2019.


Tijana Mišković on Zahida Is A Feminist

This artwork made me think about an article in which philosopher Rada Ivekovic explains that it is impossible to analyse what is the nation and the national without involving the notion of gender differences. Rada Ivekovic argued that a feminist approach is absolutely unavoidable when trying to understand the national constructions because the nation is initially based on the difference between the sexes, and then on a particular hierarchy between them. The gender difference is the oldest known difference in humans. It does not automatically result in social inequality, but historically it has gone that way. The difference creates a ranking, with the man at the forefront. This hierarchy is so fundamental that it is often overlooked. It is then considered natural and necessary and justifies all other types of hierarchy, be it between races, classes, religions, or nations.

Also, we linguistically connect the nation to a woman: Nation means birth. The idea of a nation is about maintaining an identity and about maintaining a single lineage/stock, as pure as possible, and creating a lineage/stock that happens in the relationship between the two genders. Even though this is how the nation is imagined on a symbolic plane, this is also the way it functions in reality: Territory is considered the mother body to be defended. The woman is the nation, in a very essential and material way: Her body is the nation. This is also why there have always been rapes in wars, including mass rapes. In the mass rape, the woman is not considered an individual at all – she is only a body. Thus, women become mere tools for passing on a message from one group of men to another group of men. It is as if saying: Look what we do to your women, what we do at your borders, what we do to your lineage. The notions of borders, nation, and gender are very interconnected.

Regarding primitive communities, Rada Ivekovic said that it does not only happen in countries such as Yugoslavia where communism broke down. (free translation)

“It has to do with globalization, which, on the one hand, creates large communities like Europe, but at the same time destroys otherwise coherent systems.” “The great binary system from the time of the Cold War had collapsed, and we went back to other ‘communities’ because there was no longer a superior body that people could relate to. It is the great bankruptcy of modernity – and here I regard communism and capitalism as two figures of modernity – when they collapse, there are no politically conscious subjects that can take over immediately.” “At such a time, one is reaching for what is ‘at hand’, and these are far more primitive ‘communities’, which is not at all the same as a developed political community. Here, nationalists have free leeway, with their fantasies of a common origin and promises of a common nation. It quickly creates an identity – an identity that excludes the others.”

“They are aggressive; we just defend ourselves.” “Violence against others always starts with such a defensive language. In a matter of weeks, the common identity no longer prevailed; the universal collapsed. It was the whole patriarchal system set in motion at once. It would never have proceeded so quickly to establish these nationalisms, if not with exactly the same structure as with the patriarchy.” “It was also seen by how easily the Western countries recognized the new nations … The West reacted in an anti-communist logic, did not believe that the Communists could be retrained, and supported the nationalists because it was precisely a structure they could recognize.”

The nationalists immediately approached the women, especially in the beginning when speaking to the ‘people’, and the ‘people’ and the ‘nation’ are the same words in the Slavic languages. ‘Those who are born’  thus established the connection with the mother. Although the communists did not, they still had abstract similarities in mind. “When nationalists came to power, the first thing they did was send women back the pots and steal their basic rights, both the right to work and the right to the body (the nationalists do everything to ban abortions). The nationalists were by no means democratic that was seen in Croatia and in Serbia, and the national structure made it very difficult to make these countries truly democratic.” So, they especially have a view of feminism as something historical, rather than the idea that, for example, it is the women who have to save the world? “No, God set me free; there is no female essence. The problem with all this is that you pretend that there is a female essence, and it plays a huge role; it plays into the imaginary, and then on a political plane where it works, and that’s what’s so dreadful. “


Marina Gržinić

CATALOGUE

Đejmi Hadrović: Depicting the Convulsion of Post-socialist Turbo-Capitalism in Slovenia

It is challenging to return to Trbovlje with Đejmi Hadrović. Trbovlje was always connected primarily with Laibach, and this was important and historical.

Đejmi Hadrović occupies a powerful position in the contemporary generation of Slovenian artists; her work relates directly to capitalism and the question of labor and capital and patriarchal structures of society. Hadrović is putting aside the complaints of the nation-state as it is clear that it just protects the speeding up of the political oligarchy that regained such position after looting the (socialist) country of its possessions through different manipulations and procedures developed by post-socialist capitalism to make a profit.

The artistic themes opened up by Đejmi Hadrović are issues of neoliberal global capitalism that has its turbo face in the former socialist countries; in only a few decades in Slovenia, this turbo neoliberal capitalism which is a hyper-fast and violent form of the “normal course of history” has strongly deregulated and immiserated workers, wage laborers and internal migrants (from the former Yugoslavia), produced second-class citizens, the LGTBQI, the non-citizens, the Erased, and dispossessed specifically Bosnia’s migrant precarious working labor force of money and dignity. This is the frame through which Đejmi Hadrović maneuvers her art, evidently differently from Trbovlje’s Laibach that at the beginning of the 1980s was primarily reflecting the structures of representation, the history of the Second World War and the Slovenian collaborators of Nazism.

Hadrović displays other compelling stories of the time in which we live; in the 1990s she could not write her name correctly as, at the height of racism and hatred against “the others” coming from the former republics of Yugoslavia, the letter Đ was forbidden, as not being part of the Slovenian alphabet. The letter ć also vanished from the public sphere; I was one of the few to use it in the 1990s; the letters đ and ć, therefore, shared the same damned destiny in the 1990s, while German and English and French names with their umlauts and special signs were used as regularly as in the past in the newly born country on the sunny side of the Alps.

Today, the Slovenian petit-bourgeoisie (the only one we have, although it dreams for more), that has become rich after dispossessing our country, invigorates the myth of the nation that is supposedly different, superior, better, etc. than all the ex-Yugoslav “scum.” On Slovenian public television, racist jokes are reserved for the Roma (TV show Slovenski Pozdrav (Slovenian Greetings), 2019). Slovenia’s health and pension systems are collapsing.

Zahida is a feminist (2016), one of the central works at the exhibition by Hadrović, deals with her two grandmothers. Zahida, her grandmother from her father’s (Midhat’s) side is alive, powerful. She is a feminist indeed, even though her life was not easy; she defies troubles as a rock that cannot be crushed. From the maternal (Safeta’s) side, the grandmother Bagajeta passed away. In between is aunt Brankica and her travels to and from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Austria. As was recently commented by Dafina Sylejmani or DACID GO8LIN (Vienna), at a presentation of the contemporary exhibition project curated by Edith Jeřábková in Prague, which included psychedelic LSD ingredients (which can also be understood as the official entry into the East of psychotropic ingredients so popular in the 1970s in the West): “Life today is the strongest LSD trip”; unlike the 1970s, when we had secretly to buy LSD as an additional life stimulus.

Along with the stories and statements, the artworks of Đejmi Hadrović are an intense depiction of the societal convulsions of the last few decades. On the other side, Hadrović is so brutally precise, and political. She talks about labor, about structures of power, and of mothers and grandmothers from the deep socialist times who struggled to stay alive. In the works of art by Hadrović we find a mixture of positions that are all political, sexual, historical; former (Yugoslavia), and present Slovenia are connected through the working class, the women struggling for work, mobility, resisting patriarchy. Feminism denotes a political agenda and historical struggles for emancipation.

Tea Hadžiristić in her excellent analysis “Unveiling Muslim Women in Socialist Yugoslavia: the Body between Socialism, Secularism, and Colonialism” (2017) exposes the way of understanding feminism in the post-socialist neoliberal global capitalism; she states that feminism simply indicates the belief of equality between the sexes.

Next, to feminism, the veil, veiling, and unveiling are persistent topics in many of Hadrović’s artworks. It is important to understand these lines of work in Hadrović’s artistic opus. A look at history shows that after WWII the unveiling of Muslim women was very present in the former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, it shows that the resurgence of veiling at the end of the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina is due to the 1990s postwar investors in the country, such as, for example, Saudi Arabia.

As Andreja Mesarič in her influential study “Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo: Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina” (2013) reports, the concealment was initially perceived as foreign, imported practice, just like feminism and the rights of LGBT people. Imported from the West and with no relation to the local reality. The veil is a “signifier of hierarchical class and gender relations, women’s illiteracy and unemployment, ethnic differences, and colonial pasts.” (Hadžiristić 2017: 185). After WWII, the unveiling was presented as progress and also a cut with the past. Paradoxically, as reported by Hadžiristić: “the zar, a burqa-like garment which covered the whole body and face, was introduced in the mid-19th century by wealthy women returning from a trip to Turkey—it quickly became fashionable among Muslim women. Indeed, until the Austrian occupation [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] in 1878, the veil was more status symbol than a religious marker, and the zar was often an expensive, luxury garment which signified the wearer’s elite status (Mesarič 2013: 25). While Christian and Jewish women had largely stopped veiling between 1878 and 1914, the arrival of the Austrian occupation fixed the zar as a religious garment worn by urban Muslim women.” (Hadžiristić 2017: 186). In this way, we can perceive a consistent relation of power between the veil and the colonizer.

On such complex historical, anthropological, and social elements, thus, operates the art of Hadrović. The work advances bit by bit and stubbornly from veiling to the unveiling, from labor to gender, and shows the complex relations between different regimes of power: civic, religious, artistic, sexual, and colonial. As a consequence, it shows that the discourse of veiling is firmly connected with questions of power, geopolitical interests, state policy, and religious identities. These relationships, presented through the challenging artistic language of Đejmi Hadrović, a language that is an intersection of body art, tableau vivant, and exploitation of different media, are therefore a direct intervention in the concepts and potentials of society, the community, and the institutions.

References:

Hadžiristić, Tea. 2017. “Unveiling Muslim Women in Socialist Yugoslavia: the Body between Socialism, Secularism, and Colonialism,” Religion and Gender 7:2, 184–203.

Mesarič, Andreja. 2013. “Wearing Hijab in Sarajevo Dress Practices and the Islamic Revival in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 22:2, 12–34.



Urška Aplinc

TEXT BY URŠKA APLINC

Đejmi Hadrović: Begajeta, Safeta, Đejmi, Zahida

“With this photo, I wish to honor my grandmother Begajeta.” That’s how visual artist Đejmi Hadrović begins one of the captions in the photo series Zahida Is a Feminist. In the series, reminiscent of ethnographic studies of rural areas of the former Yugoslavia, the artist draws on her own story and the stories of her ancestors. She takes the inquiring about her own history and the emphasis of her own position even further in the work Silent Observer, a monologue confession of a woman in her thirties. Đejmi Hadrović asks whether we can speak about emancipatory female practices in the Balkans and whether it is possible to speak from the otherness that is implicit in the Western perception of the Balkan region as a region that represents the unfinished and undeveloped Europe that still needs to be shown the right path to civilization. In the photo series, Zahida Is a Feminist, Đejmi, along with Safeta, Zahida, and Begajeta, appropriates her own otherness so that her and their identities can uncouple from the stereotypical images of Bosnian women, who have been represented through the prism of the patriarchy only as victims of war or housewives, incapable of speaking for themselves. In this way, the project enables the possibility for new narratives and a different kind of establishing meaning and identity. In the video Silent Observer, we witness the artist’s confession from behind a curtain, wondering whether she has done enough for society as an individual. Through speaking about her own limitations, internal conflicts, her own past and the history of her body, the monologue touches on identity politics and migration, with the disparity between her own subjective story and the broader social turn of events, in which she has failed to take an active role, stepping to the forefront. The artist speaks from the intersection of a multitude of identities (woman, Muslim, Bosnian, artist), the only position she can declare herself from. When she appears in front of the curtain towards the end of the video, she is no longer anonymous, exposing herself also as the body behind the speech and taking responsibility for her own tale. The work of Đejmi Hadrović thus explores the ways the imparting of meaning and the valuation of objects, people, and art are constituted. The artist attempts to redefine given terms and their meanings, established through ideological semantic networks. By identifying with various socially constructed terms, the inhabiting of the position of her own otherness, and the appropriation of stories that have historically always been told by others, her work allows for the possibility of deidentification. The subjects speak about themselves, tell their own story, which allows for the possibility of new meanings arising.