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The Eclipse That Unites Us

by Faruk Šehić

It is fascinating to observe how visual artists create art differently from writers, even though writing encompasses both the visual and graphical elements, eventually merging into graphic novels or comics, their predecessors. This thought came to me after reviewing the works of Ukrainian photographers, directors, visual artists, and writers. I felt envious of the fact that I am not a visual artist. Initially, I felt deeply moved by the emotional layers of their works, the poetic subtlety, confessions, journalistically exact and relentless sentences or photo angles. I was struck by their factuality and tenderness, charm and trauma, and the playfulness of children’s drawings on photos of destroyed objects.

Their works were created within the framework of the WARM project “Reporting from the Future,” originally conceived by Damir Šagolj, the foundation’s director. The mere fact that young Ukrainian artists, writers, and journalists came to Sarajevo in the midst of their own ongoing war, which we observe on our mobile phone screens, already created an aura of peculiarity and interest around this project. This aura is indeed reflected in their works, which are about us and our “small, petty war” and post-war, but also of their present, where the end of the war is not even in sight.

Bringing Ukrainians to Sarajevo, which is no longer besieged and where people are not being killed by sniper shots or artillery fire from the surrounding hills, where life flows completely normally, is somewhat surreal in itself but highly rewarding in an artistic, human, ethical sense. Their experience benefits us, as the essence of art is that you can dive in head first and emerge different, changed, astonished. We are struck by catharsis, even if it’s as small as a grain of rice.

In a way, it is poignant to see our “future,” and that which follows after war, that famous word that never can or will be fully realized, through the eyes of people currently living through war. Whether it is short films, photographs, essays, or other texts, we can see ourselves in all of them. Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Žepa… but we can also see Kyiv, Kherson, and other Ukrainian cities, places of pain.

Their works are points where these two wars intersect, overlap, and intersect again. Like Borges’s “The Aleph,” where past, present, and the much-desired future can be seen simultaneously, a future that we here are still waiting to happen. I think of that imagined, dreamt, bright future that every living being expects will happen after surviving the war.

Our interaction and understanding of each other continued and grew as we met in Kyiv two months after Sarajevo. There, we mingled and got to know each other as human beings enduring the terrible pressure of war/wars, even when it/they, in terms of the frontlines, are far away. Or, as our “small, petty war” is now far behind us, do we understand and visualize the past as indigenous Americans do, as something that physically (spatially) lies behind our backs? And we can return to it only if we turn around and walk back to 1992. That’s why art exists: so we don’t have to walk back.

We were in Kyiv, and that’s where we got to know each other even better. It wasn’t the usual forced closeness that happens on trips or at festivals, out of necessity; the experience of war brought us closer because we could understand each other better than people for whom war is a digital sensation on a smart phone. It was the closeness of people marked by the same marker (a thick black one), who have similar language and culture, look the same or similar, and who, unfortunately, were brought closer by the war.

When the war in Ukraine ends, we will go there again and report from our common future, whatever that may be. And it would be good if it were at least a little bright. And if it is not bright, we can adjust our instruments not to beautify, but to simply adjust the contrast of darkness and light so the darkness is easier to bear.