NEO-COLONIAL DIVISIONS: BETWEEN TWO KINDS OF ‘EUROPE’
This event takes place in the context of the exhibition Identity is Uncertainty #2, the concluding show of the Büchsenhausen Fellowship Program for Art and Theory 2019-20, currently on view at the Kunstpavillon of the Tyrolean Artists’ Association in Innsbruck. The point of departure is Anna Dasović’s artistic-investigative long-term project Before the fall there was no fall, of which she is showing the first two episodes in the exhibition, paired with a textual work that displays excerpts from the ‘Dutch UN Manual for the Former Yugoslavia’, a ‘Code of Conduct’ written for Dutch Blue Helmets in 1994.
The starting point of this project is a collection of 100 VHS tapes documenting military exercises conducted by the Royal Netherlands Army in preparation for their deployment as peacekeepers in ‘United Nations Safe Areas’ in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1994/1995. With reference to the Dutch Freedom of Information Act, Dasović secured the release of these videotapes after negotiations with the Dutch Ministry of Defense that lasted for four years. In her project, Dasović foregrounds how the exercises created an ideological framework through which soldiers shaped their relations with the people inside the ‘UN Safe Areas’, and with those who threatened to overrun them.
In Episode 01: Raw Material, Dasović assembled solely original sequences from the VHS tapes in a two-channel video installation to reflect on identitarian role play. This ‘pedagogy’ of dealing with ‘foreigners’ was seemingly internalized and implemented by young soldiers. Episode 02: Surfaces is a video essay that juxtaposes the raw material from Episode 01 with traces left by Dutch blue helmets in their military compound in the ‘UN Safe Area Srebrenica’ 25 years later. Dasović asks: How is the culture of a Dutch military doctrine conceptualised by the people in these exercise videos, who subsequently left traces of that doctrine in their military compound in Srebrenica?
Catherine Baker will respond to the ‘raw material’ by drawing from her extensive research and fieldwork on UN/NATO peacekeeping and interpreting/translation to think about the construction of otherness through language and bodies. She will reflect on field exercises as a space where these interlinguistic encounters are designed, to draw inferences about how troops were being conditioned to perceive themselves as a collective in relation to the different groups of ‘others’ they would meet once deployed.
The conversation between Anna Dasović and Piro Rexhepi will evoke a set of questions on the complicity of the Dutch Army in preliminary stages of genocide – not as isolated or exceptional acts of violence but as part of a larger (post-)colonial reconfiguration of the Dutch military as a constitutive force of post-Cold War European security. They are interested in how the afterlives of Dutch imperial, racial and religious imaginaries that dominated its colonial militaries re-emerge in military exercises prior to soldiers’ deployment to Bosnia in the 1990s. During these training sessions, the Dutch peacekeeper is reminded time and again to ‘disarm the Muslims.’ This not only produced an image of Muslims as the perpetrators and not victims of genocidal violence, but also eclipsed longer colonial histories of violence by defining their presence in Bosnia as humanitarian interventions.
Emir Suljagić will share his perspective on how the Dutch Army chose to misrepresent the people which inhabited the ‘UN Safe Area Srebrenica’. He will focus on how framing narratives and embodied roleplaying during the exercise contributed to the further dehumanization of the people in Srebrenica by reducing them to ‘uncivilised others’. Based on his experience as an interpreter for UN military observers in Srebrenica in the 1990s, and in his role as the current director of the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, he will talk about the implications of a future presentation of the raw material in Bosnia and how this might impact perceptions of the presence of international UN troops in Bosnia.
The contributions will be followed by a discussion which will be moderated by Natasha Marie Llorens.
Anna DASOVIĆ’s artistic practice focuses on the rhetorical structures that make genocidal violence visible and those deployed to obscure politically inconvenient aspects of such conflicts. Central to her work is an exploration into the figure of the bystander and the ways in which the unimaginable and the unrepresentable—categories produced by the discourse on genocide—are evoked to neglect the responsibility of witnessing through representation. Dasović is interested in that rejection and in the exclusion of knowledge that is held in the body but denied by society’s authorizing structures. Though Dasović studied photography, and her installations and videos retain an element of formal precision, she now works in a broadly interdisciplinary manner. Her methodology involves archival research, fieldwork, interviews, and bibliographic research.
Catherine BAKER is a specialist in post-Cold War history, international relations and cultural studies, including the post-Yugoslav region in a transnational and global context. She is the author of Race and the Yugoslav Region: Post-Socialist, Post-Conflict, Postcolonial? (Manchester University Press, 2018). Her research projects are connected by an overarching interest in the politics of representing, narrating and knowing about the past. Catherine Baker’s current projects include relationships between war/the military and popular culture; the cultural politics of international events (including the Eurovision Song Contest); LGBTQ politics and identities since the late Cold War, including queer representation in media; and ‘race’ in the Yugoslav region. Baker is Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History at the University of Hull, UK.
Natasha Marie LLORENS is a Franco-American independent curator and writer. Llorens writes about North African and Middle Eastern contemporary art and film, feminist and queer politics in art, philosophies of violence, decolonial curatorial practice, and the work of her long-term collaborators. Her writing has appeared in ArtReview, Modern Painters, BOMB Magazine, Pastelegram, WdW Review, Contemporary Art Stavanger, Ibraaz, and several exhibition catalogs. She is a regular contributor to Art Agenda. Llorens edited the first English-language anthology of writing on Algerian and Franco-Algerian aesthetics and art history, published by Sternberg. She holds a Ph.D. in Modern Art History from Columbia University. Llorens is a Professor of Art and Theory at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and a Core Tutor at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam.
Piro REXHEPI holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Strathclyde. His research focuses on decoloniality, sexuality and Islam. His recent work on racism and borders along the Balkan Refugee Route has been published in a range of mediums in and out of academia including the International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Critical Muslims and the Guardian among others. Most recent publications include: Bektashism as a Model and Metaphor for Balkan Islam, in: Oliver Scharbrodt and Yafa Shanneik (eds.): Shi’a Minorities in the Contemporary World. Edinburgh University Press 2020, and Decolonial Encounters and the Geopolitics of Racial Capitalism, with Tjaša Kancler and Marina Gržinić, in: Feminist Critique: East European Journal of Feminist and Queer Studies, 2020.
Emir SULGAJIĆ is a journalist, activist and the director of the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial. Suljagić holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hamburg. His recent research focuses on the role the Bosnian Serb Assembly played in the process of socially constructing Bosniaks as ‘Turks.’ Suljagić worked as an interpreter for the UN in Srebrenica and was a correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He has published widely for The New York Times, AlJazeera, El Pais, Die Zeit, and Oslobođenje (Liberation) among others. Suljagić teaches International Relations at the International University of Sarajevo. His memoir Postcards from the Grave (2003) is the first account of a Srebrenica survivor to be published in English and was subsequently published in eight languages.