Enki Bilal's Perspective on Art in Hatzfeld

Marshal Josip Broz Tito was a Yugoslav revolutionary and statesman, serving in various roles until his death in 1980. Eventhough his presidency has been critisized as authoritarian, Tito had successful economic and diplomatic policies which helped him to be considered as a benevolent dictator by many people including citizens of his own country and those of others. He was a relatively popular public figure both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Tito had internal policies which successfully deal with coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (otherwise known as SFRY) was the Yugoslav state founded during World War II until it was dissolved in 1992, following the Yugoslav Wars. It was a socialist state and a federation made up of six socialist republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Initially siding with the Eastern bloc under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito at the beginning of the Cold War, Yugoslavia pursued a policy of neutrality after the Tito–Stalin split of 1948, and became one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

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After the death of Tito in 1980, rising ethnic nationalism in the late 1980’s led to dissidence among the multiple ethnicities within the constituent republics, followed by collapse of inter-republic talks on transformation of the country and recognition of their independence by some European states in 1991. This led to the country collapsing on ethnic lines, followed by the final downfall and break of the country in 1992, and the start of the Yugoslav Wars.

Often described as Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II, the conflicts have become famous for the war crimes, including mass murder, genocide and war rape. These were the first conflicts since World War II to be formally judged genocidal in character. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Yugoslav Wars resulted in the deaths of 140,000 people. The Humanitarian Law Center writes that in the conflicts in former Yugoslav republics at least 130,000 people lost their lives.

War rape occurred as a matter of official orders as part of ethnic cleansing, to displace the targeted ethnic group. One of the common misconceptions about the Yugoslav Wars is that they were the result of centuries of ethnic conflict. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ethnically mixed region of Dalmatia held close and amicable relations between the Croats and Serbs who lived there, and many early proponents of a united Yugoslavia came from this region, such as Dalmatian Croat Ante Trumbic.

However by the time of the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars the historical hospitable relations between Croats and Serbs in Dalmatia had broken down, with Dalmatian Serbs fighting on the side of the Republic of Serbian Krajina. Clear ethnic conflict between the Yugoslav peoples only became prominent in the 20th century, beginning with tensions over the constitution of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in the early 1920s and escalating into violence between Serbs and Croats in the late 1920s after the assassination of Croatian nationalist Stjepan Radic.

Severe ethnic conflict occurred during World War II during which the Croatian Ustase movement committed genocide against Serbs, while the Serbian Chetnik movement responded with reprisals against Croats as well as murdering Bosniaks. However the Yugoslav Partisan movement was able to appeal to all national groups, including Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. Josip Broz Tito was half-Croat half-Slovene. Born Enes Bilalovic in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to a Slovakian mother and a Bosniak father who had been Josip Broz Tito’s tailor, Enki Bilal moved to Paris at the age of 9.

Given all these historical informations, what can be said on Enki Bilal’s perspective on art? Hatzfeld, a tetralogy deeling with the difficult past and the break up of Yugoslavia from a future point of view can help the reader to find an answer to that question. But first of all, what is art? Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities; the visual arts includes the creation of images or objects in fields including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media.

Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences, but in modern usage the fine arts, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, are distinguished from acquired skills in general, and the decorative or applied arts. (Wikipedia) According to Levi-Strauss, art has had a great number of different functions throughout its history, making its purpose difficult to abstract or quantify to any single concept. This does not mean that the purpose of art is “vague”, but that it has had many different reasons for being created.

The different purposes of art may be grouped according to those that are non-motivated, and those that are motivated. Motivated purposes of art refer to intentional, conscious actions on the part of the artist. Some of these functions may be as following: The Avante-Garde: Art for political change. One of the defining functions of early twentieth century art has been to use visual images to bring about political change. Art movements that had this goal—Dadaism, Surrealism, Russian Constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism, among others—are collectively referred to as the avante-garde arts.

Art for social inquiry, subversion and/or anarchy: While similar to art for political change, subversive or deconstructivist art may seek to question aspects of society without any specific political goal. In this case, the function of art may be simply to criticize some aspect of society. (Wikipedia) Bilal seem to question what art is and its practice at the end of 20th century. In the second book of the tetralogy, 32 Decembre, on page 9, Nike and his so-called girl friend receieve an invitation to a party in the form of nuclear light.

The invitation appears as a small nuclear explosion, this is a fascinating visual little show but the amount of effort made is certainly unnecessary. It is absurd and pointless. This is an all white party. People who are participating are literally coloured in white. Again a detail Nike thinks that it is absurd. On page 18, Nike finds out that him and the other people who are at the party are actually walking on a white canvas. This puts them in a situation where they are nothing but the art work, they are objects but not subjects.

He finds this absurd as well and he does not like it. After a while, it becomes obvious that whatever he or other people at this party are doing there, it is to create and to be part of an art work. This fact is hard to deal with. Warhole, evil and powerful scientist of the first book gets some artistic spirit in the second book of the tetralogy. His starts to consider his new evil projects as art works. He also reancarnates himself as the v. g. a. (very great artist) Halrowe. Art is depicted as dangerous in the second book.

The story itself becomes more postmedern in that second part. Surreal events and images start to appear more and more, one of them being the head of the Warhole ehich has fishes all around. Warhole is saying things like “search for power and the joy of creating”. He is pictured as a crazy dangerous artist-scientist. He is calling what he does “absolute evil art”. Bilal is questioning what does art mean when it is separated from its social context. At the beginning of the first book, he is making a referral to Abdullah Sidran, a Bosnian playwriter…