Inspired by the tragic events of 1990s Bosnia, Western suburbs artist Saidin Salkic has emerged as a poet, film-maker, song writer and painter of note and substance. He has exhibited at the Sunshine Art Spaces, was featured on SBS World News, and recently took time out to have this conversation with The Westsider.
Q. Your background is equally interesting and tragic, how would you describe yourself and your art?
Well I was born in Srebrenica, Bosnia, where there was the greatest genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. That’s been relevant to my life, inevitably to my art. I make cinema, I paint, I write, I make music. I’ve just completed my third film called Manifesto of the Defeated Poet, with the help of John Cumming, a film lecturer at Deakin University. I’m having a record out with Dominic Byrne, who’s from a band called Little Red, a famous pop band in Melbourne before they split up, it’s our second record together, and I’m planning an exhibition next year for the 20 years of Srebrenica genocide at the Hunt Club Community Arts Centre, to do a show of 3D object paintings and bottle paintings that I’m doing. I’m developing a project with ArtPlay, I’m booked for workshops for them in January, and I’m also meeting local community art centres. So it’s not a lot different from you know, I understand how tough it is out there. It’s been tough for me, and only lately am I finding things and doors open for me after many years of hard work and a lot of ignorance.
Q. Are your artistic mediums joined in some way or have you re-invented yourself as an artist?
I’ve been asked that question before from the paper in Bosnia incidentally and people are sort of interested in that. They are all connected and join in me inevitably. They are extensions of me in different platforms but they come from the same source. Its expanse, which is ones’ inner-ness, but it’s also about reinventing yourself, and its also about how each of those mediums express parts of me in the best way, so I suppose the way I paint explores certain parts of me that don’t get explored if I’m doing music, but it didn’t come like that, it was process of discovery. It was always hard work. Crossing a street is hard, let alone anything else, and I’m very aware of it in a very intense way, so I suppose to answer your question, it’s both.
Q. You’ve talked about neo-democratic electronic government. Can you elaborate on what this means?
Yes, I have to, it’s something that’s very important to me. Neo-Democratic electronic government is the evolved form of democracy where people’s votes are simply counted upon the policies they bring up by machines, and the decisions are put to practice directly without any Hitler, Stalin or other historical madmen in charge of it. The concept of democracy we live in now is a retro concept of democracy. It’s a cave man philosophy where you have to have a leader. The biggest cave man with the biggest muscles, he’s the leader and we need him to lead. That was the philosophy that was then, and it’s still being practiced. We live in the times where we certainly don’t have to have that anymore. We don’t have to. Nobody has to be led anymore. Nobody has to be degraded into a position of having to be led by a so called supreme leader that one needs to have. We live in the time that we can give people the power that neo-democracy is. Every person has the vote and that vote counts, and is not misrepresented by somebody who has been given power to do it instead, whose interest is only the elite minority who own 50% of the capitalistic wealth and oil. It’s about giving people the real power for the first time in history, everybody’s vote is simply one vote, and it goes with other votes on the basis of the real will of the people, not a micro-minority in charge of everybody else, and everybody else does everything for their own interests so they are the ones who define progress. They are the ones who save the progress.19% of the Amazon forest has disappeared, they are the ones standing behind that philosophy – that’s progress, that’s possible, we’ve got to be able to do that, we’ve got to be able to drill the world as much as we can, suck it dry as much as possible and call it progress. So that’s connected to electronic government, we’ve got to give people the power to really say what they think. Now they don’t have the platform. You can have your opinion, it can be beautiful, I’m sure it is, but you have no power, nobody cares, you vote but it is regarded by somebody who is in charge of you, who leads you, even though you don’t need to be led. We live in that time, and the controlling interests are to protect the interests of the elite minority who own it all.
Q. How long do you spend on your art?
When you are experiencing and living your life, gaining and getting inspiration for what you are doing, I think this is sort making art – even when you’re not making ‘art’. So you live art full time, do you live your life? Depending on different pieces, it really depends. For example, I like to do music right away, I have compositions and I have people I work with and they come and we record it at night. We did the record in one night. It took all night but we did 10 songs, songs that I had composed, they had melodies and everything. Yet this film, the Manifesto of the Defeated Poet, I had been doing for five years, and that’s not just because it needed that time, but because when you collaborate with other people, you have to comply with schedules to do it that way. And the same thing with paintings, sometimes I do it if I have the thing ready, I do a couple or four in a day.
Q. How are you accepted in Srebrenica? Have you been back?
I am very active in Bosnia, the people know my art, they know my story, know what I have been through so they have an appreciation that we don’t have here. There I am kinda like a rock star. This closeness with my people makes me feel intensely about life. When I go back its very lyrical. I made a film that was for me. I could only squeeze that much out of it, to go back. I live with it every day. They asked me on SBS about it, and they said it was 20 years and they came over to do the interview for their world news. It hasn’t been 20 years for me; it’s the intimate present and intimate future. I live with it every day. I mean, I have dreams. I have most of the people in new ways I lost, including my father and intimate family. I went a few more times after that but its never been the same. There’s no way the things have been erased from your life and attempted to be erased from your consciousness.
Q. How do you find clients and the commissions for your art?
Well as I said its very hard, nothings laid out for you, you really have to dig deep and fight for it. What I have been mostly focusing on is making art. I really just have this urge to make art rather than to almost think about selling it and doing anything else – that wasn’t on my mind for most of it until recently when it start happening by itself. You simply have to get out there and I consider myself happy about being recognised by some people who saw that what I was doing has importance to it, and I think its a long process, it’s not overnight.
Q. How did you develop your style?
Well its one of those things that floats like a river but you have to know where to let the dams go and overflow and where not to build barriers. You have to have a background of forms and techniques. You have to be able to use techniques from all backgrounds, indigenous and western European art, and then you make it personal, make it intimate and then it starts making sense to you.
Q. Was moving to Australia the best decision for you and your family?
Well it wasn’t really a decision we made it just happened for us. And it is yes. For the first 5 years I was shocked by the place, but yes of course it is.
Q. Could you go back to Bosnia to live?
I’m not sure I could go back to live. It’s strange but I’ve learned to like the alienation you can have in Australia. You can’t do that in Europe. In Bosnia you have 4-5 neighbours who would want to interact with you, talk to you. In Australia I can lock myself away in my studio and throw myself in my work. I do go back to Bosnia.
Q. We don’t see much artistic expression arising from this conflict. Why do you think that is?
Well it’s not intentional, its very hard to make things intentional you know. There’s a lot of books and things written about it. I’m the only a man from Srebrenica who’s made a film, but a lot of things are not available in the mainstream.
Q. In your first film Karasevdah; Srebrenica Blues, we see the state of the place. Was it challenging walking around the ruins of your home town?
Yes was challenge looking at those fields and spaces where you spent the most beautiful days and nights of your life, shared with beautiful people in your life. It (the massacre) changed my life, I was never the same person after that.
Q. What advice can you give to other young people struggling to put their life together after a tragedy?
That’s a very hard question to answer. It’s impossible to offer them a solution, but what often arises from having lived through that, things should come to them instinctively and they should be brave enough to follow those instincts. For everybody it’s a different thing but I’m sure windows open for them and they need to be brave enough to follow.
Q. What does the future hold?
I have committed a lot of time to the new film, we have submitted it to the Rotterdam film festival. Also keep doing painting classes in community centres around here, projects with local artists, create a home for me and my family here, and connect with the community as much as I can. I haven’t had a home for so long and I haven’t had a concept of home for so long. When all of the people you ever knew were killed, people in my life couldn’t chose, you wake up one day and people are throwing bombs, burning down your house just because you have a certain name – it’s just awful. People impose that identity upon you and I’m just a human being, people have to give people space to be who they really are. So I will keep employing my passions towards people who are going through suffering, and ask; “How can my skills and experience help them?”
Photos by Tara Strong