Beauty and Solidarity

Sarajevo National Library, burned and under reconstruction. Photograph by the author.

Sarajevo National Library, burned and under reconstruction. Photograph by the author.

One of post-war Bosnia’s enduring struggles is to keep its extraordinary artistic and cultural heritage alive. Some twenty years ago, the architects of genocide did all they could to destroy it.

I’ve written before about some of the incredible Bosnian artists working to make meaningful art in terribly difficult circumstances, either in Bosnia-Herzegovina or in exile. Abstract expressionist painter Samir Bišćević was one of the first to grab hold of me. Then the list grew: theater director Haris Pašović, concert accordionist Merima Ključo and soprano Aida Čorbadžić, writers Dževad Karahasan and Goran Simić, filmmakers Srdjan Vuletić and Pjer Žalica, and visual artists Šejla Kamerić and Jusuf Hadžifejzović.

Yesterday, on a gorgeous spring day in Cambridge, MA, my family and I had the good fortune of meeting another Bosnian visual artist and scholar, Azra Akšamija, a professor at MIT and the coordinator of the inspiring, international “culture shutdown” and “day of museum solidarity” projects designed to draw global attention to the desperate situation of Bosnia’s national galleries and museums.

It will be a long fight. The political and economic landscapes of Bosnia are forbidding, and the formation of a vital ministry of culture, to fund these essential institutions, will take years. In the meantime, here’s hoping that international solidarity and support for Bosnia will continue to grow.

The significance of being out in Cambridge, so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings, was not lost on us. Our hearts are with all the people of the Boston area, including the Bosnians there, for whom the violence is all too familiar.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
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3 Responses to Beauty and Solidarity

  1. Rick Simpson says:

    Thanks for the information in this post, Tom. The final paragraph leaves me with questions about the formation of a ministry of culture in Bosnia. What people or agencies are attempting the formation, and what obstacles are in the way?

    Rick Simpson

    • Tom Simpson says:

      Fantastic question — one I’d need an advanced degree in political science to answer. The Bosnians I’ve talked to tell me that essentially it’s a matter of lingering, entrenched political division, greed, and ethno-nationalism. As a result, few leaders are willing and able to promote causes that are truly Bosnian, serving the interests of all. They’re much more likely to do what’s best for their own narrow constituencies. Bosnia needs comprehensive constitutional reform and a new generation of progressive political leadership, in a bad, bad way. Until then, the political and economic situations in Bosnia will be a terrible mess, and young people will continue to seek greener pastures beyond Bosnia’s borders.

      • Tom Simpson says:

        An addendum: this is raising all sorts of interesting questions for me too about national funding for the arts. The sense I get from Bosnians is that a ministry of culture is the customary way to do it in a European society, at least one whose socialist heritage is as strong as Yugoslavia’s. On this side of the Atlantic, I’ve never given much thought to where the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts got its start or gets its funding. Of course, the arts scene in the U.S. relies heavily on private/corporate funds, which are also in much shorter supply in Bosnia. Thanks again for the great question.

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