For twenty years, visual artist Ismar Cirkinagic has been collecting plants from mass graves and locations where the bodies of those killed during the war were found in and around Prijedor.
Born in Prijedor, he witnessed the crimes committed in his town in the summer of 1992, when the local government, led by the Serb Democratic Party, expelled, imprisoned, or killed thousands of Bosniaks and Croats.
The bodies of the murdered were found in more than 400 locations in the area, and the Institute estimates that there are at least 20 more locations with the bodies of the victims.
Ismar, he says, visited almost all the locations, first photographing them, and then collecting plants for herbariums.
”Three things overlap here. I am an artist. I am from Prijedor, where a campaign of ethnic cleansing was carried out. Third, maybe that return, when a man comes after the war and tries to solve some issues,” said Ismar, whose Herbarium exhibition will be opened at the National Museum in Sarajevo on November 13th. The producers of the exhibition are VII Academy and Kuma International.
A process similar to exhumation
Ismar compares the process of collecting and processing plants to exhumation.
”You find a certain plant, take that plant out of the ground, take it for analysis, and then you establish its name, its term, in my case Latin, and of course, the family from which it originates,”Ismar stated and added:
”While I was working and photographing the exhumation center in Sejkovaca, I saw that the process is quite similar. You find the bodies, you take them out of the ground, bring them there, and then try to match the DNA data and find out who the person is and who their family is…”
Similar to the bodies of victims that were transferred from primary to secondary mass graves and were scattered, in one location there is an arm, a leg, and somewhere else a head isfound, so Ismar also sometimes chose plants that were not whole for herbariums.
”I leave and return”
The idea for the exhibition in Sarajevo came after a conversation with photographer from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Zijah Gafic, regional director of the VII Academy for the Balkans.
”I said that I had closed the project, that I would not do it again. We tried to take works from the collections in Danish museums, but they did not want to give us these works, because that is the principle. And then we jointly decided that I should return to the herbarium again and make some 70 works for this exhibition.”
”I leave and return to this project,” said 49-year-old Ismar, Radio Slobodna Evropa reports.