The project Communication starts from the belief that art is an efficient tool in solving the social and political problems. After the recent wars in former Yugoslavia, that were based on ethnic conflicts, Serbia is still facing an unsolved problem related to establishing a dialogue among various ethnic groups living together in the same country. Conceived as an educational interactive program for young people in multi-ethnic areas of Serbia and Kosovo, the project challenges and examines the possibilities for a consistent dialogue among the members of these ethnic groups, while applying the communication-methods based upon the photography workshops. The first phase of the project was realized throughout 2005 in Southern Serbia, a region better known as Preševo Valley. Twenty young participants, in their high-school age, the members of Albanian, Roma and Serbian ethnic groups, were actively producing photographs during the twelve-week workshop process. They were presenting their lives, thoughts, hopes, fears, and dreams to each other. The experience gained during the work with this group, resulted by a follow up of the project in 2006. This time, however, the project was geographically spread onto three more areas: Kosovo, Sandžak and Vojvodina.
At the moment when status of Kosovo is being discussed, the problem of communication between the Albanian majority, on the one hand, and the minority of Serbs and other non-Albanians, on the other, can be described as an exceptional one. Sandžak, being positioned at the border-lines of Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and having the majority of Muslim citizens, is directly exposed to a possible destabilization of peace and trust. Vojvodina, as a region with the largest number of ethnic minorities, is a highly interesting region for the work towards preserving the dialogue and mutual tolerance. Although after the armed conflict in Southern Serbia peace was restored in the year 2000, this region is still facing a huge problem in the process of creating a stable multi-ethnic society. Such a background of the problem, here only briefly described, gives a possible insight into the very situation where the second cycle of the Communication project was realized.
The methodology of work is based upon a creative interactive process between artists (leading the workshops), and a group of 80 young participants (twenty of them in each city) – members of various ethnic groups, who opened the space for new forms of communication among themselves as well as with the others, during the period of twelve weeks. The photographs produced on this occasion make the basis for a dialogue. Three artists and one art critic involved in the project: Ana Adamović, Tanja Strugar, Dorijan Kolundžija and Vladimir Tupanjac (each of whom led a workshop in one city) implemented the same basic principles in their working process. Once a week, the group was given a specific subject, the aim of which was to inspire each participant to give a reply – formulated by producing the photos. The participants select the most successful photos out of one film-role, in order to present them to the rest of the group. The process of watching these photos together opens the field for remarks and comments of the viewers, thus initiating the discussion and dialogue among them. This dialogue is actually the base for their introduction to each other. The subjects commissioned for the photo works were: Self-portrait, Family, The Other, Friend/Enemy, Happiness, Fear, Customs, Future/Dreams, Communication. In addition to this, in each city, a field-trip was organized to a nearby location that is unknown to the group and intrigues them in a certain way.
During the workshop process, the young participants produced a number of photos representing the exceptional documents on one generation’s life, the generation brought up in the conditions of war and destruction. A series of statements, spontaneous and personal, perceived from the inside-view, give a picture of different approaches and thoughts about the cruel past that was an integral part of the participants’ youth. These photographs become a strong tool for recognizing each other and for their mutual understanding.
The role of artists in the project’s implementation is very important. Their position is transferred from the direct creation of an artwork towards introducing a creative process to the group, by using the potential of art to recognize what a group and an individual wish and feel. Their position is therefore an open and responsible one, and their activity is prepared to face open and hidden conflicts and contradictions of the society. By opening the field of art for all the participants in the project, they create imaginative space of freedom for youngsters in order to generate new ideas and redefine the existing ones. The process of revision of dominant ideologies, and their deconstruction, is possible only in the frame of such an artistic act. During the creative process, the participants accumulate the knowledge that opens up new possibilities for understanding of life. On the other hand, the potential of imagination to recover what is lost, to find what is hidden and to create something new, is the base for overcoming the inherited prejudice, fears and ignorance. Gradually discovered abilities, by each single participant, are further encouraged and motivated for the benefit of their future development and improvement.
The medium of photography has proved to be a very efficient one while working with the youngsters. By working with the camera, they managed to open up new viewpoints towards things and life. The youngsters were inspired to rethink their existing premises and to be responsible for their own decisions. Being so direct in transmitting the message, photography is an ideal tool for getting the visual information that has deep effect on the beholder. In the working process itself, these beholders are other participants in the workshop who are shaping their perception of the presented photos through questions, talks and discussions. This is a model applied in the education of individuals who need to be responsible for their work, as well as of the audience that needs to create a public opinion and attitude depending on knowledge, and not on any prejudice or an imposed dominant ideology.
The final presentation of the participants’ work in the exhibition form is a very important part of the project. If we take a dialogue for a joint activity that aims at problem-solving processes, then the exhibition is a result and the visualization of this dialogue. Being conceived of 80 individual works, this exhibition – in its final shape – represents the whole working process and communication achieved among the young people involved in the project. The exhibition is therefore a tool to enter the public space, for the sake of establishing and promoting the basic human rights of freethinking and free communication. While treating the problems and imperfections of a contemporary society, these young authors have created the art works. The presented photos have the sincerity and directness of authors’ inside views, the clear statement defined through collaborative work, and the direct-message effect. Activism thus gets its esthetic dimension and, through artistic processes directed by the artists shaping the group’s work, the final result – exhibition – appears. The main aim of this exhibition is to distribute further the message and the principle of tolerance to the wider audience.