By cleaning monuments, it draws attention to their significance

Photo: Ajdin Kamber

Interview for

Visual artist Mak Hubjer has been cultivating the practice of cleaning monuments for seven years. The idea came when he developed an interest in cultural monuments, but also in general monuments in public spaces. He graduated in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo and is currently attending a master’s degree in Split. Unlike many passive young people in our society, Mak decided to create opportunities for advancement himself. He founded the Contemporary Art Gallery “Brodac”, which today is visited by eminent artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Written by: Mirnes Bakija; Photo: Ajdin Kamber

It all started when he decided to clean a monument of Vladimir Valter Perić in Sarajevo, which was in a very bad state. Mak says that he had an instinctive reaction to clean up this neglected monument, which he passed by every day.

“I decided to arrange that monument with two colleagues, with whom I was studying at the time. The three of us arranged it, especially in protective suits, which today are called Covid suits. We disguised ourselves to look as professional as possible and to dress up the monument. Then we filmed that reaction and it was extremely interesting how people who passed by watched us. The police also stared at us, but no one paid much attention to what we were doing, probably thinking that we were professionals doing our job as ordered”, Mak recalls.

After some time, he continued to clean the monuments in Sarajevo, which dated from different periods. Mak says that in the beginning, he was not concerned with what certain monuments represented, but rather with what condition they are in. He explains that most of the neglected monuments date from the socialist and post-socialist periods, and he points out that it bothered him to pass dilapidated monuments in his city every day.

“I realized that art and performance offer a different way of acting in public space. Mere cleaning did not contribute to big changes as much as my appearance and performative act, which aims to change people’s awareness of cultural monuments, contributed,” explains Mak.

After cleaning several famous memorials and monuments in Sarajevo, he decided to emphasize the performative aspect of his work.

“I became interested in what certain monuments represent and how much I can play with that meaning. I understood this approach as a game, bringing back attention to some places that have been completely forgotten, and are important prominent places. Unfortunately, in our environment, these important places are largely neglected. If we looked at the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we would realize that we have cemeteries of monuments, some of which are masterpieces, such as the partisan cemetery in Mostar, the memorial on Sutjeska, as well as many others that have been left to the test of time”, explains the young artist.

Mak points out that it is ridiculous to talk about how much the authorities care about monuments, and that it is enough to see how today’s culture is treated in our country. He says that it is interesting when BiH is compared with countries in the region in terms of how monuments and heritage are treated. In this case, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most interesting because the destruction of monuments was the least done in war actions, and destruction in that way is excluded.

“In Croatia, it’s a different story when talking about monuments from the socialist era. Unfortunately, few of them survived. The large monuments in the north of Croatia are still there, but the small memorials and small monuments from the previous system have been almost erased. This is especially emphasized in the Dalmatian belt, where there was a drastic predominance between one time and another,” says Mak.

He thought about starting an initiative to get more people involved in cleaning the monument. He says that on October 24, as part of the ReMemory project, he will hold a workshop at the Brodac Gallery, where he will learn about the values ​​of monuments in public space, as well as the relationship of people to monuments. Participants will have the opportunity to learn how to create smaller interventions in public spaces, all to draw attention to memorial sites and memorial spaces.

Mak believes that young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are largely disappointed and are tired of talking about starting something new. He says that he does not defend such attitudes, but that this is our reality.

“I think that politics has done its job in the past 30 years, and to a large extent has weakened and killed the will of young people. There will always be enthusiasts, but it mostly comes down to one or two people in the company, who try to carry all the burden. However, until society begins to include more individuals who will form serious working groups of action, there will be no serious changes”, explains Mak.

This young artist believes that for people to develop civic activism, it is first necessary to develop civic awareness.

“I’m not saying that civic activism doesn’t exist at all, but it’s simply quiet in our society,” Mak points out.

Inspired by the idea of ​​creating a different place for male and female artists to meet, in 2016 he launched the Brodac Contemporary Art Gallery. He was helped by his colleagues from the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo. In the beginning, it was an initiative for young artists who need to profile themselves and gain experience.

“Later, this gallery became a gathering place for established artists. Today, it is a place for creating perspectives, where young artists have the opportunity to communicate with older colleagues. I realized that this model of work is interesting and important to transfer experience to young artists. The gallery functions as a certain social space”, he explains.

He says that being an artist right after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was more valuable than it is today. The reason for this is that many BiH artists were “under the spotlight” after the war’s destruction, which helped them present their work more easily.

“Today is a different time, the time of the media. Being an artist is connected with existence, so it goes beyond the scope of art. The advantage of doing art in our country is that there is not much glamour, so artists live in what Bosnia and Herzegovina is. This is the essential quality of our artists, and this social engagement can be recognized in the work of many of them”, Mak explains the BiH art scene.

He believes that young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are left to their own devices. As initiators of positive changes in society, they play a big role, but they do not have mechanisms. In many cases, young people depend on their parents, their environment, but also on what the environment has to say. Mak says that this system of values ​​has led us to the fact that young people do not want to get involved in public life.

In the future, he plans to hold several exhibitions in Split – the city where he currently resides. The works will concern the monument, and he adds with a smile that his most important plan for the future is to stay alive and healthy.

The preparation of this text was supported by the American Agency for International Development USAID through the project PRO-Budućnost. The content of this text does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the US Government.

Is this my final form?

When we talk about the destruction of monuments and what represents the monumental heritage we are talking about a kind of memory destruction. Every act of conservation and restoration invariably affects and transforms the original essence of the heritage, which involves a certain degree of loss. The obsession with physical preservation is so great embodied in the mentality of the 20th century that it is difficult to separate the attempt to understand the past and its meaning from the agony of choosing which parts (of the past) should be protected and preserved. The wide range of ways the past is used in society is thereby reduced to the literal act of preserving its physical aspect.
Whether minor or radical, more or less brutal or progressive, these transformations are often defined as the “defunctionalization” of heritage. Still, it is a change of function and use within a system of procedures and uses. Until modern times, it was quite normal to eliminate what we now call a monument or a work of art when it was considered obsolete or no longer suited the needs and expectations it previously satisfied.
Forgetting is only possible through a conscious, free and deliberate act of forgetting something. The same password can be applied to heritage. Only when a building, locality, or tradition is deliberately no longer given any attention and thus does not fulfill any function in society, that object is effectively lost as heritage. In other words, conscious forgetting does not imply the physical destruction of the object. In this regard, only the demolition of monuments or the newly created void after the demolition of anti-fascist memorials cannot undo the persistence of a heritage object or site – unless no one cares to remember them anymore. It is extremely ironic that the very act of destruction called anti-fascist memorials to memory, and even certain activities related to their activation in collective memory, such as various publications that have recently started to be written about them or artistic projects that tried to revitalize them.
Within the mentioned context, both destruction and construction/creation can be understood as equally essential features of immortalization.
Loss and change are part of life and part of what gives our heritage value.
The loss itself is not so much problematic as it is how individuals, communities, and societies choose to deal with the loss, i.e. the destruction. After all, heritage is a continuous manifestation of change over time, not a victim of it.

This isn’t even my final form/Public intervention/Monument to the fallen Partisans-Split, 2022
Is this my final form?/Public intervention/Monument to the first president of Croatia-Franjo Tuđman/Split, 2022

A monument to a monument

A monument to a monument/ 2022

Trying to investigate spatiality in its social conditioning, Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991)10 distinguishes three levels of space: spatial practice, representation of space, and representational space. The last level represents the space of the “lived” filled with “associated images and symbols” – that is, the representational space, shaped by objects that are governed by imagination and use, thus enabling them to be assigned different meanings, not always transparent and unequivocal. Its readiness is conditioned by the space of representation – state and institutional coding of space. This fact makes it impossible to change anything more than what is institutionally and state-mediated, and therefore nothing can be imagined and lived – as a variation or an escape from the default. The actions and interventions we are talking about and which we list in this paper belong to the sphere of challenging normality with artistic actions that not only do not support the acceptable formula of collective memory, state, and institutional coding of space but also insist on the inappropriateness of one’s insight and recollection. Some of the symbols of the post-socialist era, such as the monument to the Fallen Partisans in Split (Sućidar neighborhood), are becoming privileged fields of action, certainly not because of mourning or Yugonostalgia, but because of the ambivalent role that such monuments assume in today’s society. It is precisely this position that these monuments have acquired that led the artist to act as a mediator between different times and spaces, in such a way as to use performative and visual practices to create a universal formula to preserve the conservation of social role and meaning of these objects. Dealing with the analysis and deconstruction of the term “monument”, the author developed the theory of “dospomeniks”. These are wooden structures wrapped with the sponge and plastic film for packaging similar to the standardized packaging used when transporting or moving sculptures. These objects do not in any case represent themselves, nor do they serve themselves as objects of special artistic significance. These are functional objects that use the monuments themselves. Their role is determined precisely by the monument next to which they will be found in a certain role, in such a way that the context of the monument itself will determine the role of the commemorator. We also attach the terms: auxiliary monument, substitute monument, false monument, a real monument to these objects, and memorials.

Dospomenik/ To a monument of Marko Marulić/ Split, 2022 photo: Mak Hubjer