Living Museum exhibitions feature in Bosnian media

Living Museum commissions and exhibitions have garnered extensive coverage in the Bosnian press including an editorial written by the British ambassador, Matthew Field, in Oslobodjenje.  See via the links below or go to English translations:

Mi Gradimo Prugu, Pruga Gradi Nas’ (We Build the Tracks, the Tracks Build Us)

Friday 1 November saw the opening of our 6th exhibition in collaboration with the Historijski Muzej (Historical Museum) of Bosnia and Hercegovina in Sarajevo. This exchibition, ‘Mi Gradimo Prugu, Pruga Gradi Nas’ (We Build the Tracks, the Tracks Build Us) is the second in the series for the ongoing ‘Living Museum‘ project, which began in February 2019.  The project is a collaboration between the Muzej, King’s College London and University of the Arts London, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council/Global Challenges Research Fund as a follow-on from Art and Reconciliation.  It seeks to excavate, curate and open new conversations about Yugoslav history through the Museum’s extensive collection of socialist art.

The opening was a tremendous success, with very many people attending and even made the front page of Oslobojenje!  It showcased the work of four students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, Esnar Hadžić, Faras Ramadanović, Stefan Savić and Marina Krsmanović, together with work by artist-in-residence, Milena Michalski, ‘In a different light’.

The students’ work was in response to the art collection held by the Museum, some of which is currently exhibited in the ‘Living Museum’, together with  artworks commissioned in response to it, in the exhibition ‘Savrameni Kontekski: Oslikavanje Socijalističkih Slika (Contemporary Contexts: Reimagining Socialist Images) by Dženan Hadžhasanović, Smirna Kulenović, Milena Michalski, Andrea Mirnić and Meliha Teparić (more details to follow!).

Visit the Museum’s facebook page for more photos and info: https://www.facebook.com/histmuzbih/

 

 

VEM+ Exploring Exclusions

The VEM network based within the Faculty of Social Sciences & Public Policy aims to create spaces of knowledge-exchange and research excellence around visual, embodied and art-based methodologies within, across and beyond Social Sciences. The network was founded by Drs Negar Elodie Behzadi and Jelke Boesten, both in the Department of International Development at King’s College London. It expanded over the summer to include other scholars in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy at King’s.

Rachel Kerr and Henry Redwood were part of the VEM’s first major project, VEM+, where collaborating artists were invited to take up residency at King’s for 2 weeks in July 2019 in Somerset House studios, working directly with researchers.

Henry Redwood worked with Belgrade-based artist Vladimir Miladinović on the project //Undiscernible//. 

//Undiscernible// builds on a two year collaboration, which began with Art and Reconciliation when Vladimir was one of the artists commissioned by the Historical Museum. It explores how aesthetic approaches to the legacies of war might open up new modes of engagement with, and ways of imagining transitions to, peace.

Henry and Vladimir focus on a series of intercepted cables linked to the case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against General Ratko Mladic. About a third of the intercepted cables are described in the documents as ‘undiscernible’. This leads to questions both about the nature of this ‘proof’ and the question of the role that this proof plays in contemporary society.

The project draws inspiration from Vladimir’s use of ink-wash drawings based on archival material relating to the war in the former Yugoslavia, to ask difficult questions about how particular knowledges of (past and present) violence are produced, and what this means for how societies reconstitute themselves after violence.

H&V-40
Photograph by Lyanne Wylde

The results of the collaborations are currently being shown in The Exchange space in Bush House (until 7 November).

Exhibition: Exploring Exclusions

1 October  to 7 November 2019

This exhibition presents the work of four artist/researchers collaborations (below) on questions of exclusion, stigmatisation, marginalisation, conflict and violence at the School of Social Science and Public Policy (SSPP).

Find out more here.

Art and Conflict Panel hosted by LSE Festival

Saturday 02 March 2019 12:45pm to 2:00pm
Hosted by LSE Festival: New World (Dis)Orders

Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building

The panellists will discuss the role of art and visual representation in response to conflict and dealing with its consequences.

Text Illuminations is an art installation by artist Nela Milic of the University of the Arts London (UAL) produced through inter-disciplinary collaboration with political scientists Dr Denisa Kostovicova, Dr Ivor Sokolic and Tom Paskhalis of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

This artwork is an interactive representation of a search for the meaning of reconciliation after mass atrocity through debates including people from all ethnic groups involved in a decade of conflicts in the Balkans. The artist and the political scientists join together to discuss the process of interdisciplinary collaboration to convert quantitative text analysis into art. The exhibition is part of a major AHRC-funded project, ‘Art & Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community’, led by King’s in collaboration with the University of the Arts London and the London School of Economics.

The work will be contextualised in relation to the early findings of a DFID-funded project, the Conflict Research Programme, led by LSE, which explores conflict in relation to notions of identity, civicness and the political marketplace. Contemporary conflicts often combine attacks on civil society, culture and cultural heritage. The panel will also explore how, in responding to this civicness, art and the defence of cultural heritage can come together.

Denisa Kostovicova is an Associate Professor in Global Politics at the European Institute and the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She studies post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice with a particular interest in the bottom-up perspective on transitions from war to peace.

Nela Milic is an artist and an academic working in media and arts, and is Senior Lecturer and Year 2 Contextual and Theoretical Studies Coordinator in the Design School at London College of Communication.

Tom Paskhalis is a PhD candidate at the Department of Methodology, LSE. His research is focussed on comparative politics and the development and application of new approaches to quantitative text analysis.

Dr Ivor Sokolić is a Research Officer at the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He works on the ERC funded project “Justice Interactions and Peacebuilding: From Static to Dynamic Discourses across National, Ethnic, Gender and Age Groups”.

Denisa Kostovicova, Ivor Sokolic, Tom Paskhalis and Nela Milic discuss the process of interdisciplinary collaboration, which turned a political science method into an art installation in their blog piece Text Illuminations: From the Method to the Artefact.

Henry Radice is a Reseach Fellow in the Department of International Development, LSE.

Twitter hashtags for this event: #LSEFestival #NewWorldDisorders

This event is part of the LSE Festival: New World (Dis)Orders running from Monday 25 February to Saturday 2 March 2019, with a series of events exploring how social science can tackle global problems.

Book your ticket here.

Reconciliation as Activity: Constraints and Possibilities

Ivor Sokolić and Denisa Kostovicova, London School of Economics and Political Science

Reconciliation is proving to be a problematic concept for both practitioners and academics: it is laden with normative expectations and is often rejected by local publics. Ivor Sokolic and Denisa Kostovicova report on the exchange with civil society in Kosovo on reconciliation as activity. Participants shared their experiences of how interethnic contact between individuals through a variety of activities often had unintended positive outcomes for intergroup relations.

On 05 March 2018 the London School of Economics and Political Science, as a part of the ‘Art and Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community’ project (artreconciliation.org), held a collaborative workshop in Prishtina titled “Activity as Reconciliation: Lessons from Practice”. The event was organised together with our local partner in Kosovo, the Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication (CRDP), who work on, and research, themes of peace, justice and truth in Kosovo. There was considerable overlap with the CRDP’s work on human security and reconciliation and our own, which made for a natural partnership for the workshop organisation. The workshop was attended by representatives of local and international civil society organisations who conduct a range of activities within communities and across ethnic lines. Some dealt directly with reconciliation issues (for example, efforts in coming to terms with the past), but many did not (for example, youth dialogue programmes).

The workshop dealt with one of the key research questions behind the AHRC-funded project, ‘Art and Reconciliation’: how to reconceptualise reconciliation? Our partner’s findings on reconciliation show the importance of this question in the post-conflict context in Kosovo. They find that projects under the label of reconciliation were initiated too early, are simultaneously both unclear and too ambitious, and favour one side of the conflict (the full results can be found here). This has often resulted – mirroring experiences in other post-conflict contexts – in the rejection of the concept on normative grounds. The biggest challenge, then, is how to reconcile this rejection with the necessity, as well as the desire expressed by many who themselves have suffered from violence, to work on social repair for the sake of peace.

The workshop addressed this conundrum by reframing reconciliation as activity. The premise here is to focus on activities that, sometimes labelled as reconciliatory and sometimes not, lead to better relations between groups. Underpinning this was the idea that activities that involve contact between different groups – be it physical or symbolic (such as interaction with outgroup symbols), intentional or unintentional – can lead to positive outcomes for intergroup relations. Many of these activities are missed in traditional appraisals of reconciliation, which are loaded with specific expectations of what the process and outcomes ought to look like. This focus on activity, then, helps to reconceptualise and critique reconciliation. Together with civil society organisations, we shared experiences of what types of activity can aid reconciliation and what is it about these types of activity that make them conducive to transforming interethnic relationships. We questioned if this concept was useful, and if not, what concept would be more useful from a practice-oriented point of view?

Representatives of civil society exhibited a readiness to acknowledge the problems associated with the normative load of reconciliation, which had become an impediment to the work they were undertaking. Some felt trapped, since they needed to adhere to labels to attain funding, but these labels hampered their work. Organisations experienced hostility towards their work, if they labelled it as reconciliatory. At the same time, numerous examples were provided of activities they had undertaken that had positive outcomes on intergroup relations, but which did not fall under the label of reconciliation. Participants also noted a number of macro and micro factors that inhibited these types of activities from taking place. Three key themes, with clear policy implications, underpinned the discussions on the day.

Structural barriers to activity

First, the structural dimension of activities that can aid, or hinder, reconciliation was highlighted. On the macro level, dynamics between the global and the local; donors and civil society organisations; and civil society and the state, all defined the structural framework within which organisations operated, and by which they were often constrained. The ghettoisation of minorities, segregated educational systems and regional divergence in state capacity within Kosovo made it easier for organisations to conduct activities between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs from Serbia, rather than with Kosovo Serbs. These macro level differences also fed into other issues. Differences in education provisions meant participants noted that the language barrier between Serbs and Albanians, who do not speak each others’ language, which is often seen as an intrinsic barrier to cooperation, could be overcome through the shared understanding of English. This was, however, found to disadvantage Kosovan Serbs who lacked sufficient English skills to communicate with Albanians. An inability to communicate within Kosovo thus forecloses opportunities for reconciliation even when reframed as activity.

Generational focus of activity

The generational dimension, with an emphasis on youth and the transgenerational dimension of reconciliation, was the second key theme underpinning discussions. Many civil society organisations targeted their work at young people and saw positive outcomes between groups. These organisations defined success in their work as educating young people about opportunities to travel, to converse with other groups and, sometimes, as enabling such travel and exchanges. They believed these activities provided participants with new information that questioned dominant narratives about the conflict, as well as an invaluable opportunity to meet members of the other ethnic group. These situations did not involve discussions about politics, society or violence at first, but through socialisation outside of the core activities of travel or exchanges (for example, over drinks) and in the pursuit of common interests (for example, interests in the arts or music), these conversations began to occur. They “talked about the war incognito”. This finding contradicts the commonly assumed premise that the divergent, ethnically-centred, representations of conflict are an obstacle to discussions about the most delicate issues concerning the conflict. In this respect, activities that are not primarily addressed at reconciliation, through challenging dominant narratives about the conflict, facilitate exchange on the most challenging issues dividing Serbs and Albanians.

Formal resistance to reconciliation

Much of the activity with positive intergroup outcomes that organisations had undertaken occurs in the informal domain, which emerged as the third key theme of the day, but these processes meet resistance from formal institutions and societal norms. Informality, across all levels of society, was seen as a space where friendships were created. The informal spaces at the margins of reconciliation efforts contained some of the most meaningful interactions between groups. They were spaces where constraints surrounding interaction across ethnic lines disappeared. Civil society organisations believed there was a readiness to reconcile, observed through informal activities that resulted in restoration of torn relations between members of the two communities. This trend was also documented in the LSE-based research (available here), that found that Albanians’ and Serbs’ participation in Kosovo’s informal economy that cuts across ethnic lines leads to creation of friendships, and was reflected in the above-mentioned study by the CRDP (available here). The positive will to change was, however, obstructed by societally defined boundaries that formal institutions reproduce. Organisations cited examples of cultural programmes, exchanges or interethnic sports events that were literally halted by politics. They also highlighted the reproduction of ethnic division through textbooks, nationalist political rhetoric and the political instrumentalisation of minorities. The effect was that individuals often made friends with members of the other ethnicity in the informal setting or away from their home or in spaces where they would not be exposed to public scrutiny, only for these interactions to be sanctioned by their own ethnic communities.

Summary

Overall, the workshop provided a forum for dialogue based on evidence deriving from academic research and experience from practice focused on reconceptualising reconciliation as activity. This recognised the paradox of people’s desire and need for normalisation of relations, dignity and reckoning with the legacy of conflict and the hostility towards the concept of reconciliation. The resulting outputs will be both academic publications (including a journal special issue edited by I. Sokolić) and a policy brief for local and international policy makers. The policy suggestions will focus on the roles of education, youth and cultural activities. Improved English language teaching across ethnic lines can provide a lingua franca for future generations. Youth exchange projects will be recommended since they are cost-effective and not typically labelled as reconciliatory. Furthermore, activities in the cultural sphere, such as the arts, will be highlighted due to their potential to help younger generations from different ethnic groups meet each other and bond over shared interests.

 

Art & Reconciliation blogs on ARTIJ Initiative

Rachel Kerr and Milena Michalski have both written blogs on Art & Reconciliation research for the Art and International Justice Initiative.  The ARTIJ Initiative connects academics, artists, practitioners and others wishing to explore the potential of art in understanding international justice.

Read here:

Art & Reconciliation by Milena Michalski

Art, Justice and Reconciliation by Rachel Kerr