Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Photo: Mostar's Old Bridge at night
The three-hour train ride from Sarajevo to Mostar in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina is a landscape photographer’s dream. Tourists stare out the windows in awe of the mountains and shimmering cliffs. Were it not for the occasional landmine warning sign, it would be a perfect place to rock climb.
Reduced to rubble during the 1992-95 war, Mostar seems to be having a good day and a bad day at the same time. Modern hotels and bustling sidewalk cafes stand beside bombed-out shells of buildings, many of which are still sandbagged. Young, Muslim boys set off firecrackers inside these uninhabitable buildings – the same buildings their fathers, uncles and older brothers fought to hold a little more than a decade ago.
Locals complain that politicians can always seem to find money for tourism but no money for them.
Tour buses roll down the street, past derelict buildings with anti-World Bank signs painted on them – and make their way to the city's star attraction – the Stari Most, or Old Bridge.
Mostar’s beloved Old Bridge, built in 1566 to link the Ottoman east and Christian west, and a symbol of ethnic unity, was blown up by Croat artillery in November 1993.
Rebuilt in 2004, using the same materials and techniques used for the original bridge, it once again links the Croat side and the Bosniac side of the city. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Strolling down the Kujundžiluk – the ancient street named after the metal workers, the sound of coppersmiths banging on metal rings out.
For the last 30 years, Adnan Badzak has been banging copper and tin into objets d'art. A kind, gentle man, Mr. Badzak, 49, is a fourth-generation coppersmith. He works seven days a week in his own tiny shop with a view of the Old Bridge. It's a family affair. His wife makes tin jewellery; his brother, cousin and aunt work in another shop down the street.
Fifteen years ago, the only banging going on in Mostar was the sound of artillery shells slamming into apartment buildings.
Mr. Badzak was a soldier in the Bosnian Army. Not long after the war started, he got shot in the head and was taken to the makeshift hospital. After seven days, they sent him back to the front.
"Those were tough times," said Mr. Badzak. "We had no food, no (running) water, no electricity."
In order to avoid the snipers, they would sneak down to the Neretva River at night to draw water for themselves.
When asked about that fateful day when the Old Bridge came down, Mr. Badzak puts down his hammer and cradles his hands around the copper plate he is making, depicting the bridge.
"I cried when the bridge went down," said Mr. Badzak.
Like many a young man, he has jumped off the 20-metre high bridge numerous times in his youth. For as long as people can remember, Bosniacs, Serbs, Croats (and anyone else who wanted to), came from all over the former Yugoslavia to test their mettle.
Like many couples in Mostar, Mr. Badzak and his wife have a mixed marriage. He is Bosniac and she is Croat. He goes to his wife's family's house for Christmas and they come to his house for Muslim holidays.
"I fought for Bosnia and Herzegovina," said Mr. Badzak. "Not for Islam."
Although the communities are physically linked again, for some, the emotional scars have yet to heal. Outside the Mostar Divers' Club at one end of the bridge, a stone inscribed with the words – Don’t Forget – serves as a reminder to one and all.
Photo: Coppersmith Adnan Badzak at work in his shop in Mostar.
To see more photographs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, please click here
Thursday, November 01, 2007
(Photo courtesy of the artist)
Throughout history, artists have been at the forefront of social commentary and have provided a unique way of holding a mirror up to their respective cultures for self-examination.
Some artists were applauded and had their work shown at the finest galleries, some were ridiculed and shown only at the Salon des Refusés.
It takes courage to create works of art that show us as we are and what we are capable of doing to each other.
Fortunately, for art lovers, humanitarians and mine action advocates, Blake’s stunning new exhibition – Fragments – does just that.
The show, consisting of 20 quarter-size bronze sculptures, each named after a specific weapon, is on display at the Royal Opera Arcade in London, England, November 1-17.
The artist hopes to raise C$2.4 million (£1.2 million) for landmine clearance and victim assistance through the sale of his sculptures.
How did the son of a bush pilot from Yellowknife, N.W.T., Canada, with a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Alberta, currently living in the south of France, get involved in the landmine issue?
“Having been invited to teach figurative sculpture at the University of Hanoi, I arrived to find the Vietnam War that I thought was over still taking casualties,” said Blake, (who prefers to be called by his first name) in an email interview.
“I feel that I have to do something about it. The work that I was doing over the last few years finds a voice in this cause. I have something to say about this tragic nature of man, our history and the continuous cycle of war upon which we have built our civilization,” Blake said.
“As artists, we both record history and comment on our society. It is a privilege and a responsibility.”
The inspiration for Fragments came from archeological remnants of Greek and Roman figurative sculpture. At the time, Blake was not pleased with his sculptures and put them away. However, when he was in Southeast Asia he was shocked that civilians were still dying from landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) planted 30 years earlier. That led him to go back to his studio and look at this work in a new light.
“I saw that they (the Fragments sculptures) spoke of this tragedy and I followed this voice,” Blake said. “I had met some deminers and was very impressed with their work and that is how I came to know about the issue.”
Blake hopes the Fragments exhibition will provide a mechanism for the public and the corporate community to support the arts and to make a tangible contribution toward landmine clearance and victim assistance.
“People are important to me and that is why I have become involved,” Blake said. “My work is about people and I have found a way where I could push my work past commentary and into action. It is truly art for life’s sake and that is of vast importance to me.”
Proceeds from the sale of the sculptures will go to the UK-based charity No More Landmines.
(Photo courtesy of the artist)