Bosnian art installation makes a splash

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring

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Three figures urinate in a pool shaped like Bosnia and HercegovinaImage source, DRUKCIJI RADIO
Image caption,
To pee or not to pee? Bosnians disagree over the artwork's meaning

A sculpture installed near the city of Vitez in Bosnia and Herzegovina has divided public opinion on whether it is takes too many liberties, figuratively and literally.

Called Unity, it depicts three figures urinating into a basin in the shape of the country.

Some have praised its creativity, spirit and intelligence, but others have accused its creators of plagiarism, and criticised it for impinging on the country's political sensitivities

Some of the tensions between the country's three main ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats - are still unresolved following the end of the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, in which 100,000 people were killed.

While Bosnia and Hercegovina is now an independent state, with each ethnic group represented by the three main political parties and in the country's three-partite Presidency, Bosnian Serb leaders often raise the possibility of seceding from what they call a failed state.

'Such vulgar messages'

Many saw the art installation as a denigration of the state.

The local branch of the main Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action, in Vitez, issued a strongly-worded statement demanding the installation be removed for offending the national feelings of Bosniaks and "other patriots".

"It is unacceptable that such vulgar messages of idle artists and their patrons under the guise of 'freedom of speech' are presented as art… when in fact they represent targeted offence to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens," it said.

Faced with "extraordinary" interest and strong public reaction, the hotel complex of Ethno Village Cardaci, where the installation is located, defended it, saying it was designed to depict the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and "as a reflection of emotions of all of us who face so much negative news, affairs and pessimism on a daily basis".

'There is spirit here'

"The message is simple, we live in a country which is progressing very slowly and responds to challenges that life brings with difficulty," added the hotel's owner, Mirko Sakic.

"The installation was provoked by the coronavirus which laid bare all the weaknesses of our society and our system. It uses satire to show that there is spirit here and enough of a critical mass to move things in a positive direction."

Hundreds reacted to and commented on the hotel's Facebook post and some agreed with Sakic.

"Negative comments come from those who vote for the three nationalists who are literally pissing on us," said one popular comment. "Kudos to the artist, it's a very creative work. If someone minds, elections are in October, let them change the situation."

Others thought differently. "I am not sure what the artist wanted to say, but pissing on the map of my country seems like a really bad thing. I am sure you will find this more damaging than favourable for your business," warned another.

Others have also accused the installation's creators of plagiarising work by another artist, David Cerny, in the Czech Republic's capital Prague.

The Cerny sculpture is also of two mechanical statues urinating into a pool, and visitors can command them to write messages with the streams via SMS messages.

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Unity's creators, daughter and father Kristina and Rajko Livancic, say their work was inspired by Cerny's sculpture, but also by "the lives of all of us".

Kristina Livancic said though the idea was based on the fountain in Prague, its symbolism was "perfectly apt for the state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina".

The pair said they were not particularly surprised by the strength of feeling provoked but Kristina stressed "nothing was further from our mind than offending anyone".

"On the contrary, we wanted to raise awareness of our fellow citizens as we are all more or less in the same situation because of bad policies and politicians," she said.

Reporting by Vesna Stancic