Azra Akšamija presents Keynote Lecture at Mosaics of Change, Revisited / Krakow_ Jun 19


Culture Shutdown: Bosnian Museums in Crisis

On June 19, 2015, Azra Akšamija, Artist, Architectural historian + ACT Assistant Professor, presents a keynote lecture entitled “Culture Shutdown: Bosnian Museums in Crisis,” exploring the future mission of a national museum in post-national societies, envisioning it as a site in which we can begin to reclaim the lost notion of public virtue.
The lecture is part of the Conference, Mosaics of Change, Revisited: Creating Cultures in the “New Europe” and Central Asia, held at Jagiellonian University, Collegium Novum, ul. Gołębia 24 Room 56 Krakow, Poland from June 18-20, 2015.

About the lecture:

October 4, 2012. Dozens of protesters, students and citizens of Sarajevo are gathered in front of the entrance of the National Museum Bosnia-Herzegovina, witnessing what has already become a historical event: the doors of the museum are to be locked and nailed with wooden panels, as if a tornado were on the horizon. In handwritten red letters, “Zatvoreno” and “Closed” are inscribed on the panels, making clear that the Bosnian National Museum is being closed to public for the first time in its 125 years of existence. The cultural activists have been mobilized to make this desperate attempt to save cultural heritage in Bosnia-Herzegovina in response to one of the distant but still pertinent effects of the political framework sealed with the Dayton Peace Agreement from 1995 that ended the 1990s war. That agreement displaced ethnic conflict from the sphere of armed force to the sphere of culture, where new battles take place over history and memory. Six other state-level institutions in Sarajevo, including the National Art Gallery and the National and University Library are also suffering from an unresolved legal status and lack of funding and, it is rumored, are also on the verge of shutting their doors to public.

This cultural crisis, which is easy to minimize, even as it works to lobotomize whole cultures, has caught the attention of artist and architectural historian Azra Akšamija. She works through an artistic lens to address the crisis of Bosnia’s cultural institutions within the context of the socio-political transformation processes that have traversed and remade post-Socialist Eastern Europe. In particular, she is working with the question of whether a national museum can be a vehicle to reclaim public virtue – things like solidarity, collective memory, the integrity of public institutions, and the opportunity for cultural renewal – in post-national societies. Her projects are linked to socially and politically engaged art involving participation of communities and collaborations across disciplinary boundaries. Though Akšamija acknowledges the museum’s institutional power structures and instrumentality in colonialist and nationalist projects, she does not see this history as annulling the possibility of making the museum a catalyst for public good. In a society that is still recovering from the consequences of the war, museums and archives represent a contested sphere — they are in crisis precisely because they preserve the collective memory and the material evidence of coexistence in the region that nationalist-extremists seek to erase. In what ways can people in Bosnia reclaim their shared histories and create new cultural capital for the civil society to overcome the violence of competing nationalisms? In this context, Akšamija makes a case for cultural preservation as a positive instrument for state building and peacemaking in the Balkans. Her work encompasses physical and social sculptures, inspired by recent events, meant to incite a broader discussion about the future role of national museums and other cultural institutions affected by the current political and economic crisis. Museum Solidarity Lobby intervenes to relocate that discussion from the closed doors of committees and bureaucracies to the museum and its public itself.