Jännittävä uusi valokuva-narratiivi-näyttely – toiminta käynnistyy Taidelaboratoriossa!

Taidelaboratorio to host “Yo Hugo diabetico” a photo-narrative exhibition. Vernissage 13th Nov.2013 from 17:30 to 19:30 RSVP: yohugodiabetico@hirvipeikot.com exhibition 14th Nov.-17th Nov.2013 daily 12:00-18:00

Taidelaboratorio Viiskulma


Taidelaboratorio Viiskulma on uusin kokeellisen ja monitaiteisen nykytaiteen esitys- ja kohtaamispaikka – kuvataiteilija Elina Ahon (www.elinaaho.carbonmade.com) työhuoneen yhteydessä toimiva taidegalleria, laboratorio, näyttämötila….sijoittuen ihanteellisesti Design-museon ja Eiranrannan väliin Helsingin keskustassa, entisen Galleria Huudon tiloissa, galleriatila tarjoaa nuorille suomalaisille ja kansainvälisille taiteilijoille tilan kokeellisiin projekteihin, erityisesti performatiivisiin ja monitaiteisiin projekteihin. Projektilähtöisenä tila tarjoaa vaihtuvan, monipuolisen ohjelmatarjonnan.

Tila aloitti toimintansa elokuussa 2013 Lenkkiteatterin (http://www.lenkkiteatteri.fi) kanssa yhteistyössä järjestetyssä Moving Art 2013-2014- neliosaisen projektin ensimmäisellä osalla, joka huipentui neljään esitykseen elokuussa. Projekti tutkii kuvataiteen ruumiillisuuden ja liikkeen visuaalisen ilmaisuvoiman suhdetta. Esityksen ilmaisullisina keinoina ovat näyttämötilanteessa toteutettava kuvataide, liike, ääni ja valo. Seuraava osa huipentuu näytöskauteen Lenkkiteatterissa ja Taidelaboratorio Viiskulmassa helmi-maaliskuussa 2014.

Marraskuussa, kansainvälisen DIABETES-päivän yhteydessä, Taidelaboratorio Viiskulma isännöi ensimmäisen ‘valokuva-narratiivi’- näyttelyn Yo, Hugo Diabetico, Ruxandra Balboa-Pöystiltä (https://www.facebook.com/events/172680599599968/?source=1, http://ruxandrabp.tumblr.com).’Yo Hugo, Diabetico’ rakentaa tarinan taiteilijan isän historiasta valokuvainstallaatioina. Isä, Hugo – belgialainen Boliviasta syntyisin oleva lääkäri – jätti perheensä palataakseen Tarijaan (Boliviaan). 13 vuoden yhteisen hiljaisuuden jälkeen…

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Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli (rehearsals)

Angela’s ashes – Seitsemännen portaan enkeli

Seitsemännen portaan enkeli (rehearsals)

Seitsemännen portaan enkeli (rehearsals) (photo: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti)

"Seitsemännen portaan enkeli" Terho Aalto

"Seitsemännen portaan enkeli" (photo: Terho Aalto)

“Angela’s ashes” – Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer award winner book –  just world premiered in its musical theatre version in Hämeenlinna (Hämeenlinnan kaupungin teatteri http://www.hmlteatteri.fi/).  Beyond being a compelling account of the author’s Irish family emigrating to NY to meet fortune before the second world war but ultimately forced to return to Ireland, “Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli” is the story of a bunch or actors and musicians who, in the purest theatre company tradition, wanted to create their own “encore” after enjoying to work together in the musical theatre piece “Tänä iltana kaikki hyvin – Songs of Leonard Cohen”. Ironically, only few weeks are separating the release of Leonard Cohen’s newest album “Old Ideas” and the premiere of “Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli” and if we wanted to further extend this parallel, we could also take “darkness” as a link between Cohen’s and McCourt’s work  http://youtu.be/q6q7vCSmUU0

There is indeed the darkness of the daily misery in which McCourt and his family live – particularly when they return to Ireland, the darkness of the tea they drink every day often as a substitute to their meals, there is the darkness of bigotry and blind catholicism, the darkness of beers and pubs in the family father’s multiple attempts to forget the darkness of daily life but above all, there is dark humor, the light brought by a mother’s – and a father’s – unconditional love and the absolute power of dreaming your life (“It’s lovely to know that the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head”).

 "Seitsemännen portaan enkeli" band

"Seitsemännen portaan enkeli" band (photo: Terho Aalto)

Mc Court’s excellent memoir has indeed all it needs to inspire other artists (Alan Parker made a movie of it http://youtu.be/6zLpf1XDNko): it is beautifully written (a style where a simple and perceptive text is intertwined with Irish folk music), the story is dense, moving with engaging characters… It comes as no surprise it impressed Maija Sydänmaanlakka (singer, actor) and Hannu Matti Tyhtilä (director) who started to jointly work on the dramatization of their upcoming project. The “Leonard Cohen” chemistry also extended to AP Sarjanto, THE Finnish specialist of Irish music, who brought his magic touch going through the book’s numerous songs and musical references – subtracting and adding some to the original text (also translating the text) and Tommi Viksten – one of Finland’s finest guitarists – who adapted the original scores to a tailor-made ensemble that performs them on stage.

Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli (rehearsals)

Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli (rehearsals) (photo: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti)

This ensemble comprises several typically Celtic instruments (mandolins, Irish bouzouki, Irish harp) alongside the classical guitars, piano and violins other musicians in the band play (Kalle Penttilä, Tuula Penttilä, Tom Nyman). As a result, the musical part of this play is absolutely stunning and covers a repertoire going from church music to folk music, and coming across some American standards – such as Billie Holiday http://youtu.be/IAR4aEtaH4c that nurture the author’s desire to return to America, the promised land of his early childhood (“She is singing for me, only for me” says (young) Mc Court character listening to her music).

Liisa Peltonen and Aleksi Aromaa in "Seitsemännen portaan enkeli"

Liisa Peltonen and Aleksi Aromaa in "Seitsemännen portaan enkeli" (photo: Terho Aalto)

Because “Seitsemännen portaan enkeli” is a musical theatre piece and not a musical, the acted part constitutes a substantial portion of it and 5 actors embody 30 punchy characters revolving around McCourt’s. Aleksi Aromaa is particularly remarkable in the role of young McCourt as well as Liisa Peltonen who at times only has 30 seconds to move from one role to another.

Maija Sydänmaanlakka – an ardent defender of the “musiikkinäytelmä” genre – explains that “the type of play we perform is more like “kansanteatteri” that we could translate by “folk theatre”, something very casual, very natural flowing from the Finnish tradition of the “tukkijoki” and mixing it into a form of modern musical theatre. We are on the other side of the spectrum from American musicals, that are often built around songs with a minimal consideration for the overall story. Starting from such powerful book as McCourt’s, ensured the characters and the story were dense, multilayered”.

Hämeenlinna is only one hour drive from Helsinki and it is likely that the warmth of this company and play will touch your heart – and that some Guiness/whisky/dark tea on the top (your choice) will bring you through the night! (Saint-Patrick’s special performance: 17th March 2012)

Show dates&booking: http://www.hmlteatteri.fi/kaikki-esitykset

Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti


Jenni Hiltunen, "Grind" 2011 (videostill)

KIASMA: without a song or a dance what are we?

With over 300 000 visitors in 2011 out of which 65% under 35 years old, Kiasma had to think of ways to further address these younger audiences of enthusiasts for contemporary art. Exploring the music world, and more in particular the world of songs with “Thank you for the Music” is a brilliant move in this respect as, independently from our age, but more especially when we are young, we all have a song we love, a song we link to a specific moment of our life. These little gems of our collective subconscious equally appeal to a strong visual world (mainly music videos) and connect to a real/virtual world of fans, viewers, listeners and music professionals (consumers?)… and the exhibition highlights all these aspects with brio.

Candice Breitz "Britney Spears monument", 2007 (detail)

Candice Breitz "Britney Spears monument", 2007 (detail)

Internationally acclaimed Candice Breitz is present with three gigantic photographs inspired by the fan communities of Britney

Susanne Brüner "50.000.000 can't be wrong", 2006 (videostill)

Susanne Brüner "50.000.000 can't be wrong", 2006 (videostill)

Spears, Marilyn Manson (amazing!) and Abba, where each posing character is like a royal (revering their music idol).

Dissecting fandom in an attempt to isolate the essence of it,  Susanne Bürner video “50.000.000 can’t be wrong”is starting from a traveling on Elvis Presley’s fans: we never get to see the singer, wherever is name was appearing on banners (the generous “Elvis we love you!”) the author erased it, Elvis’ music vanished too – replaced by one of the artist’s friends music, only remain the fans and their attitude that abstracted from their initial context remind of political fanaticism.

David Blandy "Crossroads" 2008 (videostill)

David Blandy "Crossroads" 2008 (videostill)

David Blandy is a Robert Johnson’s fan (for real). Johnson is a mythical blues guitarist who, says the legend, found himself at crossroads where he sold his soul to the devil in order to better play the guitar . Blandy’s installation (a video http://vimeo.com/12643165 and a replica of Johnson’s home – a shed) illustrates the young artist’s pursuit of authenticity in playing music, a quest he patterns on Johnson’s by reviving parts of his musical life. Ultimately, Blandy reflects on why some musicians succeed in occupying the front scene and some other, so clearly devoted to their art – such as Robert Johnson, end up forgotten and in misery.

Eduardo Balanza "the record is not over yet" 2012

Eduardo Balanza "the record is not over yet" 2012

The question of the centrality of the music industry in our lives is evoked in the form of an allegory by Eduardo Balanza‘s work

Pink Twins "inwards to infinity" (music illustration), 2012

Pink Twins "inwards to infinity" (music illustration), 2012

that was crowdsourced in Finland (people were invited to give their LPs to the museum and Balanza spent two entire days selecting and mounting his installation – he usually would also listen to ALL of the LPs used in the installation but their overwhelming amount in this case made him opt for having supernumerary LPs used in DJ performances within the “happy Fridays” programme that is part of the exhibition.

The exhibition is also welcoming the launch of a LP by Pink Twins whose video  “Defenestrator” is part of the temporary exhibition. Click the link below and you will understand why it also had to be part of the permanent collections of the Kiasma museum: it is “inception” before “Inception” (the movie) with its melting architecture into phantasmagoric bites of dreams and reality, imposing an intertwined visual and musical rhythm that leaves the viewer in ecstasy http://www.av-arkki.fi/en/works/defenestrator_en/

Jenni Hiltunen, "Grind" 2011 (videostill)

Jenni Hiltunen, "Grind" 2011 (videostill)

Another very powerful Finnish video artist dealing with the development and amplification of rhythms – both visually and acoustically, is Jenni Hiltunen. Three video’s of hers are part of the show and all are a must-see. Her latest, “Grind”, is full of humour (traditional Lappish costumes for fearless dancers only seen from the back) and femininity (slow motion on their/our fat moving to the rhythm of the music on the beat). “24/7 Shiva” is a very powerful storytelling exercise on the process of painting with visuals constructed on a two beats measure… http://www.jennihiltunen.com/24_7_shiva.html

Terhi Ylimäinen "Post Mortem" (2005)

Terhi Ylimäinen "Post Mortem" (2005)

Rauha Mäkilä "We Gon' Keep IT Bumping" (2007)

Rauha Mäkilä "We Gon' Keep IT Bumping" (2007)

The rhythm/sound of music calls for movement and some artists, such as Rauha Mäkilä and Terhi Ylimäinen, explore the movement of dancing on a certain type of music: Madonna, Lady Gaga and the like for Mäkilä and metal music, such as the one of Children of Bodom, for Ylimäinen. It is certainly interesting to see that although their sources of inspiration are so far away from one another, both these young women artists chose traditional figurative painting on canvas/wood to bring out their perception of movement. While Mäkilä juggles with strong, nearly flashy colours and acrylic textures, Ylimäinen resorts to a classical pictural construction based on two colours (black and white) or only one (black).

Finally, “thank you for the music” also tackles the issue of learning and composing a song with

Petri Ala-Maunus

Petri Ala-Maunus

Bojan Sarcevic‘s video “Cover versions” (2001) and Petri Ala-Maunus “A tribute to Petri Ala-Maunus” (2009). Sarcevic is putting a traditional Turkish maqam music group at odds with playing Nirvana’s Come as you are, Bob Marley’s Could you be loved, Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine, and the Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats. They not only appropriate the music to their repertoire but create a sound of its own around these famous (Western) songs. Petri Ala-Maunus is utterly humorous: “Visual artist has never been my number one profession. I have always rather wanted to be a rock star. Unfortunately, I can’t sing, let alone play an instrument. I’m incompetent in music and too lazy to practice. But the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle has always been very fascinating for me…”

Thank you corner (leave a message)

Thank you corner (leave a message)

Regrets about this invigorating exhibition? I have a few minor ones: firstly, the role of social media in sharing music and generating new ways of listening (hangouts, etc.) is hardly present in the exhibition (but in Balanza’s work that widely used crowdsourcing and social media to exist). Secondly, we have entered the era of the Guitar Hero’s and I believe that having one room or activity dedicated to this phenomenon would have brought even more young people to Kiasma – and thus to contemporary art. Finally, I would have loved a more articulate “soundscape” of Finland (Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kallleinen “complaint choirs” would have had a natural place here – again and again!)… Is this all because I am more than 35 years old?

Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti


To know more about the above listed artists:

The exhibition “Thank you for the music” until 17th June 2012 (www.kiasma.fi)

Candice Breitz: http://www.candicebreitz.net/

Susanne Bürner: http://www.art-report.com/en/artists/Susanne__Bürner/20060

David Blandy: http://www.davidblandy.co.uk/

Robert Johnson: http://youtu.be/Yd60nI4sa9A (his song “Crossroads”)  Eric Clapton and Keith Richards popularized Robert Johnson him by paying tribute to his blues legacy.

Eduardo Balanza: http://www.eduardobalanza.com/index.php

Pink Twins: http://pinktwins.com/

Jenni Hiltunen: http://www.jennihiltunen.com/24_7_shiva.html

Rauha Mäkilä: http://www.rauhamakila.com/

Terhi Ylimäinen: http://www.terhiylimainen.com/

Bojan Sarcevic: http://www.bojansarcevic.net/

Petri Ala-Maunus: http://www.kuvataiteilijamatrikkeli.fi/fi/taiteilijat/2108


http://youtu.be/2w84qzHdEms (complaint choir) http://www.complaintschoir.org/

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff says it’s “Okay!” – and glam! it is.

Have you ever wondered what happens to artists who walk in our hearts? My experience is that they stay there forever: they shake you, their work resonates… ! Last year, as Joanne Grüne-Yanoff was still living under Finnish skies, I had the privilege to attend her distinctive Finnish shows, and also visit her studio, to discuss her work at length. Now that she lives in Stockholm (a city to keep under watch regarding its contemporary art) and exhibits at the epicentre of contemporary art (Berlin), the beat goes on and on… with “Okay!” a multimedia exhibition where every piece resonates with the other.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Bird Headphones" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostillThat'sOkay!) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff FeatherBox(videostill "That'sOkay!") 2011

– Your current work in the Berlin exhibition”Okay!” at Galerie Helga Maria Bischoff  seems to burst with glamour (the use of the feathers surrounding the “Feather Box (that’s okay!)” video, for example, like a cushion of personal comfort, or “Feather Point” the video with the feet on feathers; a freed sensual layer on your unchanged conceptual vocabulary, which is now enriched by video. Have you used video as a form of expression before?

– I have been walking around with a secret stash of videos in my pocket for years; last year, I let Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki see a few, and they had a great response, and immediately chose one to show at their summer exhibition in Savonlinna.  I thought Berlin was a good place to begin showing more, and that will continue.

– Can you talk about the idea of glamour and the videos?

In the split-screen video object (Feather Box (that’s okay!), I liked the softness and luxury of this feather nest that the viewer walks up to, only to find this intense woman, repeatedly assuring “That’s ok!” in smiling jump cuts, while on the other side, crossed legs calmly sit, crashing eggshells to the ground.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff Featherpoint (videostill) 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Featherpoint" (videostill) 2011

Similarly, in the video “Feather Point” two feet carefully, cautiously, feel out their surroundings, trying from time to time to stand on point, trying, nearly doing, coming back down, trying again; the sound of something creaking – maybe bone, maybe wood, maybe some outside shift – as accompaniment to the sometimes falling feathers.

The dichotomies presented are underscored by sound; it gives rawness and fragility to the seamlessness of the videos, marking them with a different speed and energy, breaking the quiet poetry of the feet, crashing the developed surface of the smiling woman, the controlled legs.

The videos are seductive and poignant and beautiful and dark and brutal and painful. I suppose glamour can be summarized similarly.

– Do you think that your use of materials, say, in the cases we just talked about, are particularly feminine?

I would posit that because I am a woman, the use of materials is viewed as particularly feminine. If I were a man, the use of materials would be viewed as containing a boldness, profundity, irony, complexity, strength, etc.  Yawn.

– Matthew Barney comes immediately to mind

– Or Broodthaers’ use of eggshells, Mike Kelly’s knitted objects, Beuys putting things in glass vitrines, Duchamp in cages, Hirst’s use of sparkles and butterflies, Cornell’s boxes… The issue is not the endless list of male artists that have not been called on for a feminine use of materials, but the manner of seeing through lenses that correlate the feminine with weakness and the masculine with strength, which, of course, is another conversation.

– Continuing along gender lines, in a recent article in the Berlin magazine J’N’C, you were compared to

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Shell Wing Slippers" 2011

female Bruce Nauman. I like this comparison: You create an hypnotic tension in the videos; they can make people uncomfortable in “Feather Point”, for example, we have the sound of cracking bones and muscles stretching to the point that they shake, close to breaking, etc. and at the same time, they are so aesthetically pleasing (a dancer’s shaped pair of legs,  feathers falling like snow in a Robert Frost poem). They really lure you in and hold you there, in a very unsettling, sometimes even painful, place.  Maybe your insistence on maintaining beauty while expressing such complex darkness is what makes the female part of the comparison.  What do you think? 

I think it’s a tremendous compliment, however you cut it.

– With this exhibition, you also reveal more of yourself – you use your image in the videos, in the drawings.

I have used my own image for years, and that has been out of necessity.  I’m generally around and available, and I grasp quickly what needs to come across.

– The piece Butterfly Box (Mütter Museum) is one of my favourite pieces from your current exhibition. Can you talk a little bit about that?  Where does it come from?


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "ButterflyBox (MütterMuseum)" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Butterfly Box (MütterMuseum)" 2011

When I was a child, I often went the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, USA. The Mütter is a museum originally founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies. My father, a physician, often brought me there when I was a little kid, and for me it was a portal to another world. Fantastic.

There were shelves of fascinating objects like old medical instruments, anatomical and pathological specimens and models, and row upon row of drawers to open filled with such things as models of eardrums. I loved that place, opening and closing drawers, peering into jars, staring at a skeleton of a woman whose rib-cage was compressed by tight lacing. Such stories in these objects – each, a microcosm of a secret world.  That place certainly impacted the work I make; the quiet there, the sound of the drawers opening, the smells, the light — all etched inside me. The box is part of that – an echo of those hours.

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Wings, Pins, Spine" 2011

In this exhibition, “Butterfly Box (Mütter museum)” finds an apparent

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Float" 2011

resonance/continuity with the superb and airy “Wings, Pins, Spine” that is very close to the work I saw last year at Kalhama&Piippo Contemporary in Helsinki (Joanne Grüne-Yanoff encased materials like eggshells, butterfly wings, moss, honey, feathers, etc. in everyday PVC). Can you talk about the symbolism of the materials in your work and that piece?

In my work, wings represent the constant presence of change, feathers the (human) desire to be something else, eggshells the tenacity and fragility of life. I take walks, in life, in general, and collect things.  In “Wings, Pins, Spine” I liked the idea of taking these everyday treasures, often organic, and often revered to the point of kitsch, and encasing them in something also everyday, decidedly human-made and not organic, looked down upon to the point of being demonized. I like that these fragile found bits, caught in time, are held forever, in shapes that will stay as they are, representing change.  The piece is a delicate series of dualities, held together by fine, sharp pins, to create a spine.

– You studied literature and love the strengths and materiality of words. What is the relation of your visual work with text?

It’s all storytelling of one sort or another. Over the years my work has contained a certain automatic writing. Thoughts and ideas come up and go onto and into the work; a catharsis that in the past I kept relatively unintelligible, so that it wouldn’t become too didactic. Now the text is entirely readable.  There is movement toward a more direct interaction.

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

Joanne Grüne Yanoff "Round" 2011

– I love your ability to explore materials and employ a variety of media to support your poetical expression – this exhibition alone spans from works on paper to sculpture, and video, all in a tight dialogue, each enriching the other – recalling the versatility of  Rebecca Horn, Ann Hamilton and the already referred to Bruce Nauman and Matthew Barney. Still, I wonder if you are ever tempted about narrowing your focus to one form? 

Well, I just make stuff.  I often try to stay in one media or another, but certain ideas call for certain materials in my head. So that’s that.


Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011

Joanne Grüne-Yanoff "Message" 2011


FROM JOANNE GRÜNE-YANOFF’s WORK http://www.joannegruneyanoff.com/ 

* Joanne’s exhibition “You Walked In My Heart And The Beat Goes On” at Kalham&Piippo Contemporary http://www.kalhamapiippo.com/ – more details in Joanne’s portrait  http://ruxandrabp.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/joanne-grune-yanoff-an-artist’s-walk-in-our-hearts/

** http://www.hmbischoff.com/ Joanne’s exhibition “Okay!” from 29th October to 26th November. The portofolio of her exhibition is available here http://hmbischoff.com/files/okayportfolios.pdf 

Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti

The tale of “Monument in Waiting” by Azra Aksamija

"Penelope's labour" at the Cini foundation

“Penelope’s labour” at the Cini foundation in Venice

I met with Azra Aksamija to the occasion of the press presentation of one of the most compelling exhibitions I saw recently: “Penelope’s labour – weaving words and images” a contemporary tapestry retrospective presented at the Cini foundation in Venice (http://www.cini.it/en/event/detail/1/544).

My heart and brain started to tick with

Ahmici mosque destroyed

Ahmici mosque destroyed

excitement while listening to Azra’s introduction to her “Monument in Waiting”: my imagination wandered with her on the ruins of damaged or destroyed mosques in Bosnia, an intellectual voyage she undertook in order to complete her doctoral studies in Islamic architecture at the MIT. This interview is the result of a discussion we continued over the internet.

Azra Askamija "Monument in Waiting" (full view)

Azra Askamija “Monument in Waiting” (full view)

– In “Monument in Waiting” you have reconfigured the motives of the traditional Bosnian kilim (flat-weave carpet) to very precisely document the systematic destruction of Islamic cultural heritage. Tapestries are storytellers and yours is telling the story of 9 destroyed mosques out of the hundred plus you have visited  and the over 1200 that were destroyed during the war (author’s note: there were also about 200 churches destroyed or heavily damaged, predominantly Catholic and few Orthodox ones). Let’s start our journey on the field of war destructions with the Ahmici, Umolijiani and Zvornik mosques and how their story is illustrated in your work.

The stories of these and other mosques in my kilim are encoded into the pattern. The three borders of the kilim surround the central composition with the “tree of life” motif, the metaphor of the paradise garden and eternal afterlife. This tree motif tells the main kilim story. Each tree branch carries symbols that represent abstracted data and stories about the investigated mosques. The tree leafs are filled white, indicating the intensity of destruction (from light damage to total destruction) and manner of renovation (from reconstruction true to the original to building anew with different appearance). Legends and personal stories collected in interviews are represented by the bird motif, which is set in the ends of the tree branches. In the traditional kilim iconography, the bird can have various meanings — from good luck, bad luck, happiness, joy, love, to power and strength. Birds are also carriers of messages. In this kilim, the story of the Ahmići mosque, for example, is represented with the symbol rendering two birds standing in the same nest, designed in reference to the community’s split over differences in dealing with memories of war. The Umoljani Mosque, which had not been destroyed, is portrayed with a white bird. Finally, the story of the Begsuja Mosque, is depicted with a symbol of a bird that has a pig’s nose under its feet…

Ahmici mosque rebuilt

Donji Ahmici mosque rebuilt (Lower Ahmici mosque)

The case of the Ahmići Mosque(1991) is an interesting one. It was destroyed

Ahmici mosque rebuilt (second mosque)

Gornji Ahmici mosque rebuilt (Upper Ahmici mosque)

on 16th April 1993, when this village was attacked by Croat nationalist forces. The village had two mosques and hundred-fifty houses that were all destroyed that day, one hundred and sixteen Muslim inhabitants of Ahmići were killed in this process. The images of the destruction of the Donji Ahmići mosque in the media and stories about brutal torture of the inhabitants received worldwide coverage. The process of reconstruction of houses and religious monuments started in 1998 with

Ahmici mosques symbol in "Monument in waiting"

Ahmici mosques symbol in “Monument in waiting”

the organized return of refugees. The rebuilding of the two destroyed

The two Ahmici mosques as implemented  in "Monument in waiting"

The two Ahmici mosques as implemented in “Monument in Waiting”

mosques produced an internal conflict within the local Islamic community: one side urged for the preservation of the Donji Ahmići mosque ruin as a war memorial, while the other favored a quick reconstruction with less visible reminders of the massacre. Subsequently, two mosques were built on the ruins of the destroyed ones, each serving one side of the divided community. With the recent appointment of a shared imam, however, the two groups managed to settle their differences. Yet, the only visible reminder of those killed in 1993 is a modest marble cenotaph in the courtyard of the Donji Ahmići mosque.

Azra with one of the witnesses of the Umoljani mosque story

Azra with one of the witnesses of the Umoljani mosque story

The mosque in the village of Umoljani, Mountain Bjelašnica is located south of the main village core and tells us another touching story. This small village mosque became known to the wider public in 1993, when it survived the attack on the village by the Serbian and Montenegrin armed forces. It is the only roofed edifice from all thirteen regional villages that remained untouched and unburned in August 1993. From that time on, the mosque is mentioned in different contexts and legends. One common story regards the reasons why Serbian nationalist radicals spared this mosque, when they burned down every other building in the village. The members of the jamaat (congregation) answer such questions simply: “The mosque was saved only by the prayers of our grandfathers and grandmothers.” Another story, told by a 93-year-old village inhabitant and former imam of Umoljani, is that the mosque was spared because, some time before the war, the local imam helped saving the sick child of a Serbian man. Some people in the village say that this Serb saved this mosque.

Finally, the story of the Begsuja Mosque (1776, destroyed 1992, rebuilt in 2004) in the city of

Inside the Zvornik mosque

Inside the Zvornik mosque

Zvornik,today a part of the Serb Republic, epitomizes in many ways Bosnia’s history of war and the difficulties of refugees’ post-war return. The mosque was entirely destroyed in 1992 and all the ruin material was taken away on some unknown place. Subsequently, a parking lot erected on the site and some fragments of old tombstones. From the three mosques in the city, all of which were destroyed in 1992, only the Begsuja Mosque has been restored since the Dayton Accord, and today it serves approximately two thousand jamaat members. So far, the Islamic Community has not succeeded in making headway towards the reconstruction of the other two mosques, being blocked by legal, physical and financial obstacles. Though

The pig in the Zvornik mosque implemented in "Monument in waiting"

The pig in the Znornik mosque implemented in “Monument in waiting”

Zvornik is leading in terms of the returnees’ numbers in Eastern Bosnia, the process of refugee return to the region is very difficult. The imam of the Begsuja Mosque reported that Muslims in Zvornik shared the fortunes of their Serb fellow citizens, but that the latter continued to attack Begsuja Mosque in accordance with nationalist propaganda. The record of incidents on the mosque includes stones being thrown on the mosque, windows being broken, walls sprayed with graffiti, garbage placed in front of the mosque’s entrance, and the announcement posters of the Islamic Community being torn down. One of the worst acts against the jamaat occurred at the very start of the Begsuja’s reconstruction when, according to the imam,, someone had placed a dead pig onto the mosque’s foundation. The idea behind all these insults and obstacles in Zvornik is to show returning refugees that they are not welcome back.

– Your kilim is unfinished on the top – there were also some items like prayer beads and low tables that we not there for the inauguration but they are part of this art work, isn’t. Why?

Azra Aksamija "Monument in waiting"

Azra Aksamija “Monument in waiting”

The top of the kilim is intentionally left unfinished to indicate the continuing process towards closure through therapeutic means such as weaving, and that working to restore the architectural and emotional devastation in Bosnia-Herzegovina could become an endless process. The initiation of this process is visually communicated through the motif of the growing “tree of life”, to which new branches with new stories can be woven. Yet, these stories would need to encompass all the destroyed mosques, churches, and all other lost monuments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While the completion of this project remains utopian, the ritual hanging of the 99 prayer beads onto the kilim edge symbolically launches the process.

The attaching of prayer beads to the kilim is something that I introduced in this artwork as a form of ritual program that transforms the traditional kilim into a monument. At the opening of the exhibition in the Stroom Gallery in The Hague, where the piece was produced and first exhibited, I had invited the visitors of the exhibition (some of which were employees of the ITCY) to “ritually launch” the carpet’s function as a monument by attaching the prayer beads on the fringes at bottom of the carpet. In order to do this, the visitors had to kneel down in front of the carpet/monument, thereby symbolically kneeling down in front of the stories depicted at the carpet.

It is a common practice in the tradition of kilim weaving that the weavers (mostly women) thread some personal objects into the carpet as a form of personal prayer or amulet. These objects may range from a knob, to fragments of clothes, or even hair. The weavers include them into their weaving in hope that their whishes may come true (i.e. that they get married or give birth to healthy children). In this project, the prayer beads represent a form of embodied prayer and embodied collective memory of the individual mosque community; they also stand for the prayer to find peace and justice after what happened in the war. The project is entitled “Monument in Waiting”, because the kilim it is waiting to be displayed in the ITCY one day in the future, where it will actualize its function as a monument.

– After Venice, you would love your “Monument in Waiting” to be displayed in the ICTY ( the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia http://www.icty.org/) in the Hague. What meaning does it have to the little Azra who had to flee her country because of the war? Is Bosnia on the path of recovery?

Since this artwork was motivated by a very difficult reality — the atrocities and injustices that affected people of all ethnic groups and denominations in Bosnia during the war — my work begs the question of whether coexistence in the region will ever be possible again. How can people live side by side in light of their recent history and their still open wounds? Can art and architecture help nurture the process of recovery of a peaceful coexistence?

As much as art and architecture represent a sphere of “contamination” from which nationalists have drawn their ideological inspiration, they can also provide the sources of “decontamination” that can contribute to the recovery of Bosnia’s history of peaceful coexistence. Though many have given up on this idea — understandably so, given the extent of violence they have suffered — there are many hopeful examples that testify to the fact that the nationalists have not entirely achieved their goal. While doing my fieldwork, I found it very promising to encounter the new generation of Bosnian imams, who were often well educated and cosmopolitan, as well as open to acknowledging the complexities that weigh heavily on Bosnia’s long history of cross-cultural exchange. I believe that the challenging task for the makers of public art and architecture in Bosnia is to research and make visible what was destroyed in the war, and in a subsequent phase, create projects that would function as a mediating ground between cultures.

– How did you come to the idea of implementing your research on mosques in a tapestry and what were the challenges you encountered?

Weaving "Monument in waiting" 1

Weaving “Monument in waiting” 

I chose the kilim as a medium for the depiction of my research about mosques and the war in Bosnia, because hand-woven carpets represent a visual form of both personal and collective storytelling. As a carrier of the regional ethnic, religious, and/or national identities, the traditional Bosnian kilim also represents a synthesis of the Islamic, and pre-Islamic nomadic material culture with the varied cultural traditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While kilims are usually used as furniture or decoration, they can be also used as prayer rugs. As an architectural device to enable Islamic ritual prayer in any space the kilim in this project stands for a mosque.

While the project’s content drew directly from my dissertation research, the fieldwork that I conducted in Bosnia for this piece also informed my dissertation. Beside the time-consuming travel and archival research, the most difficult, but also most interesting part of the process were interviews that I conducted with members of local mosque communities, survivors of the war, who have generously shared with me their touching and often tragic personal stories. This part of the project was emotionally difficult for me.

Another more technical challenge was to learn about the history of the kilims, the meaning of their symbols and the very weaving technique and process, which I needed to know in order to be able to create a meaningful design that is consistent with the logic of the medium. In this regard, I am deeply indebted to Amila Smajović, an artist and a kilim expert from Sarajevo, who was advising me in the process of creating the kilim’s pattern. Amila’s kilim manufacture “STILL-A” (http://www.stilla.ba/), which employs refugee women as weavers, was commissioned for the hand-weaving of the piece. The weavers were also involved into kilim design by providing me with critical input and advices during the design phase.


Azra Askamija in front of her "Monumnet in waiting"

Azra Askamija in front of her “Monumnet in waiting”


On her website http://www.azraaskamija.net

A portrait of hers on “Meet the Artists” blog http://ruxandrabp.wordpress.com (soon available)