Saravejo, 6 Sep 2021 - “We suffered a lot during the war and we did not have a way to express it,” sighs Rikardo Druškić, a street artist living in Sarajevo. “That is why I see all the writings and images on the walls around the city as an expression of all the repressed pain that is still there.”  

For many growing up in Sarajevo, the grim past of the Bosnian war is still present. Today, Sarajevo is home to a generation of young people who experienced the war as small children, or who learned about the war through stories from their families. Residential buildings marked by bullet holes and craters are just one of the many remaining scars left by the war.  

Rikardo Druškić and Saša Peševski in front of their mural. “A mural and its energy and its messages can be felt and read by people, who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity.”

It is exactly these residential buildings still bearing marks from the siege that inspired a group of 16 young, local street artists to brighten their communities with colour, turning outer residential walls into works of art to prompt citizens’ interest in arts and promoting their vision, dreams and messages, for example, on pertinent issues like the environment. Ljubomir Todorović, overlooking the city from the roof of a residential building: “I think art is something for the people, for the city, for all of us!”  

In Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), the role of art as a means to question and transform society has, for a long time, been cast aside and neglected, traditionally placing the cultural and art scene in a marginalized place or even associating it with vandalism.  

Kerim Mušanović painted a 3D mural about the sea and the pollution of life within. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), through its youth resilience program Bosnia Herzegovina Resilience Initiative (BHRI), supported artists from throughout the country to revive BiH’s street arts scene by organizing the first-ever street art festival ‘Fasada’ in Sarajevo. The project made use of an air-purifying paint that has rarely been used for such murals before. In cooperation with  the Sarajevo Canton Government, 12 giant colourful murals have been painted throughout the city, representing spaces and outlets through which artists can amplify their voices, and express their perspectives, messages and concerns. 

One of these concerns relates to the environment, a theme that is reflected in the murals, as this presents a particularly pressing issue in Sarajevo. In winter, heavy clouds of polluted air ascend from the city, covering its residents in a thick blanket of smog that hardly escapes Sarajevo’s valley and which render it one of the most polluted cities in the world. Long before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarajevans were used to wearing masks in wintertime. 

Imran Muratagić and Džavid Berberović painted a mural on an elementary school in Sarajevo, shining a light on endangered animals as a result of pollution and industries.

Benjamin Čengić, a street artist from Sarajevo, is one of the artists who used his mural to express his concerns about the environment. Drawing a mural depicting different clocks, he explains: “I want to discuss humanity’s relationship towards nature, and the danger it is in because of it. So I want my mural to present the situation that it is 5 to 12.” 

A unique feature of the murals is that they are created with air-purifying paint. In interacting with emissions  – for example, from transportation and power plants  – the paint transforms harmful particles into harmless substances that the next rainfall will simply wash away. “As we are using paint that purifies polluted air, it inspired me to paint a mural related to pollution,” comments Kerim Musanović, a 3D street artist from Višegrad, about his mural envisioning water pollution. “We are trying to create lungs for the city,” adds Benjamin, “mirroring the effect of planting a thousand trees.”   

Marija Tica Kovačević: “Street art is a unique form of art because of its selflessness. That’s how it came to be, as a gift of an image on a wall, to the city.”

For Benjamin, dedicating his career to advancing street art through his Obojena Klapa association connects to a higher purpose. “Sarajevo is both the most beautiful and the ugliest city in the world. It is a destroyed city full of suffering, not just because of wars but also from the destruction of people’s mentality. There is the destruction of its buildings, of green spaces. But Sarajevo is also the most beautiful city because I was born here.”  

A mural painted by Maid Redžić Mide.

The mural from Ljubomir Todorović depicts the drinking of traditional Bosnian coffee. 

The Fasada festival has set the precedent for the reinvigoration of activist and artistic messages in public spaces. Inspired by their success in overcoming bureaucratic hardship to obtain the necessary approvals for the murals from the local authorities, young artists will continue to pursue their mission to have more spaces permanently dedicated to street art.  

The honor of drawing the first mural of the first Facade of the Festival went to Alen Selimović, who painted a mural picturing a boy coming out of the restriction of a lockdown and with the desire to travel and create. 

“Through the campaign to legalize certain walls for public paintings, youth artists are demonstrating their contribution to society,” explains Hadidza Borovic, who has overseen this project within IOM Bosnia and Herzegovina. “This is important because through this platform street artists can start identifying as true artists instead of as vandals, an identity that is often imposed on them by society. To switch those identities, they need to feel purpose in their lives and through these murals and this campaign, they do.”  

During your next visit to Sarajevo, immerse yourself in Sarajevo’s street arts scene with the guide of this interactive map.  

The project is enabled thanks to the support of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Resilience Initiative (BHRI), implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and through the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Written by Lily van Egeraat, IOM Bosnia-Herzegovina Program Support Officer. For more information please contact Joe Lowry, Senior Communications / Media Officer at jlowry@iom.int.