Venice Biennale: A Sculpture Inspired by Global Conflicts


In April 1992, just before Sejla Kameric turned 16, her hometown, Sarajevo, came under siege for almost four years.

The war in Bosnia, in which her father and two uncles were killed, cast a shadow on Kameric, a multimedia artist who has examined war, peace, belonging and otherness in her oeuvre over the last 25 years.

Now, 32 years since Sarajevo became a symbol of the dissolution and destruction of Yugoslavia, her sculpture “Cease,” a shredded white flag made of fiberglass, has been installed at half-staff on the flagpole in the Campo Santo Stefano square in Venice.

Kameric, who divides her time between Sarajevo, Berlin and the Croatian coast, has a busy year ahead with a big solo show at Cukrarna Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in June and another exhibition opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montenegro, in Podgorica, in September.

Aside from promoting a retrospective book of her self-portraits and textiles that was released last year, she is also working on an exhibition and theater performance with the La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York, which will open next year. She spoke about her career thus far in a video interview, which has been edited and condensed.

How did the idea for “Cease” come about?

I was having a conversation with architect and curator Giulia Foscari about how the physicality of a flagpole is kind of like a pavilion. If countries do not have a pavilion, then we can have nations use a flagpole to run works up and down it. That is where the conversation started.

Coming from a place like Sarajevo, does the white flag have an even deeper meaning for you?

It is just very simple: Humanity has lost the plot. The simple symbol of surrender or peace or putting your hands up, the kid that is holding a white flag, how can you shoot the kid who’s holding a white flag? A few weeks ago, Pope Francis caused outrage by saying Ukraine should wave the white flag. But it is not about surrender. It’s about saying, “I don’t accept the violence.” We really have to change this paradigm in which victims are not the weak ones, victims are the ones who refuse to be violent.

A lot of critics of the Venice Biennale say that it’s very political in terms of how countries choose the artists to represent their pavilions. You come from a very politicized region. Do you feel that politics often gets mixed up with art?

A country that is divided cannot implement anything, so it starts to use art as a political tool. As a young artist, I had this attitude where I said: “OK, my country doesn’t exist anymore. The Yugoslavian pavilion is occupied now with Serbia or Montenegro. This idea of the national pavilion doesn’t resonate with me; I think it’s wrong. It’s something that we should question and I’m not sure that I would ever be a part of the national pavilion.”

And then obviously, a few decades after I was thinking I can be subversive. Coming from this small nation in Europe, we could send a different message. We could talk about this diversity and these complex national ideas like “What is this European otherness that exists?”

While your “Bosnian Girl” project at the time it was released, about 20 years ago, felt very specific to the postwar mood in the region, there is now a universality to the piece — dehumanizing people by making them an “other.” Do you agree?

Yes, absolutely. Finally with time, it can be accepted as it was made. The piece itself did not change but now the reading is different.

I very often had to fight the same prejudice from those who liked the work, because they thought that because when I made the work, I was only a Bosnian girl. Like “You made that and it’s only this”; that is the context. It was painful to see the popularity of the work.

Many perspectives that were coming from the West were really excluding the conversation about general prejudice and otherness because it is not only about a particular geographical place or a particular war or gender. It is about seeing different shades.

Looking back over your career, is there anything that you would do differently?

I constantly reflect on how and what I did. And yes, I would change many things. Every time I make something I am like, “Oh, maybe I would tweak this or that.” So it is a constant, I wouldn’t say doubt, but a reflection of how something could have happened and what that is.

But what stayed or remained true is that I reacted to the circumstances in which I was in. None of us have the privilege to do things in a different way once they have happened, but what we can choose is to accept all the good and bad mistakes. If I could live different lives, I would probably have one life dedicated only to photography and another life dedicated to dance. I would change only the circumstances in which I had to operate. And they would, you know, probably be more peaceful.


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