Visiting Mokra Gora and Višegrad

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The countryside of Serbia is truly extraordinary. After experiencing Belgrade, I decided to spend a week in the southern Serbian mountain town of Zlatibor. At around a kilometre above sea level, it has a cooler climate and made a welcome change to the melting Satan-hot summer temperatures of Belgrade. It has been said that Zlatibor has some of the cleanest air in all of Europe. Zlatibor is a resort town and is a very popular skiing destination for Serbians in winter. For a week I had my own mini studio-cube apartment at the top level of a warm family home on the outskirts of town.

Zlatibor is also a launchpad from which to visit the region’s surrounding areas of which there are many gems. However without your own vehicle it can be challenging to visit these places. Fortunately I met a very interesting and knowledgeable young man named Bogdan who has his own small tour business. It was already the beginning of September when I arrived in Zlatibor and by then much of the peak August crowds had left meaning the town wasn’t over crowded and finding/extending accommodation was never a problem.

 

Mokra Gora

One day I embarked on a day tour with Bogdan and a small group of Serbian tourists to the nearby region of Mokra Gora close to the Bosnian border. Mokra Gora is an authentic and traditional slice of the Balkan country with some magnificent vistas. For the first leg of our Mokra Gora excursion, Bogdan drove us from Zlatibor to Mokra Gora railway station, from where we would travel on an old school train on the short but memorable Sargon Eight narrow-gauge railway line. This line was originally built in 1921 just after the First World War. It took four years to build and is over 15km long. The construction of the line was increasingly gruelling and often life threatening. 3,000 – 5,000 workers were involved in its construction and 200 died. As well as laying down the track, 22 tunnels and 5 bridges were built to make way for the line. The longest tunnel has a length of 1669 metres.

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By the Ćira train on the Sargon Eight narrow-gauge railway line

Rather tragically, not long after the railway line was completed, it became abandoned and defunct. It was only in 1999 when it re-opened as a tourist attraction. The classic and vintage narrow gauge train is known as the “Ćira” train. Being on this train brings back happy childhood memories of riding the famous Bluebell Railway train in East Sussex. The spirit of Thomas the Tank Engine throbs. All that is missing is Ringo Starr. I can imagine him being the conductor of that train in another life, taking ample swigs from a cheap bottle of plum rakija in the colder winter months whilst entertaining passengers with off-beat anecdotes via the tannoy.

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Mokra Gora

The landscape and views throughout the train journey are sublime. It is a true joy to ride on this train and simple stare and marvel at the fertile green mountain scenery. All that hard graft to build the railway line was not all in vain. The first station we stop at is called the Ninth Kilometre. It is so-called since there are nine kilometres between the station and the Bosnian border. Then we stop at Jatare Station. Here I take a short hike up a small rocky hill with a young Serbian couple from Belgrade for some lovely vistas. Jatare used to be a water station and resting place and is also known by the fact that not one ticket was ever sold at the station.

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In Jatare with some Serbian friends

We make a few more stops to admire the country scenery before returning to Mokra Gora station where we are reunited with Bogdan. From here we travel to a nearby small village called Bela Voda, which is well known for its natural spring with healing water. The water is known to cure and treat skin diseases. What is also unique about the water here is it is highly alkaline with a pH of 11.5 and is ranked as 5th in the world in terms of its pH level. In addition to treating skin diseases, the water can be drunk in small doses and can cure stomach ulcers and gastritis. It is good for digestion and is also known as ‘eye water’ since it can treat eyelid inflammation.

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Bela Voda

Bela Voda is a paradise of a place with an attractive cherry-red stone church by the water stream, which augments the beauty and etherealness of this special village. I fill my empty bottle with some of this water from the well. Nearby there are wooden huts that are available to rent. I think to myself how delightful it would be to spend a long summer here completely forgetting any notions of time and space.

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Drvengrad

From Bela Voda, Bogdan drives us to a hillside village not far from Mokra Gora railway station called Drvengrad. This completely wooden village was built by the Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica for his 2004 film Life Is A Miracle. It’s a unique, brilliant and unusual place with small streets and squares named after famous filmmakers, writers, visionaries, revolutionaries, sports-stars etc. I’ve written a separate article on the wonders of this magical place in another article which can be viewed here.

 

Višegrad

Early in the morning the next day, I meet up again with Bogdan for another tour this time visiting the historical Bosnian town of Višegrad. Višegrad is famous for its landmark Ottoman-era Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and was the bridge immortalised in the Nobel prize winning writer Ivo Andrić’s novel The Bridge On The Drina. It is also the site of another village complex built by Kusturica called Andrićgrad after Ivo. Unlike Drvengrad, this village is completely made from stone and there is a statue of Andrić.

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Dobrun monastery

Before crossing the Bosnian border, we make a stop at the old monastery of Dobrun, which was constructed in 1343 by Duke Pribil and his sons Stefan and Peter. Originally all of the interior of the monastery was decorated with frescoes. Today, just a fraction of those original frescoes survive. Fortunately the one of Tsar Dušan with his wife Jelena and their son Uros still remains. Tsar Dušan, who was also known as Dušan the Mighty (born in 1308 – died on 20 December 1355), was the King of Serbia from 8 September 1331 and the Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks from 16th April 1346 until his death in 1355. This was the golden age of Serbia and at the time of his death, the Serbian Empire included most of modern day Greece, Albania and large swathes of former Yugoslavia.

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14th century fresco of Tsar Dušan with his wife Jelena and their son Uros inside the monastery 

Unfortunately since the era of Tsar Dušan, the monastery was under attack on several occasions. The first attack came in 1393 when the Ottoman Turks occupied Bosnia. Yet it faced the greatest destruction during the Second World War when it was used by the Germans to store ammunition. On their withdrawal in 1945 at the end of the war, they blew up the monastery. It was restored the following year. In spite of the monastery’s turbulent history, it is a handsome and immaculate building in beautiful surroundings. The decoration of the front facade of the monastery is a work of art.

Afterwards we cross the border and head to Višegrad. In 1454 Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire headed by Osman Pasha. The town remained under the empire for over four centuries until 1878 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire controlled Bosnia and Herzegovina. More recently, the town suffered greatly during the Bosnian War from 1992-5. Much of the town was bombarded by JNA (Yugoslavian National Army) troops and many houses were destroyed and an estimated 3,000 Bosniaks were killed.

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The landmark Ottoman-era Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad

Most of the arches of the famous bridge were badly damaged (and some even completely destroyed) during both world wars. The bridge was also the scene for the killing of hundreds of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian War.

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In Andrićgrad

Filmmaker Emir Kusturica’s nearby village complex, Andrićgrad (also referred to as Kamengrad or ‘Stonetown’), officially opened on 28th June 2014 to mark the 100th year anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the young Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip. When you enter the complex and walk along the Main Street with cafes, you may notice two large rectangular mosaic murals by the Multiplex Dolly Bell cinema. The first one features Gavrilo Princip with other members of the Young Bosnian movement who wanted to end Austrian-Hungarian rule in Bosnia by assassinating the Archduke. This led to the start of the First World War. In the other mural a group of men featuring Kusturica appear to be engaged in a ‘tug of war’. In a way this mural is a homage to the perseverance and resilience in realising Kusturica’s vision of Andrićgrad. Looking at the mural more closely, you may notice the Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic in the background.

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Mural of Gavrilo Princip and members of the Young Bosnian movement 

 

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Mural of Kusturica (with Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska) and Novak Djokovic in the background 

The town’s style is a mix of Ottoman, Byzantine, Renaissance and Classical periods of architecture which reflect the history of Višegrad. There are statues of Ivo Andric, scientist and visionary Nikola Tesla and Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, who was a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro as well as an important poet and philosopher who’s works are seen as some of the most significant in Montenegrin and Serbian literature. In addition to his literary talents, Njegoš is seen as one of the fathers of the modern Montenegrin state and Kingdom of Montenegro, and for his struggles with the Ottoman Empire as he tried to expand Montenegro’s territory. His poem Gorski Vijenak (The Mountain Wreath) is considered a classic and it became the Montenegrin national epic. It had a big influence on Gavrilo Princip, who knew it off by heart. The poem is significant for many Serbians as its a reminder for them of their solidarity with Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire.

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Statue of the writer Ivo Andrić whom Andrićgrad is named after

 

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Statue of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš by the Crkva Svetog Cara Lazara orthodox church

Aside from the bridge and Andricgrad, Višegrad is a small but interesting city to explore on foot. If you have the time, walk along the bridge to the other side of the river. From there you can take a walk up one of the hills along a heavily debris laden path. From the top you have an incredible birds eye view over Višegrad.

On the way back down, keep on walking along the other side of the river and very soon you will stumble upon the childhood home of Ivo Andrić. It is a crimson-pink house, but it’s not possible to enter since it is a private residence.

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The childhood home of Ivo Andrić in Višegrad

Just before I left Višegrad for Zlatibor, I was at a small cafe close to the bridge where I had an exceedingly good slice of baklava cake. Oh boy it was so good. If I could remember the name of the place I would tell you, but alas I can’t.

 

By Nicholas Peart 

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

References

Wikipedia

-srbvoz.rs

-panacomp.net

-“The Town That Emir Kusturica Built” : excellent article by Peter Aspden in the Financial Times, where he writes extensively about Andrićgrad and also features an interview with Emir Kusturica

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Investigating Belgrade’s Art Scene

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If anyone had a chance to look at my photographs from Belgrade’s Savamala district one could not unreasonably come to the conclusion that Belgrade is art. It may not be an ostentatiously lovely city like Paris or Prague with its magnificent buildings (although there are many impressive buildings here) but it has an atmosphere that is hard to beat. Many people have compared Belgrade with Berlin and for many years Belgrade has been touted as the ‘new Berlin’. I love Berlin too and there are obvious similarities but comparing the two cities is unhelpful. Yet its unavoidable. For many years Berlin was and still is one of the world’s premier cities for artists to reside. It’s close competitors are London and New York yet unlike those two cities Berlin for a long time was a much more affordable city for artists to live. But recently some artists in Berlin have began to feel the pain of increasing rents in the city and thus are forced to seek out other cities. But I digress. I find Belgrade an atmospheric, raw and, at times, an intense city. These are the perfect ingredients for artistic inspiration. A view over Lake Geneva, as nice as it may be, doesn’t quite cut it for me.

Art is everywhere in Belgrade. Not just in the galleries. But in the mixed and diverse architecture of the city’s buildings, in the wealth of street art, and in the air and rhythms of the city. Handsome and regal-like buildings from the age of the Austrian-Hungarian empire can be easily spotted hand in hand with imposing cigarette ash grey Communist era Brutalist blocks. Despite their wealth and history, many are in slow and crumbling decay. Very few are ‘tarted up’. I particularly admire the old yellow Belgrade railway station building at the edge of the city. In that part of the city the pressure is high and its Belgrade’s very own Gare du Nord; flourishing and radiating with warts and all flowers of life. There are no ‘must do’ sites here but the energy is pulsating and pungent. I think the writers Charles Bukowski and Jean Genet would have fallen in love with this neck of the woods.

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Mural of The Clash lead singer Joe Strummer by Grupa JNA

Street art bathes all corners of Belgrade. The Savamala district has the lion’s share and you can see one of my other posts here where I document that area with many photographs. I particularly like a street art collective that go by the name “Grupa JNA”. Many of their murals can by found in the Dorcol district. Look out for the murals of Morrissey and Joe Strummer. In Savamala there is a mural of the young Bosnian revolutionary and assassinator of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip and probably the most impressive and imposing street art mural in all of Belgrade of a man with his mouth open wide with all his teeth painted as rows of buildings. In his hand is a tree which could pass for a piece of broccoli.

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Mural of Gavrilo Princip; the young Bosnian revolutionary who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Sadly the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Belgrade is currently closed for renovation works. It’s been closed for some years but hopefully it should be reopening its doors soon. What I originally envisaged to be a large setback regarding my plans to tap into the city’s contemporary art scene has not been much of a hindrance at all since during my time in Belgrade I was very fortunate enough to visit many of the city’s galleries and discover the works of a large number of exciting artists.

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Opening at the Remont gallery of a solo exhibition by Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic

The first gallery I check out in the city is the Remont gallery off Maršala Birjuzova street, which is an important core art gallery in the city for promoting the latest local contemporary art. I am fortunate enough to attend the opening night of an exhibition of works by the Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic. He is the founder of Art Brut Serbia after the term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet referring to ‘outsider art’ created by artists working outside of the art world and art institutions. Goran’s signature blue ink works on papers are brilliant, pure and highly idiosyncratic works of art. There are also elements of humour too as can be seen where he ingeniously transforms the front page cover star of some Serbian celebrity gossip magazine into one of his trademark blue Bosch devils. Serbian surrealism at its finest.

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Works by Goran Stojcetovic

I catch the tail end of a group exhibition of Hispanic artists entitled Chinese Whispers/An Image, A Memory at an experimental art space called U10 close to Terazije street. Peruvian artist Rudolph Castro’s seven charcoal drawings entitled Walls (2017) is a powerful work of art in the context of the history of brutal Latin American dictatorships and the war and violence throughout the 1990s after the fall of former Yugoslavia. Chilean artist Benjamín Altermatt’s video The Land Which Is Not comprises of a series of old photographs taken in Belgrade accompanied by random sounds with the intention of creating a new real or unreal territory debased from its original identity.

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Chinese Whispers group exhibition at the U10 gallery

 

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Walls (2017) by Rudolph Castro

 

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The Land Which Is Not by Benjamín Altermatt

A little further up Terazije towards the city centre, I visit Gallery SULUJ where there is group exhibition of sculpture and installation works entitled Soft Sculpture – Hard Thoughts. Myrsini Artakianou’s Zero Past, Infinite Future is a collection of fragile and organic life forms disjointed but brought together to make their desolation alive. Bleak close up, but as beautiful as the rarest of pearls from a distance. Sonja Hillen’s Thoughttorture is a ‘knitted brain’ in a knitted grey/blue puddle. The third work to catch my vision is a participatory installation entitled Shaping by Danica Bićanić. It is a soft rubber ball-like sculpture which she invites viewers to reshape and remould from its original form.

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Zero Past, Infinite Future by Myrsini Artakianou

 

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Thoughttorture by Sonja Hillen

 

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Shaping by Danica Bićanić

South of Terazije off Kralja Milana street is the SKC or Student’s Cultural Centre. Historically this was a very significant institution as this is where Serbian and Yugoslavian conceptual art was born at the start of the 1970s. The famous Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic was a key artist in that original scene (as was her former pre Ulay partner; the noted Serbian conceptual artist Nesa Paripovic). One of her early landmark and legendary performance art pieces, Rhythm 5, was performed here. For this performance she made a five-pointed star from wood and dowsed it in 100 litres of petrol. She then walked around it, cutting her hair and nails and throwing them into the flames. Whilst it was on fire she proceeded to lie down in the middle of the burning star.. The iconic German artist Joseph Beuys was in the audience and it’s rumoured that he saved her from the growing flames when she lost consciousness. All this awesome history aside, I had very little luck here. There seemed to be nothing happening. The two people at the reception of the centre resonated apathy and indifference, like I was wasting my time coming here.

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The SKC (Student’s Cultural Centre)

 

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Rhythm 5 by Marina Abramović

The Savamala district which I’ve mention in another post, has many art spaces (many temporary pop-up spaces it feels) and studios. The creative nexus of the area is the KC GRAD. As well as being a bar and a space for interesting live music and experimental events, there is an exhibition space upstairs. When I visited there was no exhibition on display but the KC Grad is a good place to frequent to meet creative people and establish connections in the area. I haven’t been to the following but from what I’ve read, art spaces to check in the area include Magacin, Gallery KM 8 and Zavod. Although the Savamala is one of the main creative hubs and exciting ‘up and coming’ districts in the city, I had a hard time trying to find some of the galleries I wanted to visit. That’s why I recommend maybe spending some quality time at KC Grad and networking there for insider info and where it’s all at.

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The KC Grad

On the outskirts of the city is the Museum of Yugoslavia, which also houses Tito’s mausoleum. When I visited there was a temporary exhibition of black and white photographs documenting Tito’s many trips to Africa. In one photograph a group of young black Africans all in white shirts hold up in the air a placard saying ‘Long Live Tito Man Of Peace’. In another photo Tito’s wife Jovanka is pictured in Ghana dressed in local attire by a group of Ghanaian women. The next photograph to catch my eye shows Tito with the Gaddafi family in Libya sometime in the 1970s. Colonel Gaddafi is kneeling down and smiling on the left whilst Tito is sitting down on the sofa with two of Gaddafi’s sons by his sides.

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The Museum of Yugoslavia

 

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Photographs from the Tito In Africa exhibition at the Museum of Yugoslavia 

If you ever do make it to the museum, try to allocate some free time to visit the nearby former home of the important Serbian/Montenegrin painter Petar Lubarda. His home has been immaculately restored and contains a solid collection of some of his most significant paintings. Some of his paintings were in very bad condition and even missing after he passed away but they have been restored very well. Lubarda was well known in his lifetime but over time seemed to have faded into almost obscurity. But this museum does a fantastic job in preserving his legacy. The first room I enter contains his striking red paintings. When you enter that room you immediately come face to face with his enormous rectangular painting entitled Man and Beasts from 1964. It is a magnificent painting. Like the Bayeux tapestry blended with the most nightmarish paintings by Goya and the English Romantic painter John Martin. I am in awe of this painting and it would look phenomenal in any spanking blue chip modern art museum. Another brilliant painting by Lubarda on display in another room is a large painting entitled The Battle of Kosovo from 1953. This is probably his most well known painting. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo was a very big influence on much of his work.

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Man and Beasts (1964) by Petar Lubarda

 

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Close-up of Man and Beasts

 

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The Battle of Kosovo (1953) by Petar Lubarda

By the Studentski Square park in the centre of the city is a small gallery called Gallery KNU where there is a solo exhibition of paintings entitled Swimmers by Ivana Živić. In her realist and surreal dreamlike paintings, the interior of opulent palatial art museums are flooded in water. In the painting Museum (2017), a young lady in red (yes like the Chris de Burgh song) appears either lifeless like Orphelia in the iconic mid 19th century painting by pre Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais or in a blissful cosmic dream, like the kind of dreams you never want to wake up from. In another painting entitled Red Room (2014), the lines between dreams and reality are increasingly blurred to the point where the subject appears to be leaving her body and the physical world becoming at one with the metaphysical invisible world. It is a profoundly spiritual and powerful painting.

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Museum (2017) by Ivana Živić

 

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Red Room (2014) by Ivana Živić

On Belgrade’s main Knez Mihailova high street are a few interesting art spaces. My first port of call is the Zepter Museum. This is an excellent art museum with three floors of modern and contemporary paintings, photography, sculptures and installations by artists from former Yugoslavia. Look out for artist Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic’s epic and ethereal masterpiece Les Signes Du Déluge (2007). Other delights include Steven Knezevic’s off the wall (but firmly on the wall) painting Jitterbug (1966/74) and Vera Bozickovic Popovic’s Horizontal Composition II (1960) painting.

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Les Signes Du Déluge (2007) by Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic

 

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Jitterbug (1966/74) by Steven Knezevic

 

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Horizontal Composition II (1960) by Vera Bozickovic Popovic

Afterwards I visit a smaller commercial art gallery on the Knez called Gallery ULUS. There was a solo exhibition of paintings by the artist Marko Antonovic when I visited. His paintings are bold, energetic with hard lashes of hot and cold rays and are reminiscent of the German Expressionist paintings of the Die Brucke movement artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

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Paintings by Marko Antonovic

One evening I attended the opening of an exhibition of black and white photographs by the American film director David Lynch entitled Small Stories at the small art gallery of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade on Trg Republike just off the main Knez thoroughfare. His photographs are dense multi dimensional works with several overlapping narratives. Like interpretations of our wildest and most disjointed and unexplainable dreams, these photographs make them tangible. The opening of the exhibition is heaving with people and it’s only later in the night just before the gallery closes and there are less people around that I can freely walk around and look at the photographs undisturbed.

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At the opening of the David Lynch photography exhibition Small Stories at the Cultural Center of Belgrade

 

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Hello My Name Is Fred by David Lynch 

On the same night there is another opening of a joint exhibition called In The Same Space at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art featuring the artists Selman Trtovac and Vladimir Frelih. Both artists exhibit challenging and ambitious works.

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Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) by Vladimir Frelih

Frelih’s Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) is an ongoing project comprising of 183 photos where each photo is a different shade of red. All the photos are individually framed and were developed in different photo studios across Europe over a 12 year time period.

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Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) by Selman Trtovac

Trtovac’s Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) is a project documenting the artist undergoing a non-invasive magnetic brain stimulation, whilst creating a series of drawings, used to treat people with dementia and also used on pilots of the US army during training to help them improve the speed of their reflexes and reactions. Trtovac’s aim with undergoing this procedure was to tap more acutely into his mind and mental faculties and understand better the relationship between the mind and the creative process. These drawings creating during the procedure, entitled Spiritus Movens (2014), are also featured in the show.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th September 2017

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Village That Emir Built

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The wooden village of Drvengrad is a unique creation nestled in the mountains by the border between Bosnia and Serbia. It was built by the Serbian film director and all round maverick Emir Kusterica originally for the setting of his film Life Is A Miracle. But this place is more than just a film set, this is a white hot design for life. A place of hope and positivity, where one can spiritually flourish and be inspired. It almost sounds like the self sustainable community of Auroville in India. But not quite. Auroville is an enormous place with a substantial international community in the thousands. Drvengrad is a floating micro galaxy with its own idiosyncratic vibes and charms.

The landscape around Drvengrad in the Serbian region of Mokra Gora is breathtaking. And even if this awesome village didn’t exist, the scenery alone is a paradise of the highest level for anyone simple wanting to relax, re-energise, unwind, tune out, drop out etc. If the world ever got too much, this part of the world would be on my list of places to disappear to. Rimbaud went to Harar in Ethiopia. I will come here to Mokra Gora.

When one enters Drvengrad, the first thing one most likely notices is the Russian style wooden church at the end of the main square. It is dedicated to St Sava who was the founder of the Serbian autocephalous christian Orthodox Church (as well as the founder of Serbian law). All the squares and streets (more like paths) are named after various famous people. The main wooden square at the entrance is named after the highly revered visionary, humanist and pioneer of Alternating Current Nikola Tesla. Diego Maradona also has his square by the Latin quarter of the village which houses the Damned Yard bar. This bar is full of black and white photographs of Latin American revolutionaries like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Emiliano Zapata. On one side of the bar is a montage of photographs of Emir Kusterica with Johnny Depp, Jim Jarmusch, Maradona, Mike Tyson and others. Cuban music plays on the stereo and I feel like I am back in San Cristobal de Las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Adjacent to the bar is a large indoor swimming pool and an underground gym and cinema.

The nearby Visconti restaurant is more sedate and formal than the Damned Yard bar. Aesthetically there are shades of the architect Le Corbusier in the internal design. It houses a substantial collection of books and a large collection of wines. Close-by is a children’s playground and an art gallery, which was unfortunately closed when I was there. But fortunately there is the Van Gogh hut, inside where there are murials and recreations from his famous paintings. There is also a tiny market square where one can buy local artisan crafts, oils and honeys. When I visited this market corner there was an old lady sitting down by one of the stalls knitting.

On the side of one wooden hut is a large mural of the Russian writer Dostoevsky. At both ends of the mural are a clutch of super sized colouring pencils ingeniously created from tree trucks.

Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has his own street with a couple of outdoor tennis courts at the end. Film directors Frederick Fellini and Igmar Bergman also have streets named after them as does the Nobel prize winning Balkan writer Ivo Andric. Stanley Kubrick’s name is also stamped into this village in the form of the Stanley Kubrick Theatre.

Each year Drvengrad hosts the international Kustendorf film festival, also founded by Kusturica. Johnny Depp, the Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal and the directors Jim Jarmusch and Abbas Kiarostami are some of a handful of well known faces to have visited.

Below I am sharing some of my photographs of this awesome village.

 

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Text and photography by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs From Belgrade’s Savamala District

Belgrade’s Savamala district is one of the most interesting parts of the Serbian capital city to explore. It stretches from the main railway and bus station up until the Kalenegdan fort complex. Walking around this area one is rewarded with a mess of different styles and periods of architecture. There are some splendidly ornate buildings in perpetual decay and many more Brutalist structures. In fact, walking around Belgrade for the most part feels like being in an odd blended bubble of Vienna and the Barbican district in London.

Savamala was badly destroyed in both World Wars. For many decades since the end of WW2, it was a very run down place and had a negative reputation. However in the last few years it has developed as the creative hub of Belgrade and many bars and art spaces keep popping up. To get a good and accessible taste of the area’s scene, head to Braće Krsmanović street by the Sava river. The beginning of the street is marked by a disused shell of an old antique crumbling building. Further on is the KC Grad cultural centre. This is an indispensable cultural landmark with live music and happenings. Upstairs there’s an art exhibition space. Further along the street is a clutch of bars.

Architectural delights aside, there is some magnificent street art if you look hard enough. The area around Zeleni Venac market is a hive of activity and an interesting place to explore. Lots of cheap snacks and street venders selling anything from books to football t-shirts and some t shirts with the face of Vladimir Putin on them.

Below I am sharing my photographs accumulated from my wonderings around this fascinating part of Belgrade

 

 

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Text and photography by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

Munching Your Way Through Belgrade

Belgrade is a fantastic and great value city to eat your way around and a fabulous food destination in its own right. It is a cosmopolitan city and you can find good international food outlets in addition to more traditional places. Anyone’s who’s travelled across Serbia may be familiar with the countries pekaras, which are traditional bakeries often open 24/7. At these eateries you can pick up a late night sandwich or pastry for only a few coins. Often the ladies who work at these places are delightful and very patient with my bad to non existent Serbian. In fact, quite a few of them speak very good English.

In Belgrade, like the rest of Serbia and most of former Yugoslavia, there are plenty of places selling traditional foods such as Cevapi (Balken sausages), Bureks (Balken pies) and pljeskavicas (hamburgers done the Serbian way) etc. I had my first taste of a burek at some hole in the wall place by Dolac market in Zagreb and I was dying for a bowl of vegetables and water after just a few morsels. My mouth was a cave of low-grade grease. A pljeskavica, on the other hand, is a wonderful thing. I don’t think I’ve ever, in all my time in Serbia, had a substandard pljeskavica.

 

The Best Cevapi in Belgrade: Drama Cevapi

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Cevapi places, or Cevaperias as I like to call them with a Latino tinge, are ten a penny around most of former Yugoslavia. Yet I’ve never tasted Cevapi as divine as the ones I was served here at Drama Cevapi. They are so tender and almost melt in your mouth. For less than $3 you get a metal plate with five Cevapi topped with a handful of chopped onion accompanied with shredded cabbage, a dollop of clotted cream and chilli sauce and some bread. There are other items on the menu but this is the signature dish and what this place does best

 

Pljeskavicas in Belgrade

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It’s hard to pick one place in Belgrade as there are a few places which all do equally good pljeskavicas. Depending on where you are based in the city there are three places which do mean pljeskavicas and they are all open til late so perfect and very convenient after a night out thrashing the rakija and Jelen. I have to admit I probably had the best pljeskavica when I was in Novi Sad, but I was so smashed I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place. If you are in the centre of the city, at the corner of Kolarčeva and Makedonska, is the eatery chain Gyros In City. They do very filling pljeskavicas as well as excellent and cheap Greek style kebabs. I also love the people that work there; jokers of the highest order who always brighten up my day.

Nearby on Maršala Birjuzova is Mikan Restaurant, which serves local food. Adjacent to the main restaurant they have a smaller eatery where you can get Cevapis, pljeskavicas, hamburgers, hotdogs etc. I was served a very generous pljeskavica here by an old lady who spoke no English for 200 Diners. The board menu was all in Cyrillic, which I can read, even if I speak almost no Serbian. A wee tip; if you ever go to Russia (or any country which uses the Cyrillic alphabet), your life will be far less painful if you can decode Cyrillic. Doesn’t matter if you speak little to no Russian. If you can’t decipher Cyrillic you may as well be gallivanting on the moon.

Finally in the Dorćol neighbourhood on Gospodar Jovanova is the small eatery Loki. They are the pljeskavicas specialists and they don’t mess about. There are many cool bars in this neighbourhood and this is a great place to go for a late night pljeskavica.

 

The Bakeries That Never Sleep

Serbia is famous for its 24/7 bakeries. In almost all cities in Serbia you will stumble upon a bakery or pekara, which never closes. Super convenience aside, some serve serve a dazzling range of treats and are very inexpensive. I have two favourite pekaras in Belgrade. The first one is called Skroz Dobra Pekara and located right next to the king of pljeskavicas, Loki, in the Dorćol neighbourhood. You can find filling sandwiches for less than 200 Diners and strudels, pies, cakes and other assorted pastries for less than 100 Diners. What’s more, the ladies who work here are super nice.

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In the centre of town and right by the queen of pljeskavicas, Gyros In City, is another outstanding 24/7 bakery called Pekara Tomo. It is almost identical to Skroz and equally excellent and well stocked with cheap sandwiches and pastries as well as a small side pizza parlour.

 

Znak Pitanja (also called ‘ ? ‘)

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If you ever fancy having a proper slap up traditional Balkan meal with all the trimmings Znak Pitanja is a top notch choice. This restaurant also has the unique distinction of being the oldest tavern or kafana in the city at over 200 years old. I chose the 1kg pork knuckle. It arrived on a large glass tray accompanied with an ample supply of baked potatoes and a side of homemade horseradish sauce. I am not kidding, when the thing arrived it was enough to feed the entire population of Novi Sad. It was perfectly good no nonsense Balkan food.

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I hear they also have traditional live music here so may be worth reserving a table here for a Balkan feast with plenty of pivo and rakija when there is. I think great fun can be had.

 

Vegetarians and vegans in Belgrade: Radost Fina Kuhinjica

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I feel your pain. With the mammoth non stop cevapi/pljeskavica meat feast assault, travelling in Serbia can be a veritable drag. But once in the capital things brighten pretty quickly. I know there are a few veg establishments in the city and that will only grow as more and more people become vegetarian or vegan. In fact in both the cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad you will notice quite a number of ‘Go Vegan’ slogans graffitied throughout both cities. If this keeps up maybe I’ll be eating vegan cevapis and pljeskavicas when I return in five years or so.

I can’t just live on cevapis and pljeskavicas for the rest of my life. Even the most rampant of carnivores need something green from time to time. I read glowing things about a veg restaurant called Radost Fina Kuhinjica so one day I decided to investigate. Aesthetically this restaurant gets full marks. It’s a stylish and trendy place and all the menu booklets are enclosed in old hardback books. There is a backyard area where you can eat. When it’s dark all the tables have lit candles in old school metal candle holders. Instead of local music, I detect The Smiths, Coldplay, Lana Del Ray and The Strokes on the sound system.

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I order the veg burger consisting of tofu and red kidney beans. For the price I was expecting one large juicy veg burger. Instead I got two miniature burgers accompanied with a salad. All the ingredients were no doubt fresh and organic and the salad was perfectly good yet I was a little disappointed with the burgers. They were too plain. There was not enough zing or omph. This is not a bad restaurant and is certainly a cut above many ‘hipster cool’ vegan eateries which are a triumph of style over substance. Perhaps the veg burgers are not where it’s at? Maybe if I had the veg lasagna I would be raving about the place. Either way, as I mentioned before, with the passing of time, the veg scene here in Belgrade will only grow and maybe when I return a few years from now I may find a dazzling of choice of new and great no nonsense veg eateries.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

Photographs From Novi Sad

Arriving in the city of Novi Sad was my first taste of Serbia; a country I’ve always wanted to visit. After four days in this city, it certainly has not disappointed. In fact I had a real blast. Serbia’s second biggest city, after the capital Belgrade, has been a joy to explore and get to know. The attractive city centre around the main square is full of handsome buildings dating back to the time of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. There are lots of cafes to have a cheap cappuccino or bottle of Jelen beer along with a slice of Sachertorte or a couple of scoops of delicious ice cream. And all for just a few coins. Paris also has nice cafes and are great way to pass the day…..if you have deep pockets.

There are a plethora of sites to see in Novi Sad, but I recommend simply walking around this city. One great walk you can do is to walk towards the main bridge over the Danube river and on to the old Petrovaradin fortress. On sunny Summer days you will see locals bathing on the banks of the river. Once over on the other side, you are in the old part of town full of old buildings; many of them in splendid dilapidation. I seldom go to the gym but the walk up to the fortress more than compensated for that! When you’ve reached the top, you are rewarded with an amazing vista of the city and the Danube. There are also a couple of bars at the summit.

There is a small but interesting space which holds temporary art exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Novi Sad, which is part of the larger Museum of Vojvodina on Dunavska street. When I visited, there was an interesting exhibition by a Serbian artist called Igor Bosnjak entitled Projekat EUtopija. Next to the space there is a small display about the history of the Vojvodina region (of which Novi Sad is the capital) from before the start of the First World War until the end of the Second World War. It providing a very interesting understanding regarding what sowed the seeds for the First World War and the conflicts between the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Serbia. Directly opposite the museum is Dunavski park, which is a lovely spot to relax and have a walk. Look out for the statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jaksic. He is sitting down and wearing a hat, looking uncannily like Don Quixote.

In the evening head to Cafe Veliki (one of the best and most authentic restaurants in the city) and order the Goulash. You won’t regret it! In the evening there are lots of bars to choose from. I had the good fortune to meet an interesting Anglo-Serbian guy from Manchester and a friend of his who took me on a tour of the city. We wound up the day in some bar, which I can’t recall the name of, where we had a few Jelens and some rakija. Rakija is a fruit brandy popular throughout south eastern Europe and comes in different flavours. At the end of night we went to a snack place for a pljeskavica; one of the national dishes of Serbia. You gotta have a pljeskavica if you ever come to Serbia! And it is perfect post-drinking food. There are also a smattering of bakeries open 24/7 where you can pick up a cherry strudel whenever you are feeling peckish.

There are many places to stay in Novi Sad. I stayed at the Hostel Podbara located outside of the city centre, but only a 10-15 minute walk away. It is a very tranquil and quiet place and almost feels like you are in the middle of the countryside. What’s more, the rooms are very comfortable and it’s incredibly good value for money; especially if you are on a budget. And the family who run the hostel are very kind and welcoming.

So, walk around and get stuck in! Don’t feel like you have to “do” Novi Sad. Grab a cafe and some cake. Have a Jelen and a pjeskavica. And just have fun!

Živeli!!!

 

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Novi Sad’s main square Trg Slobode

 

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By the main city centre church 

 

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Statue of the Serbian poet and physicist Jovan Jovanović Zmaj (1833-1904)

 

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Old town of Novi Sad

 

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Old town of Novi Sad

 

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Petrovaradin Fortress

 

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View of the old town from the fortress 

 

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The river Danube

 

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Novi Sad train and bus station

 

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Outside Novi Sad train and bus station 

 

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Street art in Novi Sad

 

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Street art in Novi Sad

 

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Goulash at Cafe Veliki

 

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Projekat EUtopija exhibition by Serbian artist Igor Bosnjak at the Museum Of Contemporary Art 

 

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Outside the Museum Of Contemporary Art

 

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In Dunavski park posing by a statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jakšić

 

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Jelen beer and rakija on a night out

 

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A pljeskavica

 

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Novi Sad Synagogue

 

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Novi Sad in the early evening

 

 

Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Inside The Croatian Museum Of Naive Art

This art museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Zagreb. Naive Art as an art form was very fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s. Personally I don’t like the term very much as I think it degrades art and implies that it’s not very good. Some art of that genre can be very kitsch but it can also be very brilliant, full of heart and soul. The best work of this genre is up there with many of the greatest works from the Art Brut movement where artists, with no formal art education, created work, often of a very raw nature, outside of the confines of the ‘Art World’ and other established institutions.

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Self-Portrait (1975) by Ivan Generalić

Most of the work on display at this museum is by noted Croatian artists of the Hlebine School. Hebline is a small village in the north of Croatia which from the 1920s was the place where a small group of self taught peasants began to develop a new style of painting. The artist Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) was the father of this movement. When I enter the first room of the museum, his Self-Portrait (1975) painting is the first painting to catch my eye. The prominent blue background of the painting is unmissable and I am immediately reminded of the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait Of Doge Leonardo Loredan.

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Harvest (1938) by Mirko Virius 

In the same room, there are also paintings by another artist of the first generation of Hebline school artists called Mirko Virius (1889-1943) who’s paintings are of traditional rural people. His painting Harvest (1938) reminds me of the rural paintings of everyday peasant life by the pre Impressionist French painter Jean-Francois Millet. Millet was also a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh who at the beginning of his painting career wanted to paint rural peasant life in its purest form from the source. Many of Van Gogh’s early paintings and drawings capture this very beautifully.

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The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by Ivan Večenaj

Then there is another painting in that same called The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by one of the second generation of Hlebine School artists called Ivan Večenaj (1920-2013). This is probably the most powerful painting in the room. The intricate mess of destruction, decay and dehumanisation makes me hark back to the most nightmarish paintings by the legendary and light-years-ahead-of-his-time Dutch colossus Hieronymus Bosch. Out of all the art works in the museum, it is those paintings by Večenaj, which resonate most deeply with me. Another painting of his entitled Gaitery Juna (1962) features a peasant lady with a deformed face. A third painting depicts Moses by the Red Sea.

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Martin Mehkek

In another room, a series of portraits by Martin Mehkek (1936-2014) stop me in my tracks. The portraits are very human and Mehkek seems to have a unique ability to empathise with his subjects and put himself in their shoes. He paints his subjects in a way which executes their emotions and traits. And many of his subjects seem to be local villagers and they appear to be painted in a way where all their quirks, bizarreness and insularity are masterfully captured.

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Emerik Feješ

The paintings of Emerik Feješ (1904-1969) are of colourful, childlike, ethereal and joyful buildings in a style that is his own. Like ornate Venetian buildings turned into multi coloured, energetic Mississippi and New Orleans juke joints. Observing his paintings fill me with hope and positivity, which is very vital in a pungent age of anxiety.

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Luxary Ship (1974) by Drago Jurak

The final piece of work in the museum to make an impression on me is a painting by Drago Jurak (1911-1994) called Luxary Ship (1974). It is a extraordinary painting and I immediately think of the impossibly insane Swiss artist Adolf Wölfi, a key artist from the Art Brut movement. His paintings are of an overly complex, obsessive and deranged nature. Like a shockingly talented Persian miniature painter on acid. Some artists are just happy to knock up bland landscape pastiches. Yet painters like Jurak and Wölfi are forever hellbent on rocking the boat and driving the square community mad.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved