In March 2014, Slovak artist Dalibor Bača placed a Czechoslovak flag on the floor behind the entrance of the Kunsthalle in Košice, thus making his contribution to the show Private Nationalism (curated by: Ilona Németh, Rokko Juhász, Michal Štofa). In the course of what then transpired, Bača’s work became one of the most discussed contemporary artworks in both countries. Essentially all the organs of Czech and Slovak mainstream media, including tabloids, main dailies, and commercial television channels, reported on the case. Simultaneously, the artwork gained straightforward political relevance, since Livia Klausová, the Czech ambassador to Slovakia, made an official complaint accusing the artist and the curators of “defamation of a Czech state symbol” (which in fact is identical with the flag of the one-time state, Czechoslovakia). In response, Slovak Minister of Culture Marek Mad’arič argued that the artwork potentially threatened Slovak and Czech international relations. As the Ministry of Culture was up to co-fund the exhibition project Private Nationalism, Kosice in Košice, in reaction to Klausová’s appeal the Ministry withdrew subsidies that had already been approved by expert commissions, which had advised the Minister to give his signature. His subsequent political decision not only harmed the organizers of the exhibition (financially), it also diminished the status of the expert advisory board. This has also become the collusive moment for the escalation of the conflict. The civic opposition towards politically biased decisions of the Ministry of culture appeared in June 2014 through the platform Personal Attitude. More than 500 Czech and Slovak artists, intellectuals and cultural workers joined the initiative, and, more importantly, more than 20 galleries and cultural institutions, among them the Slovak National Gallery, joined the protest through a jointly organized one-day installation of a maquette of Bača’s work. In my contribution I will focus on two different aspects of the case. The first relates to the substance of the artwork – the flag in question as a readymade object representing the state symbol of different former states of Czechoslovakia, now being the state symbol of the Czech Republic. Is the current Czech flag to be considered a state symbol or a national symbol? In addition, I examine the communication aspects and strategies employed throughout the conflict, thus offering insights into subsequent public discourse analyses. What arguments were employed and what kinds of metaphors were used? Which conflicting issues created the foundations for the spin-offs of intentionally distorted political communication? What were the mechanisms behind both of the opposing power structures – state and civic? Who, after all, proved nationalistic here, the artist and activists or the politicians?


Drawing on Rastko Močnik’s thesis, according to which nationalism as a form of “bricolage zero institu- tion” is an ideological platform for the reproduction of the state apparatuses, I will examine the ways in which the practice of art is related to this aspect of the nature of the nation. I argue that since the practice of art is based on contradictory forms (as in a contradiction between object and subject, and the structure and intention), its relationship to nationalism cannot be reduced to deterministic explanations. My thesis is that the practice of art is at the same time both a platform for sophisticated reproduction/materializa- tion of nationalism and also a possible break from the existing structures of national imagination. In order to explicate this thesis on the contradictory relationships between art and nationalism, I will start by crit- ically evaluating the argument of Contemporary Art and Nationalism – Critical Reader, a book that I coedited in 2007 with Minna L. Henriksson. Looking in particular at the work of artists from Kosovo and transformation of the discourses after the declaration of independence, I will show that the nation- alism of contemporary art is more complex than is usually acknowledged. Furthermore, by reflecting on my recent work on national and state questions in the art collectives of post-Yugoslav spaces, I will show how the representation of the ideological ambiguities of nationalism has changed on a larger scale. My argument is that the restoration of cultural policy during the process of transition to post-socialism happened in a manner that was similar to the restoration of nationalism. This restoration and identification of culture with nationalism, or the culturalisation of nationalism, I see as a symptom of the ideology of post-socialist contemporary art. I will illustrate this with the example of Croatian contemporary art collectives and their engagement in cultural policies. As a conclusion to these observations and theses, I will propose a switch in the theoretical discussion from the axis of art-ideology-nationalism to the axis of art-ideology-culture, which would also enable us to engage with the ideology of art from the point of view of the singularity of artistic practice.


The current ideological landscape of Russia and Eastern Europe is rife with contradiction. Reactionary forces in Russia and elsewhere appropriate arguments from the field of subaltern studies, while in some cases the desire to join Europe translates itself into exclusion and racism. This Pandora’s box was opened by the process of “de-communisation”, the second wave of which is now on the rise in Ukraine. What can artists and intellectuals do to encourage interrogation of these contradictions?


The presentation will focus on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and specifically follow the creation of nation states after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The emphasis will be on the construction of histories of different contemporary art movements and the implications of these constructions for and within the post-Yugoslav nation-states’ reconstructions of proper histories. At the centre of the presentation will be the exhibition on NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst or New Slovenian Art), which was presented in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana earlier this year. The exhibition focuses on a specific moment in the history of the group, the 1980s socialist period, but not on the 1990s period of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The NSK State in Time, in contrast, focuses on the 1990s and questions the nation-state of Slovenia in connection with the dissolution of the former territory of Eastern Europe. The exhibition brings an important aspect of historicization, but dismisses, among other things, the clash between the art-state of NSK and the nation-state of Slovenia. For the nation-state of Slovenia, the production of second grade citizens (LGBTQ) and non-citizens (the Erased people in Slovenia) is central, as is the increasingly violent re-appropriation of the history of the NSK collective, which was first neglected and despised and is now made a glorifying element in the newly rewritten histories of the Slovenian state. The Republic of Slovenia and its official art institutions, mass media, etc. need to construct a missing genealogy embracing (by which we mean including) those who in the past were heavily marginalized. These processes of discriminations are essential for the nation- states (for instance for Hungary) that rose after the fall of the Berlin wall in the space of the former Eastern Europe.


This presentation examines mediated musical performances that reflect on the ambivalences of nation- alism through excessive gendered and sexualized displays in a post-socialist Europe struggling with the impact of the European Union’s eastward expansion and ongoing financial crisis. I consider figures of queerness such as Marija Šerifović, Conchita Wurst, Verka Serduchka and the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who have generated intense public debate about European identity and nationalism. My main case studies come from the queer, carnivalesque performances that have recently dominated the annual televised song contest Eurovision. I argue that such performances need to be taken seriously as displays of the ways in which politics has migrated into culture since the late 1970s. I take a particular interest in the manner in which the queer excess of these performances has foregrounded significant differences between Eastern and Western European nationalisms.


Roma cultural/art discourses contribute to the construction of the notion of a Roma diaspora, in other words the recognition of a scattered Roma population that constitutes one “imagined community”. In this presentation, I consider discourses of Roma identity from the perspective of theories of diaspora and nation borrowed from the conjunctions of political science and cultural studies. Roma arts and culture represent the only (policy, political) space where Roma actually have an influence, so perhaps this is the space in which one can find answers to the question, “What does the Roma person want?” In other words, we might see how Roma contributions in the fields of culture shape Roma reality. Furthermore, philosopher Achille Mbembe claims that the description of our word is only possible from the edge of the world, and perhaps this is the margin from which we can describe the “cultural world” of post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe. Roma “transnational nationalism”, to use Kastoryano’s preferred term (2002), or “diasporic transnationalism” (a term found in Kaya, 2005) have been under continuous construction by the Roma cultural movement since 1971, when the First Word Romani Congress was held. The radical discourse of Roma Diasporic identity can be found in policies crafted at this historic event for European Roma, such as the ratification of the politically correct name (Roma), the national anthem, or the agreement concerning the Roma flag. These policies reflect a transgressive extraterritorial political identity, i.e. identification with an imagined common entity based on a non-territorial us that is scattered in diasporic spaces. It employs discourses, images, events, and objects, in other words artefacts of culture. It is not in direct contact with but rather is parallel to other transnational movements, such as the feminist movement, and it is inspired by notions of the brico- lage, the creolized, the subaltern, the border gnosis, the third space, dissemination, etc. Considering the difficulties – contradictions and ambivalences – in the diaspora literature, Brubaker’s concept of diaspora as a “category of practice”, i.e. diaspora as a point of crisis and proliferation of the diaspora science, is actually very liberating in the context of the Roma diaspora. Roma cultural experts and intellectuals embrace the idea of moving away from the classical analytical diaspora model and embracing the inter- pretation of diaspora that Brubaker suggests. Based on this proposal, I examine the Roma diaspora as a social form that refers to the Roma transnational community the social, political and cultural networks of which cross the borders of nation states. We should think of the Roma diaspora not in substantialist terms as a bounded identity, but rather as “idiom, stance, and claim”. We should think of diaspora in the first instance as a category of practice, and only then ask whether, and how, it can fruitfully be used as a category of analysis. As a category of practice, “diaspora” is used to make claims, articulate projects, formulate expectations, mobilize energies, and appeal to loyalties. It is often a category with a strong normative change. It does not so much “describe the world as seek to remake it” (Brubaker). This fluid understanding of a nation disturbs and rewrites national identities as ongoing, open-ended processes. This can be contrasted with the ethnic and cultural essentialisms behind the perceptions of the nation prevalent in the region, which exclude Roma communities from the national imaginary. The presentation will demonstrate through artistic expressions that the “Romani nation” does not encapsulate an aspiration to inhabit a territorial state. Rather, it denotes “a politicized cultural group which seeks the preservation of the group within the existing interstate structure” (Feys). The presentation will focus on illustrating the different theories with contemporary artworks by Roma women artists Delaine Le Bas, Omara, Lada Gaziova, and Tamara Moyzes.


My paper addresses the topic of “exclusive visions of the nation” in post-Socialist countries and presents the case of a memorial site established by radical right-wing groups in Hungary. The site commemorates the so-called Tiszaeszlár case (1882) – the first anti-Jewish trial in post-emancipation (Austria-)Hungary. The case, in which Jews were accused of the murder of a non-Jewish girl, signalled the beginning of modern anti-Semitism in Hungary. For proponents of post-1867 anti-Jewish politics, the case repre- sented an example of the “Jewish threat” and the image of the dead girl, Eszter Solymosi, symbolized an “enduring reminder for the Christian nations”. In the 1930s and 1940s, it entered into the radical right’s historical meta-narrative and memory culture: post-Trianon nationalists transformed the image into a symbol representing the fate of the (ethnically defined) nation. Thus, the establishment of the memorial site in the 1990s relied on a long tradition of anti-Jewish imagination: it took up a tradition created before 1945, recreated in Western exile after 1945 and transmitted to emerging radical nationalist groups after 1989. Presented as “our daughter” or “sister,” the dead girl evokes the intimate emotions of parental or fraternal loss and refers symbolically to the “disintegration” of the nation as a result of “Jewish domination”. In my paper I examine the post-1989 cultural practices related to the memorial site: the inauguration and annual repetition of the acts of remembrance, the retelling of the narrative, the redrawing of its symbolic meanings, and the acting out of emotional responses. I address the following questions: How do images contribute to the production of exclusive ethnic communities and to the (re)emergence of anti-Semitic “emotional practices”? How are public performances transforming the symbolic meaning and emotional potential of images?


It is now almost a textbook recognition that with the passing away of actual survivors, “live” memory is replaced by remembrance, a cultural construction, a “post-memory” in which the past turns into a generationally transferable reservoir of appealing images and symbols relevant or instrumental to the present. In this lecture I examine the ways in which the images of the war-time past were selected, visualized, configured and exploited in commemorative activities in Russia associated with the centenary of the beginning of the World War I. and the 70th anniversary of victory in the World War II. My goal is to show how the visualization of the past wars in Russia today, unlike in Western and East-European countries and even in the USSR or Russia of the 1990s, has increased and become noticeably more militarized, triumphalist and infused with strong national and even nationalistic sentiment. In many respects this can be accounted for by the current political context of Russia’s opposition to the West and the government policies of bolstering new Russian identity and national pride, which are manifested in visual propaganda, state-sponsored media and all kinds of official ceremonies and statements. However, a closer examination of the repertoire, modes and oddities of various pictorial and performative practices of recent celebrations, especially the Victory Day celebrations, reveals a much higher level of mass national sentiment involving the war-time past than before and increased responsiveness to the images of war that led to the growth of participatory culture, informal initiatives and people’s visual creativity “from below”, which sometimes took quite controversial and eclectic forms. All this makes the memory of war(s) an extremely “usable”, consumable and highly manipulative entity, the appli- cability of which is multiplied by its ubiquity, manageability, and the reproducibility of “convincing” visual images in the era of contemporary technologies and mediatization.


Contemporary artistic projects of “memory restoration” aim to shed light on all that was deliberately obscured. The present interest in history shows that artists strive to work through the recent past, full of wounds that have not yet healed. One such wound is anti-Semitism. In this paper I focus on contemporary works of art that address the issue of prejudices against Jews and remind us of difficult and unsettling events. After World War II, the Polish Communist government had a vision of Poland as a monolithic single-nation state. Official memory was manipulated, which resulted in a failure to assimilate the memory of the Shoah and, ultimately, led to a forgetting of the Shoah and thus the exclusion from national memory of inhabitants of the country who were not Polish according to the narrow nationalist definition. Although official history and collective memory have evolved, there is still anti-Semitism in Polish society. Artists have been questioning the realm of collective memory, history, and identity and the meanings of each of the three for the present. Artists point at different faces of anti-Semitism and nationalism. They reveal visual traces of anti-Semitism (Kamil Kuskowski, Rafał Jakubowicz), as well as mechanisms of oblivion, especially in reference to the public space (Karolina Freino, Wojciech Wilczyk, Joanna Rajkowska). They show connections between nationalist and anti-Semitism imaginaries (Adam Adach, Tomasz Kozak). Others, such as Zofia Lipecka, show that our history is still an unhealed wound. Art has joined the disputes over memory by trying to commemorate things that do not fit with the homogeneous model of identity. Indeed, it can be said to be diffusing this identity in something in the nature of heterology – tracking the “traces of the other” (Paul Ricoeur).


The pro-Putin Russian motorcycle club “The Night Wolves” captured international media attention in April 2015 by broadcasting its provocative plan to travel to Berlin to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Russian victory over Nazi forces in World War II. Images of the club’s photogenic leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, quickly flooded the Internet and became a symbolic battleground between pro-Putin Russian nationalists and suspected anti-Putin forces. In this paper, I analyse the highly stylized personal image that Zaldostanov has cultivated and trace its sources in Russian and Soviet visual culture. Inspired by artistic representations of mythical Russian knights, the bogatyrs, and the military victor Aleksandr Nevsky (whose image the Soviets heavily mobilized during World War II), Zaldostanov’s exaggerated image of rugged Russian manliness reads almost as a parody of nationalist iconography. What prevents him from being a parody of historical imagery is his integration of Western punk and biker aesthetics. Always in black leather, Zaldostanov synthesizes different epochs of perceived national security and markers of Western counterculture, making him a visual cross between Russian national hero and Western bad- boy. However, given Zaldostanov’s heavy self-stylization for political purposes, it is not surprising that photographs of him on the Internet have been anonymously transformed into caricatures that impugn his masculinity, heterosexuality, and Russianness. My paper concludes with an examination of these visual parodies and the ways in which the state-sponsored Russian media has framed them as soft attacks on Putin’s Russia.


Gifts have been part of diplomacy for thousands of years. There are many examples from history of instances when sculptures and monuments have been given by one country to another as part of a diplomatic exchange, particularly since the existence of nation-states. In my presentation I examine the phenomenon of “monument as gift” in modern history. The New York Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the United States, serves as a starting point of the investigation. I analyse the motivations and the ideological background of this kind of diplomatic instrument. The focus of my analysis, how- ever, is the story of the monuments that were donated after 1989 and in particular the related practices of the post-Soviet states. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, not only the countries themselves but also government-related organizations and particularly foundations erected monuments and placed memorials in other states or foreign cities. Was there any system to these gestures? What topics were preferred? Is this practice simply a continuation of the previous Soviet diplomacy, or have we encoun- tered a new method imbued with new ideology? What are the underlying motivations? Do they concern national marketing and promotion or consequential state politics? In my lecture I will present examples mainly from the post-Soviet countries of Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan, though I will consider other countries as well, such as Hungary, Egypt and China. I wish to clarify the mechanisms export of national ideologies and the ways in which national memories can be influenced.


Halka/Haiti, the project exhibited at Poland’s national pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), brought one of the most canonical, solidified and unquestionable representations of Polish national culture, the opera Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko, to the descendants of the Polish soldiers who fought in the Haitian revolutionary war. By presenting the image of Polish national culture from the time when the Haitian forefathers were still deeply intertwined with it, the gesture seemingly accepts the level of representation inherent in this 19th-century work as providing the authentic image of Old Poland with its upper and lower classes, social relationships, and distinctive customs and traditions. On the other hand, however, the very presentation of an opera to an audience unaccustomed to this art form reveals the arbitrariness the medium and, together with it, also the constructed character of the world that it was supposed to represent. This multi-layered, ambiguous project complicates the understanding of Polish national identity, and the traditional visual and musical codes that are used to describe it, by placing both in a postcolonial context. This complication is particularly crucial since Poland has never seen itself as a country or nation that was involved in colonialism and preferred to identify itself only as a victim of imperialist oppression. This paper juxtaposes the identities of two very different imagined communities: the Polish nation, as it envisioned itself in the 19th-century art forms, still deeply rooted in the historical sensibility developed under imperialist occupations; and the Haitian “Le Polone”, the community whose connection to Poland has manifested itself predominantly in visual terms. The paper will discuss how the exposure to the community of Haitian “Le Polone” can problematize Poles’ understanding of their national identity today, with both its promise for greater diversity and its threat of strengthening nationalist heroic mythology.


The paper takes a closer look at the commemorative rituals dedicated to Brâncuși as an example of “universal and immutable national value” in the Romanian public sphere after 1989 and focuses on critical artistic responses to this discourse. Drawing on Michael Billig’s concept of “banal nationalism”, it explores the re-appropriation, creative misreading and visual recycling of Brâncuși’s portrait, works and name in Romanian popular visual culture after 1989, as documented by contemporary artists Vlad Nancă and Alexandra Croitoru. Brâncuși’s brand was employed after 1989 to support an astonishingly diverse range of discourses, social processes and institutions, such as political elections, vernacular architecture, country branding, the Orthodox Church and capitalist advertising. In conjunction with the analysis of Nancă and Croitoru’s visual archive, the presentation describes and interprets the latter’s body of conceptual, performative and documentary artworks dedicated to the memory of Constantin Brâncuși as an exemplary instance of critical engagement with the resurrection of nationalism in contemporary Romanian society and culture. Croitoru may be regarded as invested in the configuration, circulation and limitations of this discourse. Her artworks question the author-function of Brâncuși both inside and outside the sphere of art. In her sculptural objects and spatial interventions, her staged actions and performative gestures, Croitoru often constructs conceptual counter-monuments, frequently over-identifying with the social actors engaged in perpetrating a nationalist agenda, in order to reveal their questionable ideological underpinnings and subvert the political force of these ideological symbols. Last but not least, her recent works interrogate, at the same time, the condition of the contemporary artist in relation to this mythology from a gendered perspective.


The phantom character of the memory of socialism was predetermined long before the Soviet Union had collapsed. The very first line of the Communist Manifesto (1848), by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism”, seems to have forever defined the destiny of the communist idea. In the process of the transition from the Soviet era to the post-Soviet “condition”, the mechanisms of the transfer of collective memory have been seriously damaged. As a result, the official historical narratives are full of gaps – due not so much to factual omissions, but rather because of heavily ideological interpretations. What interests me is not the so-called “blanc spots” of history, but rather the kinds of pareidoliac illusions with which these mnemonic gaps are saturated and the ways in which these “sutures” become visible in the public sphere through art and exhibition practices. The examples of “exorcism” and “evocation” of the Soviet spectres are numerous and quite diverse, but I will touch only upon examples which allow us to discuss how the theme of socialist modernity has been repressed in the discourses of “suffering nations” and/or appropriated and exploited with quite specific intentions – namely, for the purpose of rewriting the national art canon of the 20th century or with the political aim of annihilation of the utopian discourse as such. The discourse of “de-sovietization” has gained particular symbolic significance in the countries in which the state power belongs to the leaders of the nationalist and conservative parties. In my view, the theme of dealing with the “ghosts” of the Soviet past might be an exemplary case that allows us to shed light on the complex configuration of relations between culture and politics in post-socialist countries.


A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of… memory. My rephrasing of the first sentence from the Communist Manifesto may sound awkward these days for two reasons: firstly because in our neo-Liberal post-utopian universe any leftist thinking and action are exposed to collective amnesia, which is particularly palpable in the European post-socialist states; and secondly, because this statement sounds today abashedly Eurocentric. In truth, a current of memorialism is haunting not only Europe but the entire globe. These processes, some claim, have been induced by globalization, which one Dutch scholar accurately called a “sentimentality machine.” Many theoreticians hold that we have been experiencing a “memorial turn.” For some time now, the world’s nations, ethnic communities, minority groups and professional artists have been involved in performing their devoir de mémoire (duty to remember). However, as historian John R. Gillis reminds us, “Memories help us make sense of the world we live in; and ‘memory work’ is, like any other kind of physical labour, embedded in complex class, gender and power relations that determine what is remembered (or forgotten), by whom, and for what end.” My paper is concerned primarily with the gendering of (national) memory. The question is how democratic nation-states – particularly post-socialist states – perform such a duty? What does a nation state prefer to remember and what does it tend to forget? And how do the officially promoted politics of remembrance/amnesia find material expression in monuments, the objects which Laurent Liefooghe, an artist, once called “impossible necessities.” In the early 1990s, during the “age of Lenin in ruins”, when the previously “red” East was practicing its “post-communist” iconoclasm, the monument as both practice and as theoretical concept was rediscovered as the latest “semiotic joker” (Mattenklott). Among various technologies of memory at their disposal (public commemorations and the replaying of these commemorations in the media), the construction of monuments and memorials has been one of the tools used by newly born nation-states in their efforts to establish a powerful culture of mourning. By staging historical and/or mythical national narratives of the pre-communist era, these monuments and memorials focus on national victimhood, collective suffering and implicitly male sacrifice (real and mythical national heroes) willingly offered on the altar of the Mother Nation. Fortunately, where there is power there is also resistance. A number of contemporary artists, feminists in particular, who in their public projects work with collective/public memory, have challenged the Grand National Narratives and have managed (however temporarily) to establish a memosphere (Mircan) as a political gesture that introduces into the national public sphere the Foucauldian notion of counter-memory.


This paper is part of a larger research project on Roma images in which I adopt approaches from cultural studies. I focus on the origins and alterations of these images in the history of the Hungarian cinema. I examine the ways in which the dominant discursive practices of the era influenced their form. The reconstructed newsreel (an early cinematic genre, actuality involving fictional elements) A kóbor cigányok élete – A dánosi rablógyilkosok (The Life of Traveller Gypsies – The Dános Murderers, 1908) is the subject of this content-driven media archaeological analysis, which I am applying instead of “historical understanding in order to reveal the materiality and techniques of culture” (Wolfgang Ernst). By choosing this method, I attempt to demonstrate that the functions of the post-socialist media rites generated by the Olaszliszka tragedy (2006) and the Cosma murder (2009) in our late-Modern media environment have a role similar to the roles of the early cinematic moving images. The turn of the century was an influential period in the history of film, culture and society from many perspectives. In my examination of the “reconstructed newsreel”, I take into consideration the totally different understandings of the relationship between fiction and reality and the existing genres of the period. This newsreel (probably using ethnographic photos as patterns) was constructed in the manner of genre paintings, with the use of topoi of folk plays and as a piece of evidence in the end, the photo of the accused and eventually sentenced criminals. I am convinced that the non-linear media archaeological approach, in contrast with the teleology of classical film historical research, is capable of revealing how the wanderer Gypsies became the main enemies at the time of the embourgoisement of the turn of the century. Hereby I argue that scientific and popular cultural visual representations have a significant mutual influence and help create “Gypsy otherness” more effectively than any previous forms. Criminalized wandering and poverty depicted as the fault of the poor become the solid pillars of Gypsy images and help justify, maintain, and further the exclusion of the ethnic minority from the “nation”, as the post-socialist media rituals show.


Our paper deals with the effects of coloniality upon the Romanian labour force in the context of so-called free mobility within the European Union. In our analysis, we sketch the way in which the precariousness of the labour conditions for most of the transnational migrants reshapes the discourse on the country of origin, Western Europe, and their own individual and collective identity. In doing so, we emphasize the relevant differences generated by the asymmetric distribution of rights among the various migrant professional groups. Drawing upon materials collected over the past few years in the course of art and academic projects, such as Veda Popovici’s Migrant’s Monument and Ovidiu Pop’s literary work as a “Gastarbeiter-writer” in Vienna (in Dimitre Dinev’s words), we point to the invisible common ground for these different visions and discourses. We trace this in the tension created between the desire to belong to (Western) Europe and the trauma of difference from Europe. While most of the categories discussed here, – i.e. civilization, civilized, modern, otherness, barbary, backwardness, etc. – originate in the Western-centred ideology of the Enlightenment, our aim is to show the effectiveness of this symbolic geography today, particularly in the context of Middle Eastern and African refugee flows inside the borders of the EU. We argue that this recent migratory trend has provoked a shift in how local groups in Romania perceive their role and position in relation to Europe, reproducing and redirecting the symbolic violence they themselves experienced.


In 2002, the Israeli state began constructing an enormous wall closing off the occupied West Bank. For more than a decade, this barrier has continued to expand, consolidating the ghettoization of the Palestinian people and limiting their access to resources. In September of this year, the Hungarian state contacted the Israelis for advice on the construction of a similar barrier along its southern border to keep out migrants and refugees passing through Serbia. Both the Israeli and Hungarian borders can be viewed as consequences of the abandonment of a socialist project. Israel’s politics were originally characterized by Labor Zionism, which considered socialism intrinsic to nation-building, while Hungary experienced state socialism as part of the Eastern bloc. The walls, then, are symptomatic of the rejection of socialism in favour of unapologetic ethnicism, according to which the state is concerned with maintaining a strict separation between insiders and outsiders. I suggest that these barriers can be experienced aesthetically as well as politically. In the case of the Israeli wall, photographers such as Noel Jabbour and Kai Wiedenhöfer have attempted precisely this. They depict the interaction between artificial structures and the natural environment in beautiful and unexpected ways. They lead us to consider whether the wall can itself be contemplated as if it were a work of art; we could see the separation barrier in conversation with developments in the production of art around the world. To aestheticize the wall, however – to see it as an object of contemplation rather than as a wound – seems to provide a warrant for its existence and to implicate the spectator. Drawing on the analyses of Jacques Rancière, I would like to discuss various implications of the aesthetic consideration of border walls and suggest ways in which such an approach can subvert the intentions of their architects.


Images of monuments that were constructed as part of the nation-building process fascinated artist Nicu Ilfoveanu long before he decided in 2010 to begin his open-ended photographic cycle entitled Series. Multiples. Realisms. The result was an exceptional series of photographs in which the artist reduced the scale of the statues, often captured in contre-jour, and made them resemble the silhouettes of ordinary passers-by. But it was not the monuments themselves as a subject that attracted him, but rather “their proximity, what happens around them to the point of the two becoming one and the same entity.” The lives of these “lonely characters” in the heart of small villages in Romania and their “anonymous” condition within local social memory prompted the artist to make an incursion into an archive of practices that renders visible the effects of transition and the new social constructions in post-socialist Romania. The layers of these practices are (re)vitalizing, beyond the daily resignation and oblivion, sui generis shapes in which the sphere of the national is represented, the public discourse is enacted and the communal is being formed. The effect of hyper-reality, impressed upon his photographic series, and the often touristic eye of the camera captures perhaps in the most direct way the singular status of these public objects, the marginality of their stories and the social marginalization of their images, which are determined by the emergence of new forms of collective self-representation. This paper attempts to discuss the process of visualizing the nation with which Ilfoveanu, deliberately or not, engages. I analyse the imperceptible associations that triggered his artistic research and the invisible energy of his photographic compositions, which can be conceived of as dynamograms (extensively applying the Warburgian terminology) – both a diagnosis and a living memory interface of a society.