Inheriting the Yugoslav Century: Art, History, and Generation
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The dissertation examines the work contemporary artists, curators, and scholars who have, in the last two decades, addressed urgent political and economic questions by revisiting the legacies of the Yugoslav twentieth century: multinationalism, socialist self-management, non-alignment, and war. I conceptualize the work of contemporary artists as that of Yugoslavia’s “surviving generation,” and use it as a starting point for a reconstruction of what I argue is a decolonial twentieth-century Yugoslav aesthetics that has persisted into the present despite numerous and violent historical ruptures. I also seek analogies between this aesthetics and a number of theoretical frameworks, in particular those of Edmund Husserl, Frantz Fanon and Judith Butler, whose work similarly arose out of constellations of crisis, death, and survival. The worldwide strengthening of conservative and nationalist movements following the crisis of capitalism in 2008 reveals the violent break-up of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s as a precursor to global developments, rather than an exception, and my dissertation argues for a global import of the Yugoslav experience. From the anti-imperialist assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the communist-led resistance during WW2, the anti-Stalinist socialist state and its prominent role in the Non-Aligned Movement, to the war-ridden, post-communist transition, the Yugoslav century is not only co-extensive with the dreams and disasters of the “short twentieth century” (1914-1991), but can be seen as this century’s metonymy, or even, synecdoche. The engagement of contemporary artists, scholars and curators with the aesthetic and political legacies of the Yugoslav century, the dissertation argues, opens up the possibility to read Yugoslavia both as a proper name, designating a particular history, and as a universally valid signifier for a number of unresolved and persisting questions of the past: the quest for social equality, ongoing forms of colonialism and decolonization, the return(s) of nationalism, and the crises of capitalism and democracy.
East European studies
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