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Art is always the opposition

Jelena Grubor, professor at the Academy of Arts of the University of Banja Luka and Head of the Department of Design

We have a “permission” or obligation to comment, to have a critical attitude, a critical opinion that we show through work or design and speech. This situation, both worldwide and ours, is never good, and now it is especially burdensome and painful.

TST: What sense does art have in times of war and turmoil?

GRUBOR: Art, throughout the history of art and design, is always the opposition because the artist draws ideas from what surrounds him and it is never easy to be an artist and try to be a good artist, but it is our inner urge, our struggle. We have a “permission” or obligation to comment, to have a critical attitude, a critical opinion that we show through work or design and speech. This situation, both worldwide and ours, is never good, and now it is especially burdensome and painful. I also know from the young people I work with – we think that they are not aware of everything, but current topics are always present in their daily conversations, and after the news we hear, the first comment is always related to current developments, sadness or an attempt to understand, which doesn’t work for anybody, but there are always those topics in the conversation.

TST: Can you say for yourself that you were lucky to get a place at the Academy at a young age and the opportunity to work with young people? 

GRUBOR: I don’t consider myself a particularly lucky person, I don’t think I was born under a lucky star, but I try to be happier and above all I am grateful. I think that as much as it is about luck, it is also about responsibility. There is a lot of effort behind me and a lot of sacrifices, and behind everything are order, work and discipline, and everything has always worked that way for me. I am happy, but working with young people is a big responsibility and I think that behind everything lies a lot of effort.

TST: In the public, we often hear comments about young people as superficial, uninterested… 

GRUBOR: I work with a specific circle and they are sensitive, unusual, their own, in their own worlds that are their shield, but even without that I cannot agree with these general perceptions and attitudes. I recognize so many positive things in young people, and now I don’t know if it is down to those I work with, because they are always alternative and do not belong to the majority around us. I see enormous potential in them and I am extremely proud of all our children and my heart is full of joy because I work with them and because I meet them. The other day I was talking to students, we are working on the topic of socially engaged packaging and we are talking about how much influence social networks have, about the real influence of social networks, about what is real about them and they clearly recognize that it is nothing. They are not in that domain of false values and masks that are worn, they clearly recognize the lie and show it through their work and through art and other attitudes. So, I cannot agree with that position, but I can understand their desire to leave BiH, even though not everyone thinks that way. When they see one of us who is happy where they are, with what we have and who we are, then that influence inside the house, and outside it, is extremely significant. I don’t think that our young people are superficial, I see great potential in them, and I get confirmation of this opinion through their artistic work – last year, fourth-year students from our Academy won the first and third prizes at the World Student Poster Biennale. One department from Banja Luka, which has been in existence for nine years, received the first and third prizes among three or four thousand posters. This is their affirmation, but it shows our potential.

TST:  These successes are not seen in public – does this mean that we are not interested in positive news about ourselves or we do not understand the importance of recognition?

GRUBOR: Both. Recently, we had the opening of an exhibition of student works in Banja Luka as part of the “Freedom to the People” Festival, which was also in Sarajevo at the Children’s House, and I was invited by a journalist from one of the local television stations to ask me about Milo Kekin’s guest appearance, who was at the promotion, I also suggested him to come because there will also be an exhibition of works by students from the art academies from Banja Luka

and Sarajevo, to film a reportage, but it didn’t suit him, and that’s an indicator of that interest. We try to highlight these successes, these two awards, on our social networks, and there were really many of them, they interested the public and students gave statements, but this is minor compared to the significance.

TST: You also won an award for the “Let’s read together” project – what was that about? 

GRUBOR: It is a nice project of the Ministry of Education and Culture in the Government of Republika Srpska, as part of which the students worked on the topic of the Cyrillic alphabet, with the aim of popularizing the alphabet in the modern context. It was a public campaign that was supposed to present the importance and preservation of the alphabet. Cyrillic is depicted in a contemporary art context and this is one of the ways in which a modern public campaign is done – the cities were full of billboards, there was innovation in the approach… Smart campaign and method of action. Everything was well thought out and done.

TST: Was it perhaps a political abuse of artistic expression and excellence, considering that the Government and the Ministry are behind the project? 

GRUBOR:  I don’t think that was the idea. Given that everyone recognized that generic fonts do not have Cyrillic except for Russian, the initial idea was to create a new font and script, but this is a long-term and expensive project, it is a completely separate discipline in graphic design , huge work and effort and it was impossible to do it in a short time, so it was decided to give the alphabet a new look, because many people think that the Cyrillic alphabet is boring, non-visual, but that is its beauty. It was really a good idea to scratch something that we can turn into a big project, because there is a need.

TST: For the exhibition within the “Freedom to the People” Festival, you connected students from Banja Luka, Sarajevo and, I think, from Trebinje? 

GRUBOR: It was great! They were academies from Banja Luka and Sarajevo, departments of Graphic Design. There were colleagues: Stefan Mijić and Vladim Klepić from Banja Luka and Bojan Hadžihalilović and Sandra Drinić from Sarajevo. Everyone mentored their students, and then we commented on the works in our video meetings and then we did a nice workshop in Banja Luka – first we met in a pub, as it should be, but while we were exchanging formalities, the students already together went their separate ways and we only asked them to return on time in the morning. We worked actively for two days and it was extremely nice, because it is very interesting to mix approaches and exchange experience. We talked to the students and it was a really beautiful experience, and the result was excellent because the exhibition was very beautiful.

Jelena Grubor, professor at the Academy of Arts of the University of Banja Luka and Head of the Department of Design

TST: Do we as a society recognize young people as bearers or restorers of reconciliation, someone who will overcome divisions?

GRUBOR: They are young enough to overcome the divisions that are passed down through the generations, and the question is when a person breaks away from it, when and how to recognize that it is irrelevant and meaningless. Art should be timeless, and every artist should be human and humanist. I can’t say that I feel divisions among my children, it’s natural for me that bonding between them goes well, it’s completely normal for me.

TST: Do you have plans for new connections?

GRUBOR: I hope that we will do something together again, we have ideas and imaginations, but it all comes from personal contacts, because in general – even if some institutions have certain implementation contracts, again everything depends on personal contacts. Good energy is needed, and we have recognized ourselves as such and we will certainly continue our cooperation, maybe another workshop in the spring, there should be no problem, because the professors are connected, they visit each other…

TST: The faculty where you work is financed from the budget, but the budget for art and culture in Republika Srpska has been dramatically reduced – how do you see that? 

GRUBOR: I think that this is a systemic collapse of culture – from the budget that was planned at 1,250,000, we came to 150,000, so now we are talking about 500,000, and then we receive information that zero KM is planned for the infrastructure of secondary schools – it is difficult to comment because it so terrible that I have no words. We are constantly talking about this money for culture, and I, who work in an institution that educates young people and builds cultural milieu, think that it is terrible, as well as the increase in contributions to royalties – why pay contributions, why isn’t just tax enough? It was always difficult to be an artist, but what we have now is very scary. There is this initiative and a petition that many of us have signed, and now I can only hope for the best, although we are now demanding that it be better resolved, so we are not only hoping, but asking, because budget money is necessary for culture.

TST: What does a dramatic reduction in funds for culture mean for a society?

GRUBOR: The beginning of the disappearance of society and that’s how it is.

The Srpska Times


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