Culture for Resilience in the Time of COVID-19

This story is part of the United Nations in BiH series of personal accounts highlighting extraordinary work during COVID-19 response and recovery; marking UN75.

              The Covid-19 pandemic caught the whole world, including myself, completely off guard. It struck us right before our big opening of the exhibition, which was supposed to be shown during March, April and May, and whose setting was more than demanding, and the performance was ultimately phenomenal. Under normal circumstances, we would have had a big evening opening with a ready series of accompanying programs and with the expectation of a large audience to show up. It will turn out that a few days after the opening, no one will be able to see the exhibition because the Museum was closed to the public. The opening itself was very symbolic; curators and artists took photos wearing face masks in the exhibition, and by sharing the photos on social networks, we made the opening of the exhibition official.

              For us at the Museum, which is free to all visitors, open all seven days of the week, and where the audience is accustomed to attractive exhibitions and content, all of this came as a shock. With a dose of fear and insecurity, not knowing what to expect or what might happen next, I met with colleagues from our crisis team at the Museum on March 16. The atmosphere was positive because no one wanted to show their concern in front of others, which encouraged us all. Instead of implementing plans such as accompanying programs, artist talks and similar activities, we had to suspend all planned works. We decided to continue working from home, and try to create content through digital platforms. We joined ICOM action Museum and Chill, digitized our editions and offered them for free through our internet platforms, made a virtual tour for the current exhibition Storylines of the art duo diSTRUKTURA, all with the goal of helping our audience, but also helping ourselves, to overcome these difficult times.

              As a curator of program activities, my task was to continue working on project proposals for, at that time still ongoing call of Creative Europe, and I think working on those projects is what gave me meaning in this meaningless time. While quarantined at home, I had my own rhythm: waking up early as usual, having my morning coffee and breakfast, sitting at the computer and working on applications; and all this in the comfort of my home. Meetings have become virtual, at least three times a day, but they eventually have become perhaps the most beautiful experience in the times of crisis. I met many interesting people from different fields of culture and they all had one thing in common - they were all extremely positive and supportive. It is as if this crisis has awakened in people openness, kindness and compassion. I had the feeling that I was meeting old friends every day, even though we had never met or seen each other before. The projects were diverse, from empowering the authors in comics, through the ecological fashion industry inspired by contemporary art, to merging contemporary music and art. Creative ideas and wonderful collaborators from all over Europe came together. The moment the projects were sent, the easing of measures and the normalization of life began. I went back to work feeling like not much had changed. But sometimes our feelings can be deceiving. A lot has actually changed. People are still in fear. The museum was empty; hardly anyone paid a visit during the day. I realized that the fear was still present and it needs to be overcome. Therefore, our task remains to fight the fear of the virus, of isolation, of loneliness. Through culture, we will defeat the corona virus, or at least alleviate its consequences.

              Mladen Banjac has been a curator for program activities at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republika Srpska for the past five years. Besides that, he is also the Secretary of the National Committee of ICOM Bosnia and Herzegovina. In his work, he concentrates on contemporary museum practices and their implementation in the museums of societies in transition.