In summer of 1989 the last big exhibition of Yugoslav contemporary art, called “Yugoslav Documenta,” was held in Sarajevo. At the same time Slobodan Milosević rallied masses of his supporters to march to Kosovo in order to commemorate the medieval Kosovo battle and to inaugurate himself as the new leader of the Serbian nation. That year a new era began, the era of nationalism, war, ethnic cleansing, international sanctions, destruction of the economy, social disintegration and an overall decline in all aspects of everyday life in the country that was once called Yugoslavia. In contrast to other countries of Eastern Europe, Serbia did not pass peaceful or „velvet“ transition to postsocialist society but a chaotic and self-destructive one whose effects still burden Serbian establishment of democracy.
In Serbia, two parallel worlds were created, the dominating world of warmongering nationalist ideology, and the marginalized world of opponents to this political hegemony as was manifested both in political and cultural fields. Uncompromised critical discourse that was seeking truth behind appearances, propaganda and collective phantasms was reduced to a few pockets of resistance such as alternative cultural and artistic networks, NGOs, independent media, etc.
The survey of the art of this era shows projects that directly or indirectly reflected the political, economic, cultural and everyday climate in this country, and the position on the crossroads between longing to participate in the international artistic currents and keeping local specificities, between direct political engagement and disillusioned escapism, between the tragic and the humorous, between modest and pretensions, between theoretical and intuitive, between participation and isolation.
Critically engaged art - bringing forth some of the most remarkable artworks of the era -used various instruments, tactics and modes of expression in order to disturb the very perception of reality. Instead of subjecting the “evil” power of nationalism to mere accusation or moral judgement, this art rather targeted its scattered manifestations and effects in everyday. Works of Milica Tomić, Raša Todosijević, Association Apsolutno, Zoran Todorović, Vesna Pavlović and the Škart group are among the best examples of this production of difference that gave birth to other forms of knowledge about society and hegemony. Critical Serbian art of the Nineties offers a specific and uncomparable experience of intermingling of artistic and political issues in a troubled and turbulent context.
Dejan Sretenović, Ph.D. is curator and writer based in Belgrade. Since 2014, he has served as curator of the Center for Visual Culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Belgrade. Previously, he worked as director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Belgrade. He is lecturer of art theory and contemporary art at the School for History and Theory of Image and BK Art Academy in Belgrade.