Thursday, February 19, 2009

August 2000: Sarajevo

Hugo Kaagman is awesome. Period. You'll be seeing a lot more of him in the weekly posts. Today, his work takes us to post-war Sarajevo, circa 2000.
Being a street artist is full of occupational hazards. Thugs, cops, and rats loom around every corner. Most of these problems can be anticipated, but sometimes unusual quandaries emerge. When Dutch artist Hugo Kaagman spent August 2000 painting in Sarajevo, he dealt with a rare set of issues. Financed by a grant from the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, Kaagman was commissioned by the Bosnian government to help rebuild the post-war city. To spruce up buildings on the former front lines, Kaagman painted five large murals in the suburb of Hrasno. However, the bullet holes in the old flats made the painting surface pockmarked and difficult. The extreme summer heat threatened to explode his aerosol spray cans. In addition to the heat, the only scaffolding available was an unstable 14-foot trolley on wheels. In spite of these setbacks, Kaagman's chief concern was "How would the traumatized population respond to this 'unnecessary' luxury?"Kaagman quickly solved his logistical problems. With the help of heavy chains, he secured the scaffolding in place. Painting from the early morning until 3 pm reduced the risk of a spray can explosion. Steering clear of cliché images of peace doves and broken guns, Kaagman drew inspiration from M.C. Escher in addition to Chinese and Moroccan patterns. Armed with tape, rules, and templates, he diligently set about transforming the flats' exteriors.These faux-tile murals are pleasant to look at, but they also possess deeper underlying meanings. In "Swan," two swans interlock like one of Escher's puzzling graphics. Kaagman explains that the two birds represent the cultural and historic parallels between Ireland and Bosnia. The bold Moroccan tilework of "Carpet" illustrates Kaagman's love of patterns and, he adds, is "a friendly nod to Islam." His most controversial piece, "Peace Talks," features two diplomats negotiating amidst a frenzy of spear-toting monkeys. The piece raised some eyebrows; during the painting process, countless pedestrians stopped to question Kaagman.In the end, though, the community's response was positive. The curious pedestrians gave him encouraging feedback and appreciated his work. Speaking fondly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kaagman says, "I love the extremity of Sarajevo and its suburbs. You have the old style of the city where the mosque, the synagogue, and the Coptic church all sit side by side. But there is also the modern style with hip, MTV-minded youth. There is so much contrast here. Someone who looks happy now may have spent time in a concentration camp." Like the city's incongruities, Kaagman's murals contrasted sharply with Hrasno's bullet-bludgeoned buildings. While art certainly can't resolve deep-seated conflicts, Kaagman and his work make the landscapes a little brighter.
All images courtesy of Hugo Kaagman. To see more images of this and other projects, visit

Can anyone in Sarajevo give us an update on those murals? How are they holding up? What's the scene like? Let us know what's up! We've got great posts coming up, including tomorrow's ProFile which features a local CT project. Fabulous!

No comments:

Post a Comment