Research on Surrealism in Belgrade, Serbia

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I spent two months in Belgrade, Serbia, over the course of summer 2016. Having taken a class on Surrealism (which mainly looked at artists from Western Europe and the US) in the final year of my History of Art degree, I was interested in finding out more about the forms the movement took in Eastern Europe. My family is from Serbia, and I found out throughout doing research for my course essay that there had been an active Surrealist circle in what was then Yugoslavia, during the 1930s. It was an area I wanted to explore in greater detail, and about which to form the basis of a master’s thesis.

I was incredibly nervous about trying to hunt down primary sources, as bureaucracy in Serbia can be an absolute nightmare, and furthermore the two major art museums in the country, the National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, have been closed for two decades and seven years respectively. This would make my task that much more difficult. Furthermore, I wanted to contact a couple of professors who are working on that field, and I was incredibly nervous about meeting them. However, I had absolutely no need to be – they were so helpful and encouraging, and presented me with a whole list of sources and books to consult, for which I am incredibly grateful.

It’s been an amazing couple of months, I’ve learnt a lot both about Surrealism in Belgrade, but also about Serbian! Although it is my mothertongue, I was born in the UK and my Serbian vocabulary was limited to everyday circumstances. The contrast between academic Serbian and quotidian Serbian is indescribably greater than that between academic English and everyday English. This forced me to learn new vocabulary, and overall definitely improved my Serbian.

It was incredibly interest to learn more about the guise Surrealism took on in Serbia, having learnt about the Paris group in great detail. It was incredibly interesting to see the extent of correspondence between the two groups, with letters being exchanged between the group leaders for years. It was also interesting to see how Serbian surrealist artists’ art differed from that in Western Europe. Both groups denounced the Western hierarchy of artistic mediums that places oil painting at the top as ‘high’ art, and other mediums such as needlework at the bottom as ‘low’ art, and sought to destroy this hierarchy by engaging with other media. However, in the West, the artists we perhaps most associate with Surrealism – Dalí, Magritte, etc. – are most famous for their oil paintings. On the other hand, photography seems to have been the most significant medium for the Serbian surrealists, and I have yet to find an oil painting produced by them.

I am incredibly thankful to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for picking my project as one to fund, and providing me with the means to go to Serbia and undertake this research.

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