Post by Alessandra Ferrini
‘The aggressor’s sniper campaign against the population of the besieged Sarajevo during the last war was an inhuman violation of the rules or customs of war directed principally towards civilians. My father has been a member of the Bosnian Army from the outset of the war through 3 December 1992 when, as a sniper, he got killed by a sniper bullet which hit him in the eye. Right before his death I found his notebook into which he continuously, over several months, listed how many soldiers he had killed during his combat assignments.‘ (Adela Jušić)
The Sniper (2007) is a video artwork by Bosnian artist Adela Jušić. At the beginning, one is presented with a simply constructed sequence, with no sound: a hand drawing a red circle on a white piece of paper. The naïvety of this image, recalling children’s activities, is progressively over-laid with a black and white photograph portraying a man. At the same time, the sound of a female voice reading a diary comes into play. In a rather flat tone, she lists days and ‘items’: ‘November the 2n: 1 soldier, 1 truck driver. November the 4th: 3 soldiers‘. As the work progresses, the red circle grows until completely covering the right eye of the man portrayed in the photograph. It is in this moment that one is offered the key to read the piece, since the red circle starts to be reminiscent of a target. At this point, the voice states: ‘December the 3rd: My father the sniper, was shot by a sniper, into his right eye.’ This sentence resolves the narrative as it reveals the ‘mystery’ behind it. However, this sense-making process also discloses a shocking truth: the diary consists in an inventory of victims.
According to Jušić, within post-war debate, casualties are just numbers and statistics. In this context the number of victims is obsessively argued for and constantly re-negotiated. Similarly, the artist’s father kept a journal where he listed how many soldiers and truck drivers he killed every day. It is this truth – the reality of war -that we, as viewers, are faced with. At the same time, we are also confronted with the artist’s position within this narrative and her memory of family and war.
By introducing a personal reference, Jušić contrasts the detached and depersonalising practice of counting and listing casualties. Revealing the identity of a victim, and its relation to herself, the artist is able to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the casualties of war. However, this is done with subtlety and impartiality. As Jušić is not interested in taking parts, she purportedly leaves out any reference to her or her father’s affiliations. Rather, she limits herself to take the point of view of a child, a daughter and a witness to the war. In this way, she puts forward the idea that every casualty, despite its ideology, is a person who leaves behind a story and a family.
Revealing how wartime memories are intertwined with family and childhood memories, Jušić reminds us of the power of autobiographical work in questioning history and conflict. What is called into question in The Sniper is the reality of war itself, in an attempt to go beyond nationalist, ethnic or religious issues which have been the main point of discussion throughout the post-war period. This debate, Jušić feels, has shadowed other social and political issues within the Balkans that deserve more attention at present. It is down to artists, she suggests, to help these issues come to light through didactic practices or by stimulating the audience’s emotional response, as well as by striving to reach an international audience. It is in this framework that The Sniper and Jušić’s practice in general are inscribed.
Conflicted Societies, Memory and the Visual Arts. Panel discussion hosted by the Conflict Research Group at the London School of Economics in association with Alan Cristea Gallery. Monday 29th April 2013. You can listen to the recording of the discussion here.
Adela Jušić lives and works in Sarajevo. She attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo from 2001-2007. Between 2012 and 2013 she has studied Democracy and Human Rights in South East Europe, at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies in Sarajevo. Jušić mainly works with video on the subject of the war in Bosnia.
Recently, Jušić has continued the line of inquiry triggered by The Sniper by publicly critiquing what she has compared to an act of historical revisionism at the hands of a Polish company, ‘City Interactive’. Their last video game, Sniper Ghost Warrior, takes place in Sarajevo in 1993 and demands the players to take the role of American soldiers and shoot at Serbian snipers in order to free the city. As no international help was sent at that point in history, leaving Sarajevo’s population under siege for 4 years, Jušić has felt the need to denounce the inaccuracy of such historical narrative as an attempt to re-write history.
You can read more about this here.
The Sniper was recently exhibited at Alan Cristea Gallery (London) as part of Conflicted Memory.
You can read our review of the exhibition here.
You can visit the artist’s website here.