I graduated from high school at the United World College in Mostar, which is an international school that accepts students from all over the world based on their commitment to creating world peace. It’s kind of an absurdly idealistic mission, and the school itself is a bit absurd, too, housed in a huge, bright orange Ottoman-style building in the middle of a town which was in the middle of the armed ethnic conflict that happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1993 to 1996. I haven’t been back to Mostar since I graduated from school there in 2013, but this summer, I’ll be catching a plane and doing a project. Here’s basic the idea:
December 2015 marked twenty years since the formal end of the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). But reading international media coverage about BiH, you might think the country was still at war. In the surface-level stories most commonly published, Bosnia is consistently connected with phrases like “war-torn,” and “impoverished,” and more in-depth pieces almost always focus on current ethnic tensions or memorials to genocide. Those issues are real and relevant in Bosnia and Herzegovina but they aren’t the whole story.
All over Bosnia and Herzegovina, there’s a growing culture of young people are making art and music. The artists, many of whom were babies during the conflict in BiH, have important, thought-provoking personal stories. Their work often unites people across ethnic lines, and they’re collaborating constantly on new projects to build community. But more importantly, they’re just making great creative work. And it’s probably time that more people knew.
Narrative matters. The stories we tell ourselves about a place or a people affect how much empathy we feel towards them, and whether we want to visit their country for a vacation. Stories change the kinds of international investments that are made in a place, and what kind of future the kids growing up there can imagine for themselves. With the Youth Art in Mostar project, which will be implemented during the summer of 2016, we aim to elevate narratives of creativity, and healing, and success in BiH by creating an online storytelling platform and live multimedia exhibit focused on the art and music scene in Mostar, and the young people making it possible.
So, I’m going back. I’ll be working with my four closest friends from Mostar, all of whom are artists and media makers who were intimately involved with the art community in BiH while we lived there. It’s a pretty big project, and happily we have a big grant to fund the content-gathering/story-making/exhibit-designing components of the project. For the purposes of this class, though, I’m thinking hard about how we can make the most useful online exhibit possible.
I’m not a coder; I actually have very little patience for working with computers. But I really care about things looking good, and I know that gaining recognition for these stories outside of Mostar will depend on having a really beautiful website that makes it very clear exactly why people should care about all the radical young artists in BiH.
One of the larger questions I’ve been thinking through in terms of website design is organization. The aim of the New Narratives project is to feature not only the stories of artists and why they’re making what they’re making, but also the work itself. On top of those two goals, both the stories of artists and their work will be in many media forms — photo, audio, video, and combinations of those mediums. Figuring out a platform, and a platform design that can adequately host all of that has been tricky, but here’s where I’m at right now:
Organizing by both art and artist is working pretty well. We’re able to host all kinds of content, and highlight stories as well as portfolio work. In an ideal work, this website would also link neatly between the work of each artist and their story. I’m working towards how to do that; I’ll figure it out soon, I hope.
I do have a few more questions in terms of online content. The exhibit website, in current form, won’t last forever. It’s paid by monthly subscription, and I can’t continue to fund that forever. This raises a few questions about the possibility of creating a digital archive that correlates with the content on the site. If we don’t do that, what will happen to the work after our exhibit comes down? What will happen to the stories?
While I think these questions are really important, and I plan to work with the artists we meet this summer to make sure they have permanent copies of whatever we make, I’m also thinking about when in a narrative an archive becomes relevant. Right now, there’s not only no archive of youth-made art in Mostar, there’s also no public knowledge of it. It seems like our project, by featuring the work and stories, is a first step. Making an an archive, and making that archive publicly accessible, seems like a luxury that established narratives and content warrant. Hopefully, we’ll be there by next year.