Guards of the Museum
Guards of the Museum
The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the seven cultural institutions of importance to the state which have, after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, remained in ‘legal vacuum’ because responsible state institutions have for the past twenty years been unwilling to hold founder’s rights for the Museum, and by doing that to take on its financing.
Even though the Museum has for years managed to survive with the help of grants for the upkeep of collections, due to sudden budget cuts the Museum collective now receives barely one fifth of the budget necessary for this institution to function properly. Because of this, the management and the collective of the National Museum decided to close the Museum to the public in 2012.
Pictures of the National Museum of BiH door nailed shut went around the world. In spite of this, the Museum has kept on working; for three years at this point, the employees come to work every day and guard the valuable collections at this institution. Often in the public we could hear allegations and comments about the irresponsible and neglectful workers of the Museum, as well as the management structure that is incompetent to run this institution. All of these reasons have failed to recognize the real causes of the problem – the unsolved legal and financial status, as well as the neglect of the responsible political elites for the Museum’s status.
Who are the people who come to the Museum every day to protect our mutual cultural treasures?
In order to answer this question, Ziyah Gafić, photographer, together with the AKCIJA team, began visiting the National Museum from January 2015 where he took portraits of the Museum's workers.
Each of more than 30 portraits in this publication represents one "guard, " one untold story about the National Museum of BiH, about responsibility and love towards one's work and profession, former and current working conditions, their struggle to survive as well as their doubts between hope for a better future and resignation regarding the inability to change the current condition. This is a different, intimate story about the National Museum of BiH and the people who take care of it, although forgotten and abandoned by everyone.
The photodocumentary project “Guards of the Museum” is a part of a larger civic action called "Ja sam Muzej" (“I am the Museum”), where we would like to show solidarity with the workers of the National Museum of BiH, change the public image of the Museum in the media and the public, to indicate the difficult and unbearable existential situation of the employees of the Museum (who are fewer in number each day), to deepen the public’s understanding of the value and the multicultural character of the collection kept in the Museum, to organize philanthropic actions for the Museum, to ‘occupy’ the Museum with numerous cultural events (exhibits, concerts, art performances), public debates and fundraising events, to strengthen the capacities of the Museum itself, and most importantly, to bring back the issue of saving the Museum to the top of the agenda of the political decision-makers.
“Guards of the Museum” art project was envisioned by Aida Kalender, AKCIJA's director, and photo documented by Ziyah Gafić, internationally acclaimed Bosnian photographer. Interviews were conducted by AKCIJA's team. The entire production process of the workers’ portraits took place over the period of more than six months.
While we are waiting for reason to overpower indifference and a lack of understanding on the part of politicians, prejudice and close-minded interests, we can show that the Museum is not only a building and a collection, or a political issue par excellence as it is being presented, but an institution representing actual, living people who are fighting for it.
AKCIJA Sarajevo, July 2015.