When Bosnia-Herzegovina’s National Museum closed in October 2012, ACT Assistant Professor Azra Akšamija launched CULTURESHUTDOWN and the global Day of Museum Solidarity to protest the political and financial crisis affecting the National Museum and six other major cultural institutions. CULTURESHUTDOWN has shifted the conversation from institutional critique to advocacy for museums as catalysts for public good and the protection of world heritage. Preserving the rare artifacts housed by these cultural institutions is crucial for securing sustainable peace in the Balkans, as they are evidence of a multicultural heritage, of coexisting ethnicities in the region.
On the Day of Museum Solidarity, March 4, 2013, over 275 museums, art galleries, academic programs, and libraries from forty countries and five continents responded by symbolically crossing out exhibited objects with barricade tape. Major participating institutions included the German Historical Museum, Berlin, Germany; Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Dubrovnik Museums, Dubrovnik, Croatia; Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, Serbia; Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; National Museum of Archaeology and History of Moldova, Chisinau, Moldavia; and the South Australian Museum, Adelaide, Australia. In the US, twenty-six institutions participated including the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento (CA); Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg (FL); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (MA); Museum of Modern Art Chicago (IL); and The New School Art Collection, New York (NY). This campaign was supported by CIMAM, the largest global organization for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, as well as ICOM, the International Council of Museums.
The project continues as seven threatened cultural institutions in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, are exhibiting large-scale photographs depicting the global Day of Museum Solidarity. With this new installment and upcoming exhibitions and workshops in Europe and US, Akšamija hopes to continue to harness international and local support for the cause while fostering a critical discourse on the role of cultural institutions in the state-building process.
“Most of these institutions and their collections survived the [Bosnian] war of the 1990s with the heroic help of their curators. Their collections are irreplaceable,” said Professor Akšamija, herself a Sarajevo born artist and architectural historian. “This is a real crisis because collections, art pieces, and artifacts need care and attention of institutions with electricity, climate and pest control, and paid, professional curators to protect them,” added Akšamija.
The CULTURESHUTDOWN community has grown into a global network of cultural lobbyists advocating for the protection of culture and its institutions. Within this framework, Akšamija’s new projects Museum Solidarity and Future Heritage Collection create new forms of cultural production and intervention by engaging artists, curators, and institutions across the globe through activist and discursive forms of lobbying.
In her multi-disciplinary practiceas a professor and as an artist, Akšamija investigates the potential of art and architecture to facilitate transformative mediation in cultural or political conflicts and to provide a framework for researching, analyzing, and intervening in contested socio-political realities. Her recent work focuses on the representation of Islam in the West, spatial mediation of identity politics, and cultural pedagogy through art and architecture. Azra Akšamija’s Full Profile.
Credits for the Day of Museum Solidarity campaign:
Day of Museum Solidarity was conceived, initiated, and managed by Azra Akšamija with the support of CULTURESHUTDOWN members Selma Gičević, Maximilian Hartmuth, Asja Mandić, Jasmin Mujanović, Dietmar Offenhuber, Susan Pearce, Andras Riedlmayer, James Thomas Snyder, Jeff Spurr, Sonja Srdanović, and Mladen Vuković. Financial support was provided by Azra Akšamija (private), Director’s Grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT, and ACT Pilot Grant. Participants: 275 cultural institutions from forty countries across the globe. Initiative supported by the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM); the International Council of Museums (ICOM); ICOM Croatia; Croatian Society of Art-Historians; and e-flux. Graphic Design: Jegan Vincent de Paul and Sandro Drinovac.
Professor Akšamija would like to thank all individuals and institutions supporting and promoting this campaign, especially Ljerka Dublić, Eva Meran, and Zdenka Badovinac.