Last month I was selected as the Remembering Srebrenica Community Champion of the month for February. I am really excited and extremely proud of this recognition.
“Each month the team at Remembering Srebrenica selects a ‘Community Champion of the Month’ to celebrate the inspiring work of our fantastic supporters across the UK. Community Champions for the 11 months preceding July will be invited to light a candle of remembrance at the UK Srebrenica Memorial Service in July.
We are delighted to announce that February’s Community Champion of the Month is Katie Taylor!
Katie is a contemporary textiles artist from Oxford who attended a ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ delegation to Bosnia last year. Her work was shown in a recent exhibition, disPLACED, which took place at the P21 Gallery in London, and showcased her powerful and thought-provoking new piece, ‘Lie Down’. Over the course of three weeks, hundreds of people had the opportunity to engage with Srebrenica thanks to her work.
‘Lie Down’ was a thoroughly creative and original way to get people to think about the horror of genocide. The piece, made by rags soaked in coffee, represented the countless ligatures used to detain prisoners and echoed the white armbands that Bosnian Muslims were forced to wear, while its height of 150cm references the height at which boys were sent away with their fathers. Katie said that the act of ripping up material made her ask herself, “Whose job had it been to create the blindfolds and fabric ligatures? Had they considered and known of their intended use?” By examining the genocide in this way, the audience were invited to think about those who are complicit in genocide. Images of ‘Lie Down’ can be viewed here and Katie also plans to mark Srebrenica Memorial Week with a new exhibition.
Everyone at Remembering Srebrenica would like to thank Katie for her hard work in using her talent to bring the lessons from Srebrenica to a whole new audience.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Hasanovicwho 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.
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.
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.
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.
After a slightly better nights sleep and breakfast we were off to an early start.
Driving into Sarajevo again we were shown sniper alley where the front line of the conflict had been. Evidence was still visible of bullet holes in walls and Resad Trbonja, our guide, was able to show us where his bunkers are still visible.
Franz Ferdinand assassination
We stopped at the corner where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This caused the Central Powers (including Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other, starting World War I.
Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
Next stop was the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. Built in 16th century, it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans.
Next we visited The Jewish Museum is housed in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was built in 1581.
We had a small amount of time to ourselves to explore the old town and do some shopping before a 1 hr trip to Olovo for Lunch. Another traditional Bosnian meal at a restaurant on a hill side with views across the countryside.
Potočari Memorial Centre
After a further 2 hr drive we arrived at Potočari where the memorial to those killed during the Srebrenica genocide is. It was late in the day so we only had time to view the 30 min video about the events that happened in 1995 over a few days. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred and buried in mass graves. The film was hard to watch and concluded with footage showing the shooting of several men that had been used as evidence during the trials. Stepping out of the building and the realization of being at Potočari, became overwhelming for me.
Survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide
We were driven to the Hotel and had just over an hour to ourselves before dinner at the hotel. During our evening meal two survivors of the Srebrenica genocide joined us. After dinner we were give the opportunity to watch part of a preview of a film that will be released later this year and to speak to the two survivors.
Hasan Hasanovic survived the Srebrenica genocide when he was still a teenager. He escaped as part of ‘The Column’ walking over 60 miles whilst being shot at and shelled. With no food, water or any provisions of any kind, he saw many die.
Nedžad Avdić was also a teenager at the time. Along with his family he too joined ‘The Column’ but the column broke and they became lost. They ended up giving themselves up to the Serb soldiers with the promise of being looked after. He was placed on a truck and taken to a field for execution.
We were tortured and dying for a drop of water. Before execution, we were forced to take off our clothes. One of soldiers tied our hands in the back. At that moment I, a 17-year-old boy, realized it was the end. I was trying to hide on the lorry behind the men wishing to live a few more seconds. The others did the same. Finally, I had to jump out. We were told to find a place and lined up, five by five. – Survivors story Nedžad Avdić, Remembering Srebrenica.
He was shot in both the stomach, arm and foot and fell into the pit. He lay there watching whilst lines and lines of others were shot and he prayed for death to come quickly. When the truck left he and one other man somehow managed to get them selves untied and out of the mass grave. They then spent days walking through woods to the safety of an area under Bosnian government control.
The stories were devastating and what struck me most was the pained expressions on their faces as they told their stories. It was this that magnified the impact tenfold for me, you could see them reliving the events and visualizing every detail of what had happened within their memory. It was a huge privilege to hear their accounts and it is this part of the trip that had the most visceral impact and something I feel now needs to be heard.
The conversation also came round to today and how they are both living with the impact of these events on their lives. The Governments have done absolutely nothing to support individuals who survived. Not even mental health support, Nedžad Avdić had to pay for his own psychiatry which was eventually given for free by his therapist.
This opportunity to visit Bosnia and get a sense of the country is huge for me, after all the research I have been doing I am really hoping to pick up seeds of new information to inform and develop my practice.
We flew from Luton to Tuzla, and on arrival we had a minibus trip through mountains to Sarajevo staying in Hotel Hollywood, Sarajevo.
Our first days visits started with a trip to the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo. Our guide Resad Trbonja gave us a fascinating talk on the minibus first, explaining the History of Bosnia and Herzegovina right up to the 1990’s. Resad was a teenager when the war in Bosnia started and was living in Sarajevo at the time. To protect his city he fought on the front line during the siege of Sarajevo, an event that took 1,425 days from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. His first hand experience during the war included using the tunnel.
The Tunnel was a 800m in length 1m wide and 1.6m high. It was built by hand beneath the airport runway that was under tenuous UN control, eventually equipped with rails to transport food and arms this was a lifeline for the city.
After the Tunnel Museum we visited the Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within this museum there was an exhibition dedicated to explaining what life was like for people living in Sarajevo at the time. One of the most poignant exhibits was a knitted jumper worn by a small boy who had been killed.
We stopped for Lunch at ‘Cevabdzinica Hodzic’ for a very traditional Bosnian meal of ćevapčići and yogurt drink. Enormously filling!! Then traditional Bosnian Kafa (coffee) and Tufahije, a delicious poached apple stuffed with walnuts.
After lunch we visited Galerija 11/07/95, a space I was really excited to visit! It is the first memorial museum/gallery in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has a permanent photography exhibition that aims to preserve the memory of the Srebrenica tragedy. Displayed in black and white the images provide a starkness that bears witness to the events surrounding Srebrenica.
A fascinating first day ended with a drink in the bar and dinner at the hotel with time to gather thoughts before bed.
I have become ever more excited about the possibility of organizing an exhibition that continues and extends the ideas I started to work on for ‘latent‘. The potential to explore these themes further whilst also extending the ways of remembering in a creative visual way is really exciting too. I think the potential is huge and also very exciting.
I found out last week that I have been selected to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina with Remembering Srebrenica on one of their ‘Lessons From Srebrenica’ visits. I leave next week and I am very excited!
The program enables interested individuals the opportunity to learn first hand the awful events that happened in Bosnia, meet survivors and visit key sites. In return delegates pledge to do something to share their experiences and educated groups back home.
I am looking forward to my visit and I’m really excited to develop a new project.
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.