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Artists in Serbia who oppose their government.
Isolation in Albania. Contemporary art in Macedonia

Creating Art in the Balkans
Part 1 in a series of articles by Eloise de Leon

Belgrade, Serbia -- Skopje, Macedonia --
Tirana, Albania -- San Diego, U.S.A.

In my recent trip to the Balkans I met artists in Serbia who oppose their government and express this in their art. In Skopje, Macedonia I attended a contemporary art opening for 23 artists that took place in an old Turkish Bath. In Tirana, Albania I met artists who, after five years of a new democratic government, still live in isolation from the rest of the world -- unable to know of the rapidly changing technology that has impacted the art world. And traveling into Montenegro, I watched from a distance as black market goods were smuggled into cars from the Albanian side of the border. We were scheduled to visit artists in Sarajevo but Bosnian Serb border guards would not let us enter Bosnia.

In my upcoming series I will write about my Balkan trip of May, 1996. I will introduce you to people such as Belgrade artists: Sasa Markovic (visual artist, DJ for Radio B-92); Dubravka Knezevic (dramaturg, playwright, critic); DAH Theatre; SKART (visual artist group); Centre for Cultural Decontamination; activists, Women in Black; Macedonia art historian, Nebojsa Vilic; and Albanian theater director Arben Kumbara. I will share photographs, video footage and excerpts from written interviews.

Funded by the Suitcase Fund of the National Performance Network (NPN) and 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, I traveled with several colleagues to the Balkans to meet with artists and conduct video interviews. I was especially interested in going to the former Yugoslavia to see how the war had impacted peoples' lives and their art. When I mentioned this research to a U.S. American woman she frowned. "Aren't they having a war over there? What are they doing making art? Where do they get the money for that?" Her indignance is indicative of the attitude of many U.S. Americans today who believe that art is a frivolous non-essential. In a time of crisis, it seemed almost a crime to this woman, for artists to still be making art.

As an artist, I have come to realize that art is rarely something we choose to do. For most practicing artists, it is something that one is compelled to do. It is a channeling of dreams, visions, disturbances and whatever else we feel or see inside us and around us. Believing this, I was even more keen to meet with Balkan artists, whose work I believed would give clues to the realities of their lives.

Several years ago at an annual meeting of arts presenters of the National Performance Network participants received copies of a fax that had been sent by Croatian artists. It was a plea for help--for us to put attention on what was going on in Yugoslavia. They were facing serious civil problems that they believed would result in war. Shortly after that, war did break out in Yugoslavia. I tried to understand what was going on but was overwhelmed by the complexity of the Balkan political and social history, their cultural variations, and the impact of the sanctions. I remember watching a news report hosted by Peter Jennings called "Land of the Demons". The title alone, which was illustrated with an image of hellish fires, demonized the entire Serbian population. Considering the well-publicized war-crimes which included the horrifying rapes of Bosnian Moslem women, I wondered what the Serbian women were thinking of their own sons, brothers and husbands. If there was opposition, why didn't we U.S. Americans, hear about it? How could we support any opposition if we didn't know about it?

These are some of the questions with which I began my journey. My travel colleagues were Lisa James (Resource Development Director at 7 Stages Theatre), Del Hamilton and Faye Allen (Artistic Directors of 7 Stages) and Carla Peterson (Managing Director, NPN). I encourage you to read all of the upcoming installments as they unfold over the next few months. You may write to me at In Motion Magazine or directly at

Published in In Motion Magazine, September 1996.

Eloise de Leon is an artist coach, writer and filmmaker currently living in New York. Her articles may be found in the Art Changes and Human Rights / Civil Rights sections of In Motion Magazine. Her website is: and her email is: