First published: Fall 2017
Social turbulence and crises hit Serbia in the 1930s and 1940s, when alliances crumbled and Yugoslav political relationships soured. Wars and massive economic and social impacts left deep scars on society and culture, until reconstruction brought ideas of emancipation and modernisation. The environment changed as factories replaced fields and people left villages for work in towns and cities. Sometimes people were permanently displaced from the homes their ancestors had lived in for centuries.
In the history of self-taught artists in Serbia, three key factors can be identified around these decades that relate to the changing sociopolitical atmosphere. The first took place alongside modernisation, when, under pressure from the rapid changes, interest in traditional folk art began to wane. This impending loss was felt more keenly by people who had moved to cities, leaving their family homes, and there were pockets of people who, spurred by nostalgia, worked to preserve threatened customs.
Demagogue, Vojislav Jakic, 1973, mixed techniques on paper, 13 x 9 ins. / 33 x 22.5 cm, MNMA, Jagodina
The second key factor was the appearance of self-taught art, known as naive art, which started to be established within the borders of culture. It was accompanied by the idea that art should not only be the privilege of the elite but should be available to all. The torchbearer of this idea, and one of the greatest promoters of self-taught art in Serbia at the time, was Oto Bihalji Merin (1904–1993), an idealist, essay writer, art critic and revolutionary.
The third factor was the founding of the Museum of Naive and Marginal Art (MNMA) in Jagodina, Serbia, in 1960, at the same time as the expansion of self-taught art across former Yugoslavia. As a national institution for the protection of naive and marginal art, the MNMA worked to separate self-taught visionary art from amateurism by applying clear criteria and using a stringent selection process. After over 50 years of labourious work, with some 700 exhibitions and the publication of a similar number of published books, their autochthonous ideas have been articulated, with impressive artworks and a truly creative energy.
Recently, other organisations and venues associated with a sense of the marginal or counter-cultural have opened. Devastated and abandoned warehouses, cinemas, theatres and factory halls carry inventive visual messages, and young, creative people gather in them. These galleries and art associations reveal the arrival of a fascination with non-mainstream art aesthetics, moving from the margins to become attractive on all levels. Personal creative visions surpassed the disappointments and failures of everyday life, transforming social isolation into artistic splendour.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #95