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Yuliia Manukian

Yuliia Manukian is the curator of art and urban projects for the Urban Re-Public NGO based in Kherson, Ukraine. She is also a cultural journalist and activist, and she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2023.

About the Project

I have lived and worked almost all my life in Kherson. The projects I curated have always had a socio-political dimension. We involved young Kherson architects, artists, and creative people to reflect on urban improvement issues, preserve unique local architecture, work with historical memory, and rethink the collections of regional museums.

Kherson was occupied on February 28, 2022, shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. During the occupation, I wrote the Kherson Diary for The Guardian (shortlisted for the British Journalism Awards 2022). Additionally, I curated the Art Residency in Occupation for Kherson artists. My essay “Residency in the Occupation: Art under Threat of Death” was awarded 3rd place in the AICA International Art Critics Prize 2022.

One of my current activities is documenting the damage and loss of cultural heritage, including architectural and museum heritage, within the Documenting Ukraine Program, launched by Timothy Snyder in cooperation with the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM, Vienna). No wonder I was so enthusiastic about visiting Sarajevo, especially after immersing in the post-Troubles context of Belfast, which I attended to participate in the Peace and Beyond 2023 international cultural program on the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. We were encouraged to think about what we could learn from the communities experiencing the consequences of military or civil conflicts and the role of art in reflecting on the unhealed wounds caused by war, revealing the hidden, and allowing many voices unheard to sound in the traumatized society.

In my firm belief, art is capable of not only representing the war but also making it visible and audible. Three years ago, in a conversation with me about the art of resistance, Pascal Gielen said prophetically that living in a time of constant catastrophe is both a nightmare and a great fortune for the researcher. Now, we can turn the nightmare into documentation through the lens of art so that history no longer suffers from the gaps preventing it from sinking into oblivion.

I have my own experience of artistic residencies – as a curator, as an expert, and as a journalist. And I see how artists use the language of art to tell the world the truth about the war. It is critically important for me to convey how cultural resistance to anti-democratic narratives is taking place because the domain of culture is also a place where the free future is being shaped.

When preparing to write the article, I constantly referred to Claudia Zini’s theses, particularly her vision of her mission: “…showing that art from Bosnia and Herzegovina requires different methods and structures for analysis and that the lens of post-war and post-genocide society is the best initial approach for such a sensitive production. In my thesis, I examine much of the art produced in post-war Bosnia as the visual language of trauma and the experience of conflict and loss. However, I also see artistic expression as a safe environment where artists can confess their intimate stories and find a space to heal. I believe that the narrative of their autobiographical works becomes a space for a cathartic process, allowing for the purification and purging of emotions that results in renewal and restoration.”

In fact, this largely coincides with my approach. My meeting with the local architect and activist Dunja Krvavac, whose family story is closely linked to the siege of Sarajevo, deeply influenced my perspective. Her desire to change things for the better not only for herself but also for promising young people, along with her wonderful tour of the modernist heritage (which I have been researching for several years) and commemorative sites of the city, contributed to my deep immersion in the various layers of the political and cultural context. Additionally, getting to know the team at the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art and Lejla Hodžić’s brilliant introduction to Bosnian and Herzegovinian art in the 90s enriched my understanding significantly.

I thank the WARM Festival team for this invaluable experience.

Why Culture Matters

by Yuliia Manukian

I’ve been dreaming of visiting Sarajevo for a long time. It is a wounded city, and a sense of tragedy is still very acute here. I felt the same way in Belfast, which I visited as part of a Ukrainian delegation invited to participate in the Peace and Beyond 2023 international cultural programme in Belfast on the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

What can we learn from the countries experiencing the consequences of military or civil conflicts? I look for answers in culture, which plays a significant role in divided and polarised societies in resolving hidden problems and controversial issues for local communities.

Unfortunately, my stay at the Reporting from Future workshop was short but insanely intense. When we were getting from the airport to the meeting point (the Austrian House), my companion, a lawyer and muralist by vocation from Moldova, asked me if it was my first time in the Balkans. I said yes, and he enthusiastically told me about this unique vibe. When he found that I was into modernism, he confessed to being an ardent admirer of it, too.

Architecture and Urbanism

Then it got even better – the artist Inga Levi, a workshop participant, introduced me to a young architect and activist Dunja Krvaváč, who showed me not only ‘her city’ but also the gems of interwar modernism. She comes from a family of architects, so one can imagine her fantastic background.

As a skilled guide, Dunja arranged a meeting at a restaurant in the old market. Here, Inga and I experienced the whole vibe in full force – Bosnian coffee, no smoking restrictions, delicious food, and the half grimly – half friendly (what a paradox) attitude of the locals. What immediately caught my attention were the ironic posters above the meat aisles of the market. Later, I saw them in the Museum of Modern Art and was delighted with my instincts about the intervention of modernity in a traditional place of trade.

Dunja brought the Architectural Guide to Sarajevo (she is one of its contributors) for Inga, and then I realised that I needed one, too. They ordered me a rakija to calm me down, and we went to the memorial sites – that was the first task for our tour.

Perhaps everyone knows about the Roses of Sarajevo – shell marks filled with red paint (during the siege, they got filled with blood). The first such rose we came across was in the Markale market, where the worst calamity occurred in 1994-95: more than 100 people died. “Ironically, this is the most expensive market in the city now,’ Dunya commented.

However, the main detail of her story is about the house opposite the market, the architectural institution where her father went with her as a child. Something slowed him down before entering it, and just in time – the building was heavily bombarded. Here, these bullet scars on the facades are not covered, serving as evidence of war crimes. In the same area, there is a memorial plaque commemorating the 26 residents killed while queuing for bread.

In general, any conversation about Sarajevo always ‘incorporates’ memories or speculations about the 4-year siege. Dunja’s parents spent them in the basement of their house. Having already had a son, they decided to ‘make’ another baby – what else was there to do then, Dunja laughed. ‘That’s how I came to be (in the first year of the war). I don’t remember anything terrible, only from my parents’ stories, but like most of my generation, I have this inherited trauma. My father had to fetch food and water, and that was a deadly quest under sniper fire. Sometimes he would bring toys, which made my mother very nervous – why the risk?” Sometimes her parents took her out to get some air and watch the beautiful sunset.

Dunja showed us commemorative arches with the names of fallen Bosnian army soldiers, noting bitterly that these were supposed to be places of attraction: ‘They announced a tender, and there were probably more interesting projects, but the cheapest one won, and here we are. There seem to be flowers and a bench, but I’ve never been drawn to sit down here at least once.’

I understand her because we were more impressed by the graves – historical and modern, right in the park, among the bushes of blooming lilacs. I wanted to examine each.

The graffiti gallery the Olympic bobsleigh Track has been transformed into is also striking. During the siege, Bosnian Serbs used it as an artillery position. After the demining, there were plans to restore it, but so far, it is all talk. Now, it is the domain of graffiti writers and bikers.

Dunya is critical of the local urban situation because here, like in Ukraine, everything is chaotically built up with skyscrapers that grossly interfere with the historic centre. Nevertheless, her enthusiasm for change does not fade. She runs two NGOs, involves her students and openly criticises the authorities for their poor decisions. By the way, she does not like the current mayor: ‘The fact that our mayor is a woman, of course, pleases feminists, but she is a populist and plays politics instead of taking care of the modern development of the city. Our highly complex political system does more to divide people than to unite them. People (Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Christians) get along better down below.’ Her family also includes representatives of different ethnic groups and religions but she is an example of a new, unbiased generation that respects history but does not want to drag these quarrels into the future.

Dunja had an internship in Oslo and could have stayed there, but she came home because she was a big fan of Sarajevo. Every time she sees it from the height of the funicular that takes her up to her house, she feels goosebumps – a beauty that never gets boring.

About interwar modernism. The iconic modernist house Dunja showed us was commissioned by a family of wealthy Bosnian Muslims. That is, they were educated, travelled around Europe and heard of the Bauhaus. Next to it is a whole residential complex with wonderful balconies for gardens. As a rule, the local ‘private’ modernism has signs of traditional (Ottoman-Bosnian) architecture. Unfortunately, almost all balconies are covered, because the architects did not take into account the harsh and windy winters here, so this openness appeared a bit of a utopia. Downtown, you can find a pure international modernist style, typical for the administrative buildings in Europe at that time.

About the modernism of the 80s. We stayed in the Olympic Holiday Inn, next to the twin Unitic Towers (all designed by Ivan Strauss), heavily damaged during the siege. The buildings were restored, although there were some kitschy interventions in the hotel’s excellent project. In general, the level and scope of restoration are quite good, and I, of course, looked at it all from our perspective.


I was tremendously amazed by the collection assembled by the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, temporarily located in the Vijećnica (Town Hall), on the banks of the Miljacka River, in the old Turkish quarter.

But first, let me remind you of an enormous tragedy – the destruction of the Vijećnica library on the night of 25-26 August 1992. The charming pseudo-Moorish building, inspired by the Islamic art of Spain and North Africa, along with two million books, burned to the ground. Snipers killed firefighters and those who tried to save at least some of the books and manuscripts. A few days later, a ‘cellist from Sarajevo’, Vedran Smailovic, played on the ruins. He is famous for playing Albioni’s Adagio for free at funerals, often targeted by shelling during the first years of the siege.

It should be noted that art was a sort of resistance at that time. People were willing to risk their lives to attend performances under constant grenade fire. Susan Sontag’s interpretation of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in 1993 finally brought the war to the attention of an international audience. There were also exhibitions, performances, radio and television programmes that ridiculed ethnic stereotypes, such as the TV comedy Top lista nadrealista.

Getting back to the building. Everything possible was restored, and the rest was reconstructed. Vijećnicu was reopened in 2014, and now it is the residence and headquarters of the mayor and the city council. Of course, heritage lovers lack the patina of time, complaining that everything is too bright, but time will provide the new patina inevitably.

The curator, Aida Bicakcic, told us that the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art was founded during the war in 1992. A group of local enthusiasts, led by Enver Hadžiomerspahić, the museum’s first director, invited artists from around the world to donate some of their works as a symbol of support for Sarajevo during the siege and to build a collection for what would later become the Museum of Modern Art.

NB! The idea to create a museum came to Enver Hadžiomerspahić when he watched the burning Museum of the XIV Winter Olympics. On his typewriter, he wrote the founding concept of Ars Aevi: “Sarajevo invites the most significant artists of the world to contribute their works to form their collection of the future Museum of Contemporary Art in Sarajevo.” It sounded “frankly insane”,yet he was supported by the then-Mayor of Sarajevo. According to Enver, Ars Aevi is primarily“a project of an ethical relationship of the artists of the world towards that magical word Sarajevo.”

He brought catalogues of the collection printed in besieged Sarajevo to the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, lobbied for the idea of a museum, and developed a network of friends from museums, galleries and contemporary art centres in Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Turkey. In 1999 he brought the collection home and organised a large-scale exhibition at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The collection consists of about 150 works of art, including Michelangelo Pistoletto, who helped to collect the brightest examples of Arte Povera, Jannis Kunnelis, Marina Abramović, Anish Kapoor, Joseph Beuys, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth, Juan Munoz, Panamarenko, Stephan Balkenhol, Cornelia Parker, Ilya Kabakov and many others. There is also the Inspection Medical Hermeneutics (Sergei Anufriev, Vladimir Fedorov, Pavel Pepperstein), D. Prigov’s Brave Bear, 50 Proposals for the UN, Komar&Melamid (the UN declared Srebrenica a safe zone despite the approach of the Bosnian Serb army. At that time, the UN was approaching its 50th anniversary and was experiencing a crisis due to the situation in Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda. The busts of Stalin, Washington, and Christ hint at the UN’s helplessness.)

For some time, the collection was kept in the National Museum. Later, due to a lack of public funds, it moved to the Skenderija Olympic Centre, restored with money from Venice and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the 53rd Venice Biennale, the museum already had a space for its exhibition.

In 2013, the Skenderija Centre closed its doors to art for the sake of a more lucrative show business. So, the museum ended up in the Town Hall. Unfortunately, the size of the premises does not allow for large installations (Anish Kapoor) or video art. However, the museum is waiting to move to a new building designed by Renzo Piano, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

The museum will be built in the historically rich and culturally developed Marijin Dvor district, where there are already museums. Thus, this place will turn into a full-fledged museum quarter. By the way, the authorities imposed a moratorium on construction here, and only under intense pressure from the former mayor of Sarajevo, Abdulah Skaki, an ardent supporter of the museum idea, did the city council cancel it. He and other stakeholders were irritated by postponing construction several times over the past ten years while numerous shopping malls had sprung up around the site.

UNESCO established a donor-advised fund to raise resources and issued a tender for the construction, with a deadline of 22 April 2024. That is, the chances of starting construction shortly are rather high. Once again, I am very envious – despite the institutional indifference, the cultural community managed to receive the project by a starchitect. However, Aida Bicakcic admitted that the project had several significant flaws and finalising it took a long time. It is a common situation with museums designed by icons – they have ambitions to create an object of art, partly ignoring the functionality. Zaha Hadid, for instance, had a lot of scandals over museum commissions.

Currently, the financial support provided by the European Union, the Canton of Sarajevo and Italy covers about 75% of the total costs. And what about the state? It has to pay the salaries of officials from numerous power branches. There is no money left for culture.

Renzo Piano also designed and donated funds for the construction of the Ars Aevi pedestrian bridge (2002, Renzo Piano Building Workshop), which connects the Grbavica residential area with the future museum complex. The bridge was built in Italy and brought to Sarajevo in 2001. But the city’s gratitude was short-lived. In 2012, Enver Hadžiomerspahić went to the bridge to announce his resignation from his post. But instead of uttering anything, he started sweeping garbage out of the gutters to protest its neglect. Although some passers-by asked him what the point was, he took the time to explain that such an attitude to the gift was shameful. His experience of organising the Yugoslav Biennial, Yugoslav Documenta, in 1987 and 1989, taught him to be a ‘missionary.’

I appreciated the prominent local artists. Three photographic portraits – of Malevich, Kafka and Tesla – hang above a pile of worn-out shoes. It is the Heralds of Post History project by conceptual artist Braco Dimitrijević. Silent heralds who ‘support’ the concept of a place without final truth, where different values coexist. In his ‘Posthistorical triptychs’, which he has been implementing since the 70s, the artist outlines an aesthetic model that is not based on a clear division between art, everyday life and nature but is a harmonious synthesis of these elements. At that time, being ahead of his time in his theories of relational aesthetics, Dimitrijević called an artist an “arranger,” creating an initial situation co-authored by the public, and the final result is unpredictable.

Tesla, Modigliani, and Malevich were only recognised many years after they created their works. These are references to historical figures of specific significance to him, who should be honoured or stigmatised. The artist developed the concept of ‘posthistory’ in his treatise Tractatus Post Historicus (1976) a few years before the term ‘postmodernism’ appeared, defining it as the coexistence of different concepts and models, the pluralism of truth and time: ‘In fact, randomness is a hidden determinism, because nothing happens by chance, everything has to be looked at from a cosmic perspective. It is proved by the numerous mistakes of history, which push people to the margins as ‘passers-by’ to offer them as heroes again. Just think of Kafka, El Greco (forgotten for 300 years), Van Gogh and many others. I am telling this story.’

I wanted to comment on Hammer and Sickle by Hungarian multimedia artist Sándor Pinczehelyi. In the early 1970s, he turned his attention to appropriating and decoding the symbols of the labour movement through conceptual art and graphic design. In some Eastern European countries, the five-pointed star and the hammer and sickle were declared ‘totalitarian symbols’ after the 1989 regime change, while elsewhere, they are still used as state symbols or political party signs. Even today, there is an ongoing debate about what exactly these signs symbolise in their changing historical context and what personal sensitivities might be offended. The artist took these symbols and brought them back into everyday reality by treating the hammer and sickle as utilitarian objects (political pop art) and making photographic documentation of these actions. What is a procedure of appropriation and reinterpretation for him, which gives them an ironic or even completely opposite meaning, is an iconography of evil for us. And irony does not save. Although, we liked the posters with sad wartime humour.

In 2023, Ars Aevi Nukleus Kijev was added to the collection as an expression of solidarity with the people of Ukraine (curated by Olha Balashova, Halyna Hleba and Tetiana Lysun). It represented the following artists: Ismar Čirkinagić (herbarium), the Open Group (Museum-Museum), Aida Šehović (Road Signs Sarajevo-Kyiv), and Alevtina Kakhidze (Botanical Victims).


There is an opinion that comparing the Ukrainian situation to civil wars is incorrect. I completely agree with this, as well as with the fact that in a week, you cannot understand how complicated everything is in conserved conflicts, how painful it is for those who are still waiting for war criminals to be prosecuted and do not understand how to coexist with those who killed their relatives. As Ed Vulliamy, the first journalist to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, wrote in his book, The War is Dead, Long Live the War, “Though not industrial death camps in the way that the Nazi camps were, […] they were exactly why this term was coined, during the Boer War, to describe places in which civilians, not prisoners of war, were concentrated only because of their ethnicity, and where many were murdered, tortured and violated before enforced deportation. They were not, as the Serbs and their revisionist supporters claim, ‘transit camps’, ‘collection centres’ or ‘detention camps.’

This division of society can last for a very long time. Healing the wounds of the past remains a utopia until sectarianism and segregation are finally overcome. One of the most acute problems in contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina is the institutionalised ethnic ideology reinforced by the Dayton Agreement. Vaclav Havel called it ‘ethnic interpretation’ and defined the essence of the conflict as two different concepts of society: ‘On the one hand, the modern concept of an open civil society, in which people of different nationalities, ethnic roots, religions, traditions and beliefs can live together and cooperate creatively. On the other hand, there is the archaic notion of a tribal state as a community of people of the same blood.’

However, cultural diplomacy is not an empty word. The memory of genocide is still alive, and I respect the efforts of Bosnians to pave the way for a more inclusive society. Some cultural institutions challenge this dominant view of society by including diverse perspectives to shape modern local discourse.

The most valuable thing for us is how art gives voices to those who have been deprived of the opportunity to add their memories, traumas, reflections and hopes to the history of the war. This is not so much about the confrontation between two lenses – the pro-government and the cultural one, but about what forms a more coherent and truthful fabric of collective memory.

I can’t help but quote “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Contemporary Art from a post-conflict Society” by Claudia Zini, where she noted that “The field (a process of newly defining its cultural identity) opened up for a new generation of artists who started to question the consequences of the war with new and experimental subjects – such as identity, trauma and memory – working with new-media and site-specific projects strongly connected with socio-political issues… The two generations share the identity of being the ‘children of post-communism’ who remain in the post-war era… namely marionettes in a historical process that takes place independently of their will… I propose that their work creates an aesthetics of the aftermath of violence and loss, allowing for a visual narrative reconstruction of the past while also exploring… ‘persistent power of nostalgia and the magnetism of the idea of belonging’ in an ongoing quest for identity… These works of art act as alternative truths, counter-memories and forms of resistance from below.”

Against this backdrop, it is artistic statements that sound more powerful because of their capacity to address inconvenient issues and articulate a new conceptual framework for reflecting on the consequences of the past.