Sarajevo Project

Chapman Gallery / Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Fractured Selves

The images of broken, lost people from former Yugoslavia like those photographed by Charley G. Cupic represent for me the violence and suffering inflicted on the individual by politics, by history and by society.  I have created images which reflect my feelings on these issues and for the most part are denunciatory rather than affirmative.  When I react to the subject of war my most immediate and enduring thoughts and feelings are of mortality, vulnerability and victimisation.  For me the victims are the essence of war.  Fractured Selves is about these victims.


Dealing with the subject of Sarajevo I have had to contend with the morality of using the suffering of others to make art as well as the relevance of making paintings in relation to existing photographs.  During the past two years I collected newspaper and magazine articles and slowly began to see these images as documentary material  which could be absorbed into my working processes.  The sense of actually witnessing an event in the media photographs is re-imaged in my paintings and this transformation opens up an emotional and intellectual relationship to the war that photographic documentation does not allow.  These processes became a metaphor for fragmentation and disintegration and a commentary on the lives of ordinary people.

Fractured Selves  1997
First Strike for Peace

“It has been suggested that survival is the only modern topic, and artists seeking immortality in the nuclear age must confront the notion that there may be no prosperity.  In this context, art can be seen either as an escape or as a strike for peace.  It is the artist’s job to conceive the inconceivable, and to move us – to move us closer to realisation, to empower us to imaging, even to imagine the most dreadful things.  But artists are as scared as everybody else to get too close to the fires of extinction.”

“First Strike for Peace” was the title of an article by Lucy Lippard published in Heresies:  A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, 1985.  Part of this article is quoted above.  Ten years later is provided me with a framework for my ideas about the intersections between art and life which in turn gave me the confidence to curate Sarajevo.

Sarajevo had its origins from a meeting between myself and Swiss/German artist Miriam Cahn in her studio in Basel, September 1992 – the beginning of the first winter during the siege of Sarajevo.  For the first time in my life I was in very close proximity to death and destruction and was struck by the significance of this war for all of us.  Miriam Cahn was making art that responded to the horror of this conflict, which started me thinking about the role art has to play in meeting the human and political needs of communication and recognition.

Sarajevo has grown out of my response to this experience.  In 1995 I decided to bring together artists, writers, historians, educators and curators in Australia to share ideas about the devastating effects of war and the role that art can play in demonstrating the horrors of war.  I do not intend simply to condemn, condone, or justify any of the many players in this particular tragedy.  This exhibition tries to expose visually what happened or can happen when people fail to prevent or to end war.  Future generations will see the wars of this century through artists’ eyes as well as that of the media.  There will always be a space for imaginative visions unrestrained by urgent news deadlines.

“In August 1939 Sir Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery in London, approached the Ministry of Information with the suggestion that it form a committee to advise on the employment of artists to record the war…  simply to keep artists at work on any pretext, and, as far as possible, to prevent them from being killed.”   When I approached artists to make art about war I hoped to show the world what war does and, as far as possible, to prevent us all from being killed.

Artists were invited to contribute to Sarajevo if their previous work and/or current work addressed issues of identity, humanity or militarism, and offered diverse insights intokey social issues arising from the war in Bosnia.  Two of these artists, Peter Pinson and George Gittoes, have held positions as official military artists with the Australian Defence Forces;  six artists, Elizabeth Ashburn, Elwyn Lynn, Ian Howard, Enid Ratnam-Keese, Denis del Favero and Dianna Wood Conroy have dealt with the theme of particular wars including the Long March, the Vietnam War, the Kurdish conflicts and the African Civil Wars;  finally, I have addressed the general theme of the plight of humanity in the face of horrific conflict.  The nine artists work in a variety of media and have differing political and poetic intentions.  They are among the relatively few contemporary Australian artists who are willing to demonstrate a deep concern for the effects of current warfare in their work.  As a totality, their work reflects the many-sided nature of the tragedy of war.  Their diverse visions complement and enhance each other, giving to a profound and disturbing understanding of war.

Sarajevo’s and Bosnia’s struggle is our struggle.  It is the struggle of the world for peace, democracy, cultural diversity and tolerance, particularly against fascism.  I do not believe that art has the power to change the course of history, or even to stop the recurrence of the atrocities that have gone on in the former Yugoslavia.  But art can cast light on this subject by moving the viewer emotionally, spiritually and intellectually and by prompting discussion and debate.

Fractured Selves  1997