Bogoljub Arsenijevic Maki

Visual narratives of Bogoljub Arsenievic Maki 

In the post-war Serbian painting during a short period of the 1950s, among a number of poetics, emerged a group of artists to be later defined as fantastic figuration painters. Its leading authors  were Dado Djurić, Uroš Toškov : Ljuba Popović, Vlada Veličković, etc. After a break caused by dogmatic and doctrinary social realism, their works introduced in a then revived modernism (the theoreticians preferred to call it contemporary painting), a new vitalism. They never tried to become a part of the local, official trends of domestic creativity, or to become involved in a mainstream painting of the period. There was a number of reasons for such an attitude: on the one hand, mentality of these artists who did not (at least then) consider themselves as official or leading authors of the moment (despite the fact their vvork was giving a decisive mark to the early 1960s); and on the other, their art – by its themes, visual contents and expression – was either oppossed or directly contrary to visual esthetics of actual developments in the field. Brutal and cruel images of the decaying bodies, genital atrophies, distortion of human forms, death, apocalypse, impossible, unthinkable, irrational and fantastic combinations of forms, etc. mostly caused negative reactions in the irritated public which, apart from art expression, recognized in their works also an explicit social critigue as a direct stroke against the esthetics of beauty to which the society (and not only in the arts, but also in other fields of actual social life) tended in its effort to recover from traumas of the just finished WW II. In this art the dark  side of life prevailed over the necessan/ optimism the period of building a new socialist society so preciously needed. That way a demarcation line which neither political nor artistic regime could nor dared to transgress was established. Then followed series of reactipns: those artists were labelled as painters of brutality (and their later follovvers such as Miro Glavurtić, Radomir Reljić, Dragan Lubarda and others, as a black wave). The label vvas supposed to be their clear (accussing) ideological evaluation, obliging to social reaction all in charge – from political bodies to art associations, institutions, critics, media…

It is worth mentioning that those artist had left Vugoslavia and found their new refugee in Paris, capital of fantastics, not only in visual arts. Though in time they were drawn into oblivion, in the 1980s they suddenly reappeared in the country’s cultural life, now as almost mythic figures, with obvious signs of true success (accademic posts, luxurious monographs, support of great gallerists and theoreticians, high market ratings, numerous follovvers understanding that fantastics could be used as a visual language to express adequately, methaphorically and symbolically our reaction to existential challenges of the time).

These years Valjevo was gradually becoming our center of figurative fantastics. It was mostly due to Ljuba Popović and his donation of his paintings to the city and its Gallery of Modern Art. The latter’s core program orientation  was in the tracks of the above mentioned poetics: almost all representatives of this trend were presented (individually or in collective exhibitions): from their historical predecessors to the youngest followers.

It was the time when an autodidact (as he described himself in his autobiography) Bogoljub Arsenijević Maki joined the trend, guite informally and with no direct connections. An odd, but vvorthmentioning fact is that he has never exhibited in the Gallery. That could have contributed to his option for fresco and icon painting as early as in 1987 (as if he could not help obeying the meaning of his name – nomen atgue omen!). In Sabačko-valjevska eparchy he painted a number of tamples (exactly fourteen, with more than 5,000 sguare meters of frescoes), all met with approving reactions. As he was preoccupied with cannonic art for a long time, and it addresses a small public (religious people), Arsenijević was not heard about for a long time – until the moment he iniciated a real massive mutiny in Valjevo, and became its leader and symbol of resistance to an overall decay of the FRY His engagement was decisive in formation of the Valjevo Resistance Movement, a part of a broader anti-regime mutiny. Arsenijević was soon to face the consequences: during a visit to Belgrade in October 1999 he was detained and brutally beaten vvith injuries demanding emergent hospitalization. He was later sentenced to three years imprisonment for disturbing an official on duty.   Until going to serve his sentence, he’s been detained in Valjevo prison. There he has, under dramatically changed circumstances,   returned to his earliest artistic affiliation – profane fantastics of new contents, likely as a conseguence of his sufferings too close to martyrdoms of early Christian saints he once used to paint.

Early phase of Arsenijević’s work characterize pen-on-paper drawings in a manner of a well-known post-surrealistic vocabulary: irrational, hardly decodable, visually hallucinant images (similar to Hieronymus Bosch’s, for instance), located in illusionistic Renaissance spaces, with grotesgue figures and their  frightening hyperthrofied grimaces, nailed to pillars as if crucified, or put behind bars as if the author’s uncousciness foreseen future autobiographical events.   And guite unexpectedly in recent prison dravvings (made vvith available material: ball-point pen on book cover pages with more than significant titles – Dialogue of MACHIAVELLI and MONTESOUIEU by Morice Jolie; illness of Power: Power, Opposition, and Paliamentarianism in Serbia by the End of 20th Centun/ by Dragoš Ivanović; Guilt of Karl Jaspers: I do not Agree by Zoran Ivošević), his visual metaphors by their bitterness even go beyond reality however dramatic, horrible and almost fatal for their author it might be. In style, visual expression and procedure of their execution, Bogoljub Arsenijević turned back to his earlier work from the 1980s as if there was no any interruption. Still, if his earlier vvorks were products of his artistic imagination, the current ones are literally expressions of his existential condition. The titles such as:   Valjevo prison, February 17; Jura 2000; Valjevo investigative prison; Room of Rage, February 17, 2000;   Images of the world of nothingness; Howl, February 25, 2000; Testimonies of hovvls, Februan/ 27, 2000; Nihilist beach of hovvls, February 27, 2000; Room no. 8 (Howl), February 28, 2000; Age of hovvls, February 29, 2000; Cell no. 7, 2000 (interesting the same number had the room he was in when hospitalized); The Ward of the south wall of the investigative prison 2000; Anteroom of hovvls 2000; Kafka in sanatorium, February 2000; etc. as a kind of a unigue dravvn journal vvitness to sufferings of a genuine free man, great in his peacefull vvaiting to be liberated from the injustice inflicted on him. The path leads him so far through dravvings, through these visual narratives full of freaks vvith distorted (almost) human naked bodies, imprisoned (as himself)   in the irrational and inhuman spaces vvhich are products of imagination and morbid imagination, but also the prison reality of Bogoljub Arsenijević Maki.

Psychologists would likely believe that this Arsenijević’s revived need to draw is, in fact,   salutary  for his disturbed spiritual life and health. The public, who admires his art and his courage in mutiny and resistance alike, to vvhich he remains devoted – despite serious threat to his life – with no sign of surrender,   should in respect of already undergone suffering express its solidarity with that act, deeply effecting everybody feeling the same imbitterness and disobedience to the fate we are all subject to. Bogoljub Arsenijević Maki has already his place in this struggle, both for his endurance in his convictions in spite of all possible conseguences, and his art by vvhich he calls us to join in. 

Jovan Despotović 

Center for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade, 2000