Market Scene : Ironic Postcards from a City at War : Two graphic artists portray the soul of Sarajevo from a palette of dark humor, anger and hope.
They’re young, talented graphic artists, surviving in a besieged city, surrounded by destruction at the epicenter of Europe’s worst war in half a century.
They have to scrounge much of their materials, and they are forced to improvise constantly, yet their work is world class: subtle, self-deprecating, angry, yet leavened with a dark humor.
For the team of Dadila Hadzihalilovic, 28, and her husband, Bojan, 30, the recipe is simple. Find an instantly identifiable symbol and mix it with an uncomplicated message.
The collective result is a rare piece of devastating clarity from a war whose complexities confuse outsiders as much as its barbarity appalls them.
In a word, the Hadzihalilovics “connect.”
The couple was two-thirds of the group Trio, which was formed before the Bosnian war began in 1992. Much of their best-known work was introduced at an exhibition last year marking the 10th anniversary of the Sarajevo Winter Olympics.
“Our thought was how to produce art that can communicate with the outside world, art that can remind the world in a different way of the terrible things going on here,” Bojan said. “We’ve had an amazing response.”
In most of the 36 images produced for the exhibition last year, the message was instant and unmistakable. For example:
* A poster displaying the five Olympic rings, all in white, shaped to appear as barbed-wire, set against an all-black background.
* A poster showing the U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima planting an Olympic flag instead of the Stars and Stripes under the words, “Olympic Games Sarajevo, 1994.”
* A redesigned white-on-red Coca-Cola logo, with the words, “Enjoy Sara-jevo.”
“Our idea was on two levels,” Dadila said, referring to the “Enjoy Sara-jevo” design. “We wanted people to think about Sarajevo whenever they saw the Coke logo, but the word enjoy also has a special meaning. We think there is a lot of cynicism about our fate. We wanted to show what we feel about this.”
With neither enough paper nor ink available to produce full-sized posters in any volume, their work was initially hand-painted, then later printed in a smaller postcard format.
On the back, lower left-hand corner of each postcard are the words, “This document has been printed in war circumstances: no paper, no inks, no electricity, no water. Just good will.” To reduce print costs, most of their work was done in two colors rather than four.
Bojan and Dadila met 10 years ago while studying graphic design in Sarajevo. Together with a third artist, Lela Hatt, they formed a commercial enterprise called Trio. Hatt, who has since emigrated to Switzerland, has recently been replaced by a Sarajevo student artist, Sejla Kameric.
In a culture that frequently stifles young talent, Trio quickly flourished. In the days when Yugoslavia was rich and peaceful, they commuted between Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb, now warring capitals, doing contract work for leading advertising agencies, including London’s Saatchi & Saatchi.
They designed the format and logo of Vreme, the leading Belgrade-based Serbian news weekly, its Croatian counterpart, Globus, and Dani, a political magazine in mainly Muslim Sarajevo.
Many of those who remember pre-war Sarajevo say the Hadzihalilovics represent the city that was--a tolerant, cosmopolitan and liberal place with a sense of humor. Certainly their marriage is an example of tolerance: Dadila is Muslim, while Bojan says he’s of Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim descent.
Their latest work retains the successful formula of mixing a familiar picture with a brief message, such as the “Sarajevo Park” poster, which uses the “Jurassic Park” logo, or “Absolut Sarajevo,” a variant of the Swedish Absolut vodka ads in which the picture is identical, but the revised text reads:
“Absolut Sarajevo is made from authentic Bosnian citizens: Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Jewish and special blends, born in (the) rich country of Bosnia. The spirit of togetherness is an age-old Bosnia tradition, dating back more than 800 years. Sarajevo has been sold under the name Absolut since 1992.”
Other examples include a one-off cultural magazine they recently put together in which they devoted the back cover to a photo of President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, riding in the fateful Dallas motorcade moments before Kennedy was shot. The caption reads, “Ich bin ein Sarajevoer.”
“What happened to them has become a way of life for us,” Bojan said.
All three ideas reflect the biting, cynical humor that frequently accompanies the Hadzihalilovics’ work.
Other offerings, however, are statements of thinly concealed anger, such as Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream,” with the war-damaged Sarajevo skyline in the background, or the countenance of German composer Ludwig van Beethoven looking down at the same skyline under the wording, “Sarajevo’s Music Nights, Ode of Sadness.” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is the European Union’s official hymn.
Despite the suffering they and their city have endured, the Hadzihalilovics manage to maintain a lighter side.
At a time the city was under constant bombardment, for example, they designed a tennis magazine that ran three issues before folding--not because of lack of interest, but because there was no paper to print it on. More recently, they turned out a single issue of Cocktail, a leisure-time magazine, “just because people seemed to want it.”
And as Sarajevo peers toward the onset of its fourth year of war, the pair are busy doing promotion work for Bosnia’s entry to the Eurovision song contest and nurturing their dream of one day being able to work on Macintosh computers.
“I think we’re typical of this place--simple, open-hearted, emotional, but with a lot of humor,” Dadila said. “Sarajevo humor tends to be directed inward and be a little black. We’re trying to show the world our soul.”