Srebrenica Memorial public art ideas

I have really exciting ideas that I would like to work on for Srebrenica Memorial week and am currently looking for funding to enable me to produce this piece of work.


Between 1991 and 1999 war broke out across the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of people were killed and many more were internally displaced or forcibly expelled from their countries. During 1995 in Srebrenica 8,372 mostly men and boys were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. The victims, predominantly Muslim, were selected for death on the basis of their identity. This was the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War.

To commemorate the genocide at Srebrenica in 1995 I plan to create a piece of public art that will remind and inform the public of the events in Bosnia 23 years ago.

I propose to print 8372 business cards individually numbered 1/8372, 2/8372 etc on one side. The other side of the card will have a brief paragraph explaining the event with a link to my website for more information. These business cards remind us of each of those people killed without actually naming them. Business cards will be selected because they represent identity, status and the ability to make contact, many of those who died still remain missing.

The process of numbering will also be an important act. I intend to host a two day event within the project space at Magdalen Road Studios and invite artists and members of the public to participate in the numbering of each of the 8372 cards. These people will conceptually represent the perpetrators, condemning each of the individual victims to their death.

During Srebrenica Memorial week (8th – 15th July) I will hand out these cards in a public space metaphorically exhuming each of the individuals and acknowledging their existence. This will be an act of remembrance that will help to raise awareness and remind us all of the consequences of hate.


On 11th July I have been personally invited to The Remembering Srebrenica Memorial event at The Guildhall in London. I will be one of 11 carefully selected community champions who will light a candle of remembrance in recognition of the work I continue to do to remember Srebrenica.

Lie Down

Lie Down Art exploring Bosnian war
Lie Down Art exploring Bosnian war

During the beginning stages of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Bosnian Muslims were required to wear a white arm band and hang a white flag/sheet on their houses to set them apart from their neighbours. This piece of work is made from strips of white sheets and tablecloths to directly reference this.

Muslim men from women were later separated, boys were often selected and separated based on their height. Boys smaller than 150cm were allowed to remain with their mothers whilst those above 150cm had to leave with their fathers and were certainly sent to their death. This piece of work is hung at exactly 150cm.

The lower section of the work is naturally dyed in coffee. Coffee is a strong symbol of community in Bosnia and Herzegovina . Before the war, citizens would all drink coffee together whether Muslim, Serb or Croat. After the war many Bosnian Muslims attempted to move back to their homes, only to find another family had moved in. They were often offered coffee in their own cups.

The piece of work is the width of human body and extends onto the floor referencing burial / mass graves / shrouds and death. It is titled ‘Lie Down’, the last words spoken to many, before being shot.

During the discovery of mass graves and the search for individual identity within them, Forensic teams exhumed cloth ligatures and blindfolds across all of the mass grave sites at Srebrenica. These ligatures and blind folds were often from the same fabric source and this evidence was used during the Hague trials to show a level of organization and proof of Genocide. All the strips of cloth here are tied as if used for this purpose.

The process behind this work:

Exhibited

‘Lie Down’ exploring the Bosnian War

This piece of work, still unfinished, explores the process of the Bosnian war.

  1. Muslims were expected to wear a white arm band and hang a white flag from their houses.
  2. Boys 150cm or below allowed to remain with their mothers. Above 150cm they were sent with their fathers, almost certainly to their death.
  3. Coffee is a symbol of Bosnian community, but here symbolizes the break down of community.
  4. The piece eventually spreads across the floor as a reference to mass graves / shrouds / death.
  5. The title ‘Lie Down’ refers to the last words spoken to many Bosniaks before being shot.

 

Lie Down Art exploring the Bosnian War Blindfolds

Artistic process

Whilst working on this current piece, I have been aware that the artistic process itself has become as important as the initial ideas and the finished piece. Almost like a performance piece the act of making has added meaning to the finished work.

Tearing fabric strip

Whilst tearing the strips I considered who had actually torn the fabric for the Serb army. Whose job had it been to create the blindfolds and fabric ligatures? Had they considered and known of their intended use?
I do know that some of the blindfolds and ligatures were possibly scraps from a manufacturing process, these were collected and used in bulk. Others however would have had to have been produced.

 

Exhuming the work

To dye and stain the knotted fabric, I have used waste coffee from a local cafe ‘The Missing Bean’ along with a combination of other dye stuffs and rusty iron. The whole piece was left for a week and was then uncovered to discover the effects.

This uncovering had a very visceral sense of exhumation. The act of burial was an important aspect of the process for this piece of work, but the uncovering too became important as well.

It is these aspects that often only become apparent during the artistic process itself and aren’t always part of the planning.

For this piece, particularly, the importance of these elements is poignant. A whole new level of conceptual meaning has been added.

Bosnia’s blindfolds

Developing ideas from research I have started to tie ideas about Bosnia’s blindfolds together.

  • The arm bands lead to blindfolds
  • Coffee brought communities together but later dove them apart.
  • Distant images of mass graves can look like knots

 

Bosnia's blindfolds research and experimentation
Left: Bosnian Mass Grave image Right: knotted cloth dyed in coffee

 

Bosnia's Blindfolds Knots Planning
Mind map of ideas

I want the ideas to act rather like a timeline within the piece:

  • Men and boys over 150 cm separated from women and boys smaller than 150 cm.
  • All Muslims required to wear a white armband and hang a white flag or sheet from their homes, so that they could be identified.
  • Blindfolded and with hands tied behind their backs the men and boys were executed, and buried in mass graves.
  • Intermingled and piled together these bodies / parts needed to be identified.

 

Bosnia's blindfolds Knots Planning
Sketchbook thoughts for finished piece of work

Bosnia's blindfolds sculptural textile installation
Initial coffee and rust dyed sample next to a sample of knotted white cotton

Bosnia's blindfolds sculptural textile installation detail
Knotted white cotton with details

Bosnia's blindfolds sculptural textile installation
Knotted section created from looped (blindfold) sections

Bosnia's blindfolds sculptural textile installation
Test photo in studio space to assess size and visual impact

 

  • The piece is fixed at 150 cm high as a reference to the height point for boys being selected to stay with their mother or not.
  • White loose arm bands start the piece with details of whitework embroidered family initials. This addition gives a reminder of the personal nature of events.
  • Body width as a reference to a grave, coffin or shroud.
  • Knotted from loops of fabric strips as the blindfolds would have been.
  • Knotted together, intermingled creating a mass of knots each individual. reference to a mass grave.

 

Within Mass graves, forensic anthropologists found many blindfolds and ligatures. It was noted that many appeared to be very similar. Sent away to a forensic lab in  The Netherlands, Chemist S. E. Maljaars drew up a report for the Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

http://icr.icty.org – item no: ACE70222R2000312540

In her analysis, the Dutch forensic expert showed that the bodies from the primary grave, where the victims executed at that location were initially buried, were transferred to several secondary graves. The pieces of the same fabric were thus found in two or more locations.

The evidence also helped to prove a level of organisation during events and therefore was part of the evidence that proved Genocide rather than mass murder.

http://www.sense-agency.com/icty/blindfolds-tell-a-tale.29.html?news_id=15175

This piece is ongoing as I develop it further. I intend to continue with the knotting as well as dye it with coffee grounds and iron.

 

Lessons from Srebrenica – day three

An earlier start again and being higher in Srebrenica, we woke to a frozen morning. It was very cold.

The Potočari Memorial Centre

We made our way back to The Potočari Memorial Centre. We spent some time exploring the exhibition there. It tells the whole story with photos and the video footage used in the trials. We were shown around by Hasan Hasanovic who gave us first hand information at each stage. Fascinating insights and details that could only come from someone with direct knowledge. Situated within the original UN base it makes use of key rooms that were used and includes some of the graffiti that the dutch soldiers created.

Day3 Potocari Memorial Srebrenica Bosnia

 

 

 

 

Mothers of Srebrenica

Near the cemetery is a small, road side shop that is run by The Mothers of Srebrenica. This shop is a vital  source of income to these women survivors. We met one of The Mothers who spoke about the struggles to come to terms with the events. The women make small crocheted flower brooches that act as a reminder. The flowers have eleven petals that represent Srebrenica Memorial Day, 11 July. They have white petals for innocence and a green centre for hope. I made a point of buying one of these beautiful flowers as well as the book Hasan Hasanovic has written about his experience of Srebrenica and how he survived.

Potočari Memorial

We crossed the road to the cemetery and had a short while to look round before jumping back on the minibus to Tuzla. During our journeys between towns and cities, what is painfully apparent are the huge amounts of abandoned derelict buildings and homes. These houses were left by families fleeing and are a poignant constant reminder. These sad desolate shells are seen throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Day3_ICTY_Tuzla

 

International Commission on Missing Persons, Tuzla

On arrival in Tuzla we were taken to The International Commission on Missing Persons. Here we had a chance to see the work that continues to be done, to identify the remains of people found within mass graves. We were shown into the mortuary where the unidentified human remains are held. Partial remains are also held here whilst family members wait for the rest before burial. We met a forensic anthropologist who kindly took the time to explain the processes involved in identifying each individual. She showed us the partial remains of an individual who was in the process of being examined.

The work is under huge pressure financially. Money is running out and yet many families still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. Based on the number of individuals known to be missing and the number of individuals who have been identified, it is assumed that there is at least 1 maybe 2 mass graves still to be discovered. There had been hope that cadaver dogs could be used to try to find any remaining mass grave sites, but there is no funding available.  This is simply devastating to the Tuzla unit who have spent many years working to identify individuals, but more so for those families still desperate to know the truth.

Our return home

After out visit we had a quick last lunch stop before making our way to the Airport for our return home.

My experience of the visit has been profound and emotional. The trip will have a lasting impression on me and will continue to fuel the ideas that surround my work. I came away with new ideas to develop further as well as a desire to return to research in more depth. Ideally I would love to visit the memorial center again and spend some more time there, including time to make use of the research stations and ask Hasan further questions. I would also love to visit the ICMP centre again in Tuzla and see the book of clothing used as an aid to identification. My intention is to take this research into my masters course for the next two years.

remembering srebrenica Delegation

Forensic Anthropology Conference – Kent University

Written in Bone: Multidisciplinary approaches to victim identification

​I took the opportunity to visit this fascinating conference that explored Forensic Anthropology Conference – Kent University various aspects of forensic anthropology.

The day was packed with a huge variety of topics and speakers:

Dr Nicholas Marquez-Grant (Cranfield University): The Role of the Forensic Anthropologist in the UK
Paloma Galzi (Galzi Forensics Limited): The Art in Forensic Identification
Dr Tom Booth (Museum of London): Bacterial Bioerosion of Bone: A Window into the Early Post Mortem period?
Dr Chris Shepherd (University of Kent): Ballistic Impacts to the Skull: Using Simulants and Technology to Recreate Trauma
Dr Lucina Hackman (University of Dundee):
Dr Mark Skinner (Simon Fraser University & University of York): Case Histories in Casting Doubt: Forensic anthropology and the Defense
Prof Robert Green OBE (University of Kent): An exhumation case study
Howard Way (National Disaster Victim Identification Unit – UK DVI): Disaster Victim Identification in the UK

Exhumation of a virtual mass grave

I had the fantastic opportunity recently to view the exhumation of a virtual mass grave at Cranfield University.

The opportunity came about after a meeting with Nicholas Marguez Grant to discuss the work I created for ‘Latent’. Nicholas works at Cranfield University as Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology with Roland Wessling who is Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology & Anthropology. Nicholas mentioned that Roland runs an annual module, for Masters forensic anthropology students. This module aims to give these students the experience of exhuming a mass grave in advance of a real one.

At least 6 months in advance plastic skeletons are buried in a pit within woodland within the grounds of Cranfield University, Shrivenham. Roland sets a series of stories and scenarios that the students need to discover and interpret within the placement of each skeleton. Tied hands, blindfolds and position can help to tell the story of what happened.

When I arrived, very little had been uncovered but the graves had been plotted and excavation had been started. It was fascinating to see the process of the work and I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the students.

Roland was very generous with his time and I had a long and fascinating conversation with him about the work he did exhuming graves in Bosnia. A fantastic insight with anecdotes and knowledge that it simply wouldn’t be possible to discover in books.

I have been particularly interested in the use of fabric and clothing to identify individuals within mass graves in Bosnia, but whilst talking with Roland he started to explain that during the trials similarities between the fabrics used for blindfolds and ligatures became apparent. These similarities helped to show that the atrocities had been organized and therefore constituted genocide rather than mass murder.

This nugget of information is enormously exciting for me and something I am now keen to try and research. I want to try and source visual imagery and descriptions of these blindfolds and ligatures.

Roland has kindly agreed to send me a transcript of the trial of Radislav Krstic which is where these discoveries were initially mentioned.

This day has been an amazing opportunity and an experience that has allowed me huge insights.