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“Bosnian Born,” which opened May 30 at Fontbonne University Fine Arts Gallery, includes nearly 50 works by 27 artists, trained in the U.S. and Europe and recognized internationally.
Their works focus on what isn’t in the news – the spirit of artistic perseverance by an exceptionally creative people, who go far beyond survival, creating images that honor and celebrate the present.
A variety of media is on display – sculpture, graphic posters, jewelry, fashion design and a particular focus on photography in the digital age. Most artists currently live in the U.S., a few in Bosnia-Herzegovina or elsewhere in Europe. All were born in Bosnia, the tiny Balkan country with some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, ravaged with destruction and death by a war intended to cleanse ethnicity and identity. Yet, if anything, Bosnian ethnicity and identity appear bolder than ever here.
Edina Seleskovic turned to the primal power of art for solace, after being displaced from her Bosnian home. Her two ethereal breastplates and three figure studies incorporate fragments of painting, which emerge as distant memories of her vibrant internal landscape.
Ina Soltani, a fashion designer living in Los Angeles, was unable to return to her family in Sarajevo, besieged by Serbian forces. She started her own label and has made dresses worn by Jessica Biel, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Kristen Stewart and Carrie Underwood. A bright pink dress on display, intricately pleated and cut to maximize movement when worn, is a dramatic statement of celebration and life.
Nebojsa Seric Shoba has exhibited worldwide – Paris, New York City, the 50th Venice Biennale. His photographs include battlefields from Britain, Auschwitz, Verdun, Troy, Sarajevo, Normandy, Mostar, Leningrad, Gettysburg, Gernika, Gallipoli and Borodino. He pictures an emerging future with the conviction that, globally, people cannot be held under the thumb.
Four strikingly large photographic portraits by Ivan Hrkas show well-known Bosnian women, dressed and posed as Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, Twiggy and Amy Winehouse. Titles combine the Bosnian woman’s first name with the last name of the character, “Ljilja Kahlo,” for example. Hrkas offers a unique perspective on artistic identity.
Sarajevo-born Dean Zulich shot his surrealistic “Mask 1” at the Salton Sea in Southern California. A young girl in brilliant ballet attire faces a new future and identity. Her narrative emerges, as she attempts to connect and show someone, lost in a dark past, a way forward.
This exhibition was organized by Sejla Holland, a refugee who left Bosnia in 1994 and established an art gallery in Laguna Beach. This exhibit opened at her California gallery, then traveled to Boston and Washington, D.C., before coming to St. Louis. At the opening here, Holland stressed that Bosnians are so much more than victims of war and ethnic cleansing. She emphasized her commitment to promoting positive and celebratory stories of multi-ethnic Bosnian culture.
Benjamin Moore, professor of English at Fontbonne University and director of Fontbonne’s Bosnia Memory Project, introduced Elma Mujanovic, president of St. Louis Friends of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Amra Silajdzic, goodwill ambassador of the Bosana Foundation.
Each spoke enthusiastically about their heritage and their visions for the future, noting that sale of exhibited artwork benefits the Bosana Foundation, which supports recent flood victims in Bosnia and provides scholarships to Bosnian war orphans.
In past centuries, Muslims and Christians helped build each other’s mosques and cathedrals, rejecting religious and nationalistic prejudices. Much of today’s best art can spring from embracing diverse cultural influences. New visions of pluralism emerge from exhibitions such as “Bosnian Born.” St. Louis, with the largest Bosnian population in America, seems perfect for this celebration of multi-cultural diversity and internationally recognized art.
"Bosnian Born" will be on display through June 27 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Gallery, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
The gallery's summer hours are:
Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed on Saturday