The “Non-Aligned World” exhibition, opened September 1st at the Museum of African Art, is dedicated to the memory of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its First Conference, which took place in Belgrade in 1961.
It was at this conference that the key policies of the Non-Aligned Movement were adopted, based on a dedication to peace and disarmament, and against the global division into economic and military-political blocs.
As the curatorial team consisting of Emilia Epštajn, Ana Knežević and Milica Naumov from the Museum of African Art, and Nemanja Radonjić, PhD, a research associate at the Institute for Recent History of Serbia, points out in the announcement for the exhibition:
“The non-alignment alternative clearly opposed imperialism, racism, apartheid and all forms of racial segregation, as well as economic and political domination, advocating anti-colonialism, emancipation, equality, peace, cooperation and solidarity.”
The Non-Aligned Movement, which emerged during the Cold War international conflicts, worked in favour of people’s struggle for freedom and emancipation from external control and economic exploitation, but was also dedicated to establishing mutual support of member states through the idea of decolonization, the curatorial text emphasizes.
“Sixty years later, we find that some of the ideas expressed at that time strongly resonate today. Although differently, the world is still divided today, the struggle for independence is still being waged on various fronts, and discrimination, resource exploitation and war, although sometimes in a very changed form, are the main modus operandi of international relations”, the announcement concludes.
These themes were expanded upon in an accompanying expert forum named “NAM Talks”, held September 2nd at the Museum of African Art. Main topics of the forum were: the relationship between history and diplomacy, invisible and omitted histories, as well as the “culture of memory and the nature of forgetting” in non-aligned Yugoslavia.
The panel “Invisible Non-Aligned: Omitted History” stands out as a particularly interesting segment of the conference. The speakers were Bojana Piškur (PhD, MG + MSUM, Ljubljana), Ana Sladojević (PhD, independent curator/art & media theorist) and Lina Džuverović (PhD, Birkbeck University, Lоndоn). They talked about the neglected revolutionary achievements of the movement itself and forgotten female actors whose contribution is still on the margins of history, but also about the contemporary reception of the Non-Aligned in the field of art and culture, as well as the political implications of the process of commodification and depoliticization.
Thus, Bojana Piškur points out that current political situation, especially in our region, calls for a shift of attention beyond research that focuses on the historical role of the Non-Aligned Movement towards rethink a more radical cultural agenda, an agenda that could be based on emancipatory ideas of the Movement itself.
In contemporary context, non-alignment could be understood as a kind of political neutrality, especially within cultural institutions around the world, which question the possibility of open support for political issues, movements, articulation of various social issues, warns Bojana Piškur and adds:
“The primary reason for that are new right-wing conservative cultural policies that demand that the institutions of art and culture be ‘neutral’. However, this kind of false institutional neutrality prevents the possibility of any critical thinking, disagreement, or positioning within the museums and only maintains the status quo of the art institution as a colonial institution of exclusion.”
However, we should not ignore the global (geostrategic) position of today’s Non-Aligned Movement, which still exists and includes many countries whose politics is quite far from the movement’s original principles. There are repressive dictatorships among members, many member states are currently at war or involved in some kind of armed conflict that produces suffering, death and displacement of millions of people, Piškur concludes, asking: “How do we deal with these facts while we look at the historical emancipatory ideas of the NAM in awe?”
In her own long-term research, Ana Sladojević poses similar questions through theoretical reflections on the Museum of African Art founded in 1977 – the collections of Veda Zagorac and Zdravko Pečar – specifically in relation to the colonial and anti-colonial heritage within the particular museum setting. Within a project called “Anti-Colonial Museum”, in continuity with her previous research and in cooperation with the Museum of African Art, Ana Sladojević will in 2021 critically observe and contextualize some of the previous joint research, curatorial and artistic projects on invisible histories in the context of non-alignment and anti-colonial politics.
An integral part of the exhibition “Non-Aligned World” is a digital map that maps the non-aligned heritage and the heritage of the non-aligned countries, found in numerous archives and (somewhat) classified as the legacy of the First (1961) and Ninth (1989) Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Belgrade, as well as actions and events related to the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade.
Documentary materials for the exhibition and digital map were provided by the Historical Archives of Belgrade, the Archives of Yugoslavia, the Belgrade City Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments, the Belgrade City Museum, the Museum of Yugoslavia, Radio Belgrade and Radio Television of Serbia.
Translation: Iskra Krstić
This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Sep 2, 2021.