I met with Alma Suljevic the night before leaving Sarajevo – she had just arrived back in Bosnia early that morning, and I was leaving the next morning on an early flight out. The fact that she was willing to fit this meeting in at the last moment, upon her return, speaks volumes to the type of person she is, I think.
Our meeting was informal and brief, and we didn’t get to speak too much about the specifics of her work, so this entry will also be brief for the moment, reflecting that encounter.
There are many artists in the former Yugoslavia, and especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose work is either directly or indirectly about the war. That said, Alma’s work is rather unique in that regard, because instead of commenting or reflecting on it from a distance, she directly involves herself into a very specific phenomenon of the aftermath of war. Alma’s main focus, for the past several years, has been the landmines that still dot the landscape of her country, and continue to cause harm to its citizens, now decades after the war. The artist has been working on a project to clear the land of mines since 1997. The project has evolved into something she calls 4 Entity – a reference to the three arbitrarily created “entities” that make up the nation following the Dayton Agreements: the Federation of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, and Brčko District. Here, Alma has created her own unit, which is connected by all of the minefields in the country.
In 1999, the artist put her own life at risk when she was involved in the deactivation of actual land mines (Annulling the Truth). In order to finance the cleaning of the minefields, she has been selling soil from them, in small bags that she has sewn herself. She began this enterprise in August 2000 at the Markale fruit market in Sarajevo, on the anniversary of the second massacre that occurred there five years earlier (the first attack on the market had been in February 1995).
Even before she began these interactive performative projects, Alma’s work as a sculptor bore the imprint of war. Her 1994 sculpture Kentauromahija, was made from an abandoned and burnt out tram that had been left in the center of the city throughout the siege. According to her biography, her professor at the Academy of Fine Arts was killed by a grenade in 1992, but I believe that the artist’s focus on an interest in the war stems more from who she is as a person than this one biographical detail, no matter how significant. The artist is a true humanitarian, one who seems to truly love people – all people – and want to help them. It is her love for all living creatures that causes her to put her own life at risk not for the sake of her art, but for the sake of others, and it is a testament to her spirit and strength that she continues to do so, never resting until, as she says, all the mines have been cleaned.