There was a photography exhibit called Galerija 11/07/95 that was happening in the basement of a building in the center of Sarajevo. It was there that I received an intense history lesson of the horrors that occurred in Bosnia during the 1990′s war.
The exhibition wasn’t presented or designed like a typical gallery showroom. You had to walk through a narrow passageway to an elevator. The elevator was in a niche where on the left side, there was a wall finish that resembled a door, giving the impression that you had to open it to walk to the exhibit. But, there was a twist. There was a button on the door and no handle. I pressed the button and suddenly the wall in front of me opened to expose the elevator. Inside, there was a mirror with the words “You are my witness” written on it in three different languages. I felt a chill.
When I arrived downstairs, I saw a hallway to my left, where people with headphones on were sitting on the ground and watching screens. To my right, was the reception desk that doubled as the gift store. It looked like there was a small exhibit with large photographs in a room next to the reception desk. I could see everything without entering and paying for it, I thought. But I knew there was more to it than a room full of pictures. I started looking down at the postcards on the reception desk and one of them was a picture of the words “I am your best friend – I kill you for nothing – Bosnie 94″ scrawled on a wall. I felt another chill, similar to the one I had felt earlier in the elevator. The entrance procession of the exhibit was having an effect on me. I had to go in.
I was instructed to go to the other end of the gallery first, to watch a documentary made by the BBC about the Srebrenica massacre. I watched the documentary and then viewed the gallery images which were about the process of exhuming the bodies of the men and boys that had been killed and buried in the mass graves. They were mass graves that, to this day, continue to be uncovered and are found to be bigger and bigger with each passing year. The process of finding remnants of the victims, matching their DNA and sharing the discoveries with the loved ones, and finally giving them a proper burial, was all communicated through large, intense photographs in a dim finished, gently lit, gallery.
Finally, there was the hallway where I had seen people sitting and viewing screens. They screened interviews of male survivors who had fled Srebrenica for Tuzla. I watched one of them tell his tale, his fortunate fate or his gift-of-will to walk through dark, damp forests, with his maddening uncle on his back and an injured foot. Without sleep or food, with the Serbs amusingly killing off people he knew at the back of the pack, he walked for six days until he reached Tuzla where he was reunited with his wife. Listening to his words and the way he expressed every moment of his tale left a scarring impression on me. To be there, in the city and country that had suffered so horrifically under 20 years ago, and to see how they had picked up the pieces since then, led me to understand the definition of resiliency.
This photography story is about the physical damage that the buildings themselves had suffered during the war in the 90's. Many of the buildings in the suburbs were still damaged or in the process of repair. These were mainly residential buildings that weren't damaged enough to be torn down, but enough to still hold the scars of an event that happened over 10 years ago.
Tags: Architecture & War, Healing Place
Location: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina