For a number of years preceding the political denouement of October 2000 the entire democratic potential in Serbia was actively involved in the efforts to overthrow the regime which had brought the state, the society, the nation, the institutions and individuals to the brink of destruction or even destroyed completely some of them. In 1997, desirous of marking the first anniversary of the death of Mića Popovic, academician, painter, writer, film director, set and costume designer, artistic and political rebel from his early student years to the very last days of his life, a prominent political dissident who spent his whole life painting and creating and at the same time fighting for a democratic society and against Tito’s and Milosevic’s totalitarianism, Borka Bozovic, Zivorad Stojkovic and Jovan Despotovic, three admirers of his opus and political activism, suggested the establishment of an award for socially relevant artistic creation that would bear Mica Popovic’s name. In other words his life determlned the type of artist and artwork eligible for the award named after him.

Mica Popovic, born in Loznica in 1923, enrolled the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1946 but as early as 1947 he and a group of his fellow-students, unhappy with the conventional painting education, left for Zadar where they spent several months painting, discussing real painting problems, socializing… After their return, they were all evicted from the academy ,,for wilfully defecting from the Academy” but, following the intervention of the then minister of education Mitra Mitrovic they were readmitted all except Mica Popovic „who does not need the Academy as he is an accomplished painter already” as the then dean explained cynically but not quite without reason. This first act of youthful rebellion became his sign in art, public activities and life itself.

He was one of the most prestigious representatives of the radical painting practice – Tachism of the late 1950s – and the first to „settle the accounts” with the totally politicized aesthetics of socialist realism in the foreword forthe catalogue of his one-man exhibition in 1950. He rejected two aspects of this form of artistic creation: the dogmatic interpretation and an immutable aesthetics deaf to the epochal developments in that art (the Sixties). His open commentaries on the ideological and political developments in our society as demonstrated by the cycle entitled The Painting of Scenes in the Seventles came next. The consequences ranged from the early eviction from the Academy and attacks on his views on socialist realism to the closure of exhibitions and prohibition of publications relative to his work to prohibition of his films.

With a group of intellectuals, artists and academicians Mica Popovic founded the Committee for the Protection of the Freedom of Expression which was one of the most active dissident centres against the repression of the communist. regime in the Eighties. He was considered a nationalist, a cosmopolitan and a democrat at one and the same time.

He died in Belgrade in 1996 in the wake of his speech to the students of Belgrade University in support of their request for the removal of Slobodan Milosevic. That was his last public appearance.

These facts about Mica Popovic’s life and work prompted the establishment of on award bearing his name so as to bring to the attention of the public individuals who have embraced the same critical attitude to art and social issues initiators. The initiators were soon joined by Vida Ognjenovic, Dusan Kovacevic, Emir Kusturica, Radoslav Petkovic, Milo Gligrijevic, Bata Knezevic, Bozo Koprivica, Đorđe Milojevic, Ljiljana Cinkul, Aleksandar Kostic, Lana Djukic Lučić as members of the Initiative Board, subsequently by Zoran Pavlovic, Milan Vlajcic. Ivan Medenica, Ivan Tasovac, Branko Kecman, Bora Kavgic and then and then by the award winners – Danilo Bata Stojkovic and Predrag Koraksic Corax (1998), Dusan Otasevic (2000), Dusan Makavejev (2002) and Jagos Markovic (2004). They became members of the Mica Popovic Art Award Board with Emir Kusturica as its first chairman elected at the constituent meeting on 17 December 1997. After him the fund was chaired by Dusan Kovacevic to be succeeded by Vida Ognjenovic.

The Rules of the Mica Popovic Art Award stipulate that the award can be bestowed only on individuals – authors of the most valuable achievements in fine arts, film, theatre or literature, that is in all those fields in which Mica Popovic was creatively involved.

In view of the ever more heated atmosphere in the mass movement against Milosevic’s regime in the late 1990s the Board had the difficult task of selecting the prominent individuals, those who probed the deepest into the decaying tissue of that that hopeless time from among a large number of artists in the movement whose work meant an active resistance to the repression. One person, however, indubitably stood out as a symbol of that movement: Predrag Koraksic-Corax simply hed to be the first winner of the new award. His ures were a deadly political and social comentary with the devastating effect on their subjects whose traits were recognized as the general characteristics of the time and the regime targeted by Corax’s drawing pen and became the significant and lasting image of those years. Just as symbolically, as a specific to his acting opus, the award was bestowed on Danilo Bata Stojkovic for the the questions he raises about freedom and madness. He finds purchase in the point at which – two extremes are forever confronted – clarity and puzzle: is a member of the Topalovic family still running his vicious cicle e around us, are we still being watched by the everpresent Balkan spy or are we still quietly observed by Gvozden (embodied in Bata Stojković, a Mica Popovic’s old and close friend) from the monumental canvases poroduced in a number of cycles resembling film frames of this personage-inspiration and subject of Popovic’s painting for many years.

Amidst the general tragedy of 1999 the Award did not single out an individual opting insted for a symbolic award to all artists who followed in the steps of Mica Popovic during that dramatic year. The Board members poinzed out on that occasion that it ought to be an exception. And that is what it was.

In 2000 the award was won by painter and academician Dusan Otasevic, intellectual and comnmitted artist, after his two exhibitions: Ariadne’s Thread in the Chaos Gallery and the Santa Maria Gallery in Budva and the multimedia project at the Olga Petrov Gallery in Pancevo. Both exhibitions drew on Greek myths about the characteristics of the present. Otasevic has thereby demonstrated the critical awareness of the time he lives in, whose witness he is and which, like Mica Popovic, he shapes in a language of visual forms.

The name of Dusan Makavejev has long become the metaphor of filtn avant-garde in our country and abroad owing to his films which have stood the test of time and become part of the film heritage as the Award Board stated when it bestowed the award on this film director in 2002. His revolutionary film and the energy of his unquenchable artistic inquisitiveness forcefully shifted our film industry from the totalitarian propaganda tracks to the front rows of modern film in spite of the resistance and doubts accompanying his work ever since his early explorative mocking then political and film establlshment. In the reasoned opinion the Board said: „He has introduced discussion, poignant irony and derision in our strictli controlled socialist realist idiom”. For this, Makavejev’s films banned just like Mica Popovic’s. The pathe of the two artistic companions crossed once again and the younger won the tribute bearing the name of the older.

Although the youngest of them all, Jagos Markovic won the Mica Popovic Award for a host of theatre production (forty-odd) as if he were a theatre doyen. And as in the case of Mica Popovic, rather than illustrate a text he offers its committed interpretation colouring it with the truth of the time. Daring and provocative, Jagos Markovic does not follow standards, does not ply well-trodden or easy paths of theatre direction and instead opens new narrow doors, moves through strange cluttereed passages and removes barricades from the roads. In his description of all that Jagos Markovic does apart from directing plays: he is everything – he is an acfor and a whole ensemble, he is the public, the stage and the theatre box, the first, the second and third gallery, he is the theotre library, he is the brushi and the paint, the hammer and fhe nail, the ropes and the lights, the silk and the fire, the sets and the curtain – Ljubomir Simovic painted Mica Popovic’s artistic portrait. The similarities with Popovic’s artistic legacy are evidently numerous and deliberate. There is no doubt that Markovic will carry the heavy responsibility which the award presumes, successfully, proudly and for long time. His theatre is like Mica Popovic’s painting: with intermision.

Free and independent, always rallying rebels, the discontented, fighters for individual freedoms, human righ and political democracy, Mica Popovic became an institution in society while he was still with us. He is still an institution.

Jovan Despotovic

10 years of The Gallery Haos, Art Pavillion ’Cvijeta Zuzoric’, Belgrade, 2005