The town of BihaÄ in Bosnia herzegovina is about a 10-minute drive or an hour’s walk from the Croatian border, making it a key gateway to enter the European Union for people displaced by war, climatic realities and the economic crisis. As a result, in recent years the region has witnessed a dramatic militarization of its border areas. In order to prevent or discourage migrants from attempting the crossing, the EU is funding both humanitarian aid to migrants in Bosnia, which is not an EU country, and the strengthening of the military apparatus in Croatia, which is part of the EU (but not a party to the Schengen agreement).
Aware of this bottleneck, the artist Mladen MiljanoviÄ recently combined his artistic skills with the practical knowledge gained from his compulsory military training to help migrants survive their journey through a myriad of obstacles of natural terrain, fences and border walls, and various surveillance and d ’emergency. He envisioned the type of information that would be most useful and created diagrams and drawings similar to military training manuals for a pocket manual. Each page of the book describes a different circumstance in simple, educational, black and white line drawings accompanied by brief descriptive texts in Arabic, English, Spanish and Urdu. Describing the best ways to cross a razor-wire topped wall, telling the time by the position of the sun, or how to avoid being spotted by drones, MiljanoviÄ provides essential information for survival while simultaneously facing the rules. selective and unwritten migration and mythologies of national borders. Deeply aware that the book had to be useful on many levels, the artist made it physically small enough to be carried easily, in black and white so as to be readable in low light, largely image-based to get around the issues literacy and language skills, and it took it a step further by inserting a bag of flammable powder into the lid that can be burned like a flare to signal help.
About 900 of the 1,000 printed books are now in circulation and there is also a free downloadable version. PDF available here, thanks to an exhibition entitled Didactic wall in BihaÄ city gallery which took place for three weeks in July. For the exhibition, MiljanoviÄ took the drawings and texts created for the book and engraved them in a large composition on a marble panel. This object served as a sort of advertisement for useful information under the guise of art.
The location of the City Gallery was key to the impact of the project: it is physically located in the main square of BihaÄ, which until recently was the main gathering point for migrants coming and crossing the city. The opening of the exhibition brought together the most permanent citizens of BihaÄ and the migrants. As MiljanoviÄ relayed the social gathering scene, it became clear that his work acted as a mixer to mix the city’s longtime and temporary residents, making each an embodied reality to the other and denying the perpetuation of the abstract “other” mentality. In addition, a guided tour of the project explained in detail the strategies included in the manual, creating a moment of exchange between visitors on the realities of border crossing. At the end of the evening, several people successfully tested using the guide as a torch.
Since the opening on July 15, migrants gathered in the main square have been transferred to a camp outside the center of BihaÄ. MiljanoviÄ has heard reports that migrants in this camp are sharing his book while discussing strategies for attempting a crossing.
If art and culture can go beyond symbolic power and occupy both poetic and utilitarian registers, MiljanoviÄ succeeds. With an exhibition strategically located to attract its audience and a free book containing simple and educational drawings, it disseminates useful information and creates a social space to unite the cohabitants of this border area in BihaÄ, creating unlikely conversations between migrants. and possible residents. MiljanoviÄ transcends the boundaries of knowledge production and distribution, just as he draws ways of crossing real territorial boundaries. In a transnational country like Bosnia, which indeed reflects the realities of many contested borders around the world, MiljanoviÄ sheds light on the claim that national borders exist naturally and the truth that migration is both consistent with the whole world. human history and necessary.
Didactic wall was curated by Irfan Hosic and exhibited at the City Gallery, Bosanska 15, 77000 BihaÄ, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from July 15 to August 3. The manual can be downloaded for free.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece distorted the distance between the town of BihaÄ and the Croatian border. We regret the error.
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