Sickened by the onslaught of news footage documenting carnage in Sarajevo, USC
graduate Srdja Hrisafovic decided to show another side of the war-battered,
multi-ethnic city — a side that clings to life, community and creativity.
He wanted to show that not all of his people are killing each other. Some are
working together and making art.
Hrisafovic discussed his idea with Barbara Zheutlin, director of the Peace
Center. Together, they decided to mount an exhibition that would show the work of
Sarajevo artists “to celebrate a culture that still exists despite a brutal civil
The exhibition — “The Once and Future Sarajevo: Explorations in Coexistence” —
features graphic art, films and videos by artists who are natives of the troubled
city. It opens Dec. 4 at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies.
Officials at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies said they
wanted to host the exhibition because of the similarities between Sarajevo and
Both cities are cultural centers and multi-ethnic communities, the organizers
said. Both cities hosted the Olympics in 1984, and the year war broke out in
Sarajevo was the same year that riots devastated Los Angeles.
“What’s happening in Sarajevo shows the underpinnings of the dismantling of a
multi-ethnic society,” said Eric H. Schockman, associate director of the Center
for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies. “We need to always focus on retaining
a homogeneous existence and learn from the lessons of Sarajevo.”
Zheutlin also pointed out how, for Los Angeles, the agony of Sarajevo is a
warning. “We, too, are composed of multi-ethnic cultures, and we don’t want to
end up with people shooting one another because they are different.”
Originally, Zheutlin and Hrisafovic wanted to exhibit the works of artists who
currently live in Sarajevo, but the difficulties in bringing artists here from
the war-torn city were too great. Hrisafovic, who received his M.A. in
architecture last year, knew of many artists who had left Bosnia but had
continued to focus on their homeland through their creative work.
One of them is Endi Poskovic, whose paintings, drawings, graphic designs and site
installations will be on display at the exhibit. The show will also feature
excerpts from fictional features, documentaries and videos by two Bosnian
filmmakers, Ademir Kenovic and Davor Marjanovic. “One Woman’s Sarajevo,” a short
documentary directed by Phil Alden Robinson, is also scheduled for screening at
the exhibition’s opening. The piece previously aired on ABC’s “Nightline.”
“These artists are refusing to let the multi-ethnic culture of Sarajevo die, and
they are doing so in defiance of those who are attempting to divide and control
their land with guns,” Zheutlin said.
“What we’re trying to do is bring attention to Sarajevo’s multi-ethnic culture.
We don’t want to show more grim pictures — the news is doing that. Instead, we
want to celebrate and stand in support of people who envision these many cultures
In his work, Poskovic uses symbolism rooted in the four religions of his homeland
— Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Judaism. The symbols are
loosely connected with architectural fragments, underscoring the idea of
coexistence in diversity.
In a series of lithographs titled Europa, Poskovic expresses the views of a
wanderer imagining the possibility of a homeland. For the exhibit he also plans
to build a site installation, a sort of altar conveying a sense of calm through
subtle, abstract designs and use of space.
“It’s very important that this show is taking place in Los Angeles and that
people will have a chance to respond to it,” Poskovic said. “Sarajevo is an
example of how people have been able to live under siege. It is very important
for people to believe that as long as there is some sort of hope, things can be
“I try to be very optimistic; otherwise I would have been lost.”
Poskovic left Sarajevo many years ago to study in Norway, then attended SUNY
Buffalo, where he received his M.F.A. Though he still considers himself a
Bosnian, Poskovic cannot return to Sarajevo now: as a pacifist, he refuses to
join in the conflict. Instead, he’s waging a war of ideas.
“I feel I’ve been chosen to bring attention to the idea that Sarajevo was and can
be in the future a multi-ethnic society,” he said. “I have fought with my work.”
Poskovic’s artwork has been featured in exhibitions in Bosnia, Norway and New
York. This will be his first show on the West Coast.
Marjanovic, now a resident of Vancouver, will show a 50- minute docudrama about
people who are forced to hide out in the cellar of a building being bombarded.
“I was trying to show that in Sarajevo, all nationalities are being bombed, not
only Muslims or Croats. The war in Bosnia is against all its citizens,” he said.
Also by Marjanovic is a videotape of a ballet performed on a mountain above
Sarajevo, the same mountain from which an attack was launched one month later. In
addition to presenting the videos, Marjanovic will speak to a documentary class
in the School of Cinema-Television.
In conjunction with the exhibition, USC will host a panel discussion on the topic
“Explorations in Coexistence” Dec. 1, beginning at noon, at the University
Religious Center. C. Sylvester Whitaker, University Professor and director of the
Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies, will moderate. Panelists will
include Stephen Toulmin, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Multiethnic and
Transnational Studies; Linda Lotz, program director of the American Friends
Service Committee; and Lawrence Bobo, professor of sociology at UCLA. Poskovic
and Marjanovic will be on the panel as well.
The events are sponsored by the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies;
the Peace Center; and Friends of Sarajevo, a group formed last year by Zheutlin
and Hrisafovic to support citizens of Sarajevo. Co-sponsors include the American
Jewish Congress, the presbytery of the Pacific Peacemaking Committee, the United
Methodist Peace With Justice Task Force, the Pacific-L.A. chapter of the United
Nations Association of the U.S.A., the Southern California region of the World
Federalist Association, the USC schools of Cinema-Television and Architecture,
the Department of International Relations and the Department of Political
“The Once and Future Sarajevo: Explorations in Coexistence” opens Dec. 4 at the
Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies, Kerckhoff Hall, 734 W. Adams
Blvd. The exhibition continues Dec. 6 through 10. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
[Photo:] Bosnian artist Endi Poskovic with his work Altar, a large lithograph
similar to the pieces to be displayed at the exhibit “The Once and Future
Sarajevo,” opening Dec. 4 at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational
Studies. In this work, Poskovic uses abstract designs and subtle shading to
create feelings of calmness and spirituality.
[Photo:] Artist Endi Poskovic incorporates Arabic calligraphy into this
combination lithograph and etching, called Von Oben, which means “from above” in
German. The work deals with the impact of Islam on Bosnia. Through his art,
Poskovic wants to bring attention to the idea that Sarajevo was and can in the
future be a multi-ethnic society.
[Photo: Many of Poskovic’s works integrate symbols of the religions of Sarajevo
and play on the constrast between positive and negative space. Here, Hebrew
writing (translated as “Europa”) is contrasted with the cross of orthodox
[Photo:] Srdja Hrisafovic and Barbara Zheutlin, who together have mounted the