Tragedy as Awareness

By Dijana Kadic / February 9, 2012


“What I make is not beauty,” Samir Bišćević explains in his garage-turned-studio in Northwest Chicago.
Stacks of large canvases and the strong smell of oil cave in on him in the small space.

Dijana Kadic: How would you describe your paintings then?

Samir Bišćević: After tragedy and survival [in the Bosnian war], we are now sensitive to the subject of destruction, brutality and darkness. My paintings are emotional reflection of my experience and release of my inner subconscious mind. I know now how the people in Sudan and Syria feels, how the guy in Rwanda felt. We share same experience.
Tragedy is universal.

DK: Why does history keep repeating itself?

SB: It’s all a mental frame. The other day I was reading about what Milošević thought of Karadzić. He said: “He’s not normal and he doesn’t speak normally. He’s been working with crazy people all his life.” That’s the worst combination you can get – a nationalist and a crazy guy. […] This is not unique to Bosnia, those people exist at other places too. It’s just a matter of conditions allowing them to succeed.

DK: What is your personal experience in the war?

SB: I was in Sarajevo and I know what happened there. I saw everything with my own eyes.

DK: How do you think this abstract and spontaneous way of painting helps you convey your experience?

SB: It helped me to express my feelings and emotions aroused from my experiences of war. When I paint, that’s what I feel that increased dynamic tension between life and death. But based on the spontaneous preference and your frame of reference you may feel different when you look at my paintings. For you and me it doesn’t need to be the same thing because we have different experience and state of mind. At least you can feel volume of sadness on my paintings. I paint to celebrate life and in protest of war and systematic violence of innocents.

I had an American lady contact me once. She was studying art and was writing a paper and found me on the Internet. She said, “Our paintings are so similar. What I paint is love and ecstasy. But the similarity between our work shocked me […] because you’re coming from the opposite side.” She’s coming from ecstasy and I’m coming from tragedy but it’s all feeling. We came to the same expression. It’s just like they say, there is a fine line between genius and insanity. But they come from opposite extremes.

That is the beauty of abstract painting. You see what you experienced, what you’re dreaming, what you want to see, what’s in your memory. […] If you have a hill, a little river, a little house, a little tree, everybody in the world is going to see the same thing. What kind of freedom do you have? You’re in the box.

In Srebrenica, you had boys, 8 or 10 years old, standing in a line for execution. And you have a boy asking his father to protect him. What do you think that father felt? He cannot protect his own child and he his looking at his helpless son’s eyes. What he feels at that moment is what I paint.

DK: Do you think your paintings could help people who have gone through the same experience?

SB: If you went through the same experiences, maybe you’ll feel better because you’re not alone. If you didn’t experience it, you can become aware of the tragedies around the world. It could happen to anybody.


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