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  • Nikola Markovic: “In childhood our truth is most visible”

Art interview

Nikola Markovic: “In childhood our truth is most visible”

The Montenegrin artist on the magic of childhood, making art in the Balkans and creating a museum from scratch.

Courtesy the artist

You started making art in Montenegro, while it was still part of communist Yugoslavia. What was that system like for artists?

It was a system that certainly invested much more in art and culture than the current political systems that are rooted in certain Balkan countries, including Montenegro. Whether or not President Josip Broz Tito contributed to this, it’s difficult to conclude, but he was certainly someone with much more culture and style than many of our statesmen and politicians in the 21st century.

I believe that he, as an undisputed ruler, contributed to such a development of contemporary art even in the middle of the 20th century. The only thing that could not be developed in the art of the SFRY at that time was artistic practice based on the political discourse and criticism of the system at that time. Everything else was supported and promoted.

Today, we only have Marina Abramović as a Montenegrin who has become world-renowned.

It is also important to mention that in those 60 years of the 20th century, at the World Biennale of Modern Art in Sao Paulo, where Picasso, Miro, Braque and many other famous artists participated, it was the Montenegrin painter Petar Lubarda who won the main prize, returning as the laureate of that big art event.

Now, our capital does not have a single Museum of Contemporary Art, even if we have an abundance of works, authors and content for such an institution. No one from the EU noticed this, even though we have been leaders in the Balkan region for years when it comes to negotiations for accession to the European Union.

Today, we only have Marina Abramović as a Montenegrin who has become world-renowned, but unfortunately without the support of our institutions. She fought her own battles and built her career in a sure-fire and dedicated way. I met her in 1996 in Cetinje and since then we have been friends and she was my support when many did not see or understand the concept of my work dedicated to our earliest childhood.

How would you describe your art? Your recent works have focused on childhood. What do you find interesting about this?

My work is primarily a deeply lived prayer to the truth of man and his origin… about his duration and meaning in relation to nature, life and the truth of our existence. I deeply believe that it is in childhood that our truth is most visible and most sincere in relation to all these values.

I see my art as records that bear witness to our earliest memories. As such, they are documents that preserve some forgotten truths and values in which we grew up and which we pushed deep beneath the established habits of everyday life and work.

That’s why my art is a spontaneous creative game of truth in which there are no losers, but which invites everyone to discover and preserve the essential values that childhood has for each of us.

Photo: Courtesy the artist

Is your art political?

No, I believe that there is no politics at all in my work and I’m sure there won’t be any. Children are also not involved in politics, nor are things strictly related to childhood and growing up.

I deeply believe that it is in childhood that our truth is most visible.

The AMOC museum, which I have been working on for more than 20 years, is an international institution that will gather artists who have contributed to the development of the theme of childhood with their work or oeuvre. The only topic which will not have a place in that institution is politics, if I have the opportunity to decide on it.

What’s your connection with Berlin?

If I were to make a joke here, then I would probably say the Teddy Bear, as one of the most convincing toys of the 20th century that was created outside of Germany but received its full visual identity and production in Germany, especially in Berlin. Namely, my connection with Berlin was spontaneous and gave a really nice meaning to my work and the relationship with the local audience back in 2019, when I successfully presented myself for the first time at the Berlin Museum of Communication.

I have met many great artists and wonderful people who live and feel the true values of art, such as Olga Lystsova, Mark Gisbourne, Wilfried Dickhoff, Herman Noack and many others, and this is exactly what I consider the greatest wealth and advantage that Berlin as a city possesses.

Your work has encompassed drawing, painting, performance and sculpture. Do you have a favourite? What are the challenges and advantages of each form?

I don’t have favourites in this regard, each discipline has its advantages and I try to discover them with the same sincerity and dedication.

I believe that dedicated work always brings results. When you put in the most effort and when you are almost floating from fatigue in the studio in front of a problem that keeps you from sleeping, God’s help appears. That cosmically wise energy then carries you and directs you to the right solution if you are wise enough to read the secret signs it shows you.

Collage and assemblage is something that has always attracted me, despite the fact that I have a strong background in the classical arts. By combining two things, you get a new value and establish a third one. It’s the same with life and nature in its secret of fertilisation. That’s why I believe that art best describes its creativity in such actions.

Photo: Courtesy the artist

You’ve spent time teaching and working within the academy. To what extent do you think art can be taught?

Contemporary art in particular can be learned to such a level that you could freely participate in the Venice Biennale. But that won’t mean that you can create masterpieces that will last for centuries after you are gone.

For real works in art, apart from learning, there must also be a sense of a primal creative thread with which the artist as a being went through life, and with which he connected his dreams and ideas in the right way.

Some of your works have titles like Pinocchio and the Metamorphoses. Are you very influenced by literature?

Not so much literature, but certainly by fairy tales and fables. Of course, they can also be viewed as literature, so I certainly like to include them in the context of old traditions, myths, legends, etc.

Pinocchio is a fundamentally important fairy tale that will only now, in the post-human age, get its much greater epilogue and significance.

Let’s not forget that even the greatest religions of the world originate from such traditions and myths. Pinocchio is a fundamentally important fairy tale that will only now, in the post-human age, get its much greater epilogue and significance.

Who are your favourite artists, living and dead?

This is somehow always a very difficult question for me because the choice is not small. Among the many that I love and deeply appreciate, I would definitely single out two: Leonardo Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh.

Among the artists of the 20th century, it would primarily be Constantin Brankusi, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio Morandi, Baltus and one whom I remember from my early youth, Alberto Giacometti.

What are you working on next?

My next project is definitely the AMOC, a Museum of Contemporary Art dedicated to childhood. I have been working on it intensively for more than 25 years, and the time has come for me to develop the project if I can find partners and patrons who will only provide us with space. We have already secured everything else.

I am also working on organising my large retrospective exhibition at the National Museum in Cetinje, where over 1,500 works representing my research and work in the field of childhood and its symbols over the course of 35 years will be exhibited. I am very honoured that Dr. Mark Gisbourne, as one of Europe’s most internationally renowned and respected curators and art historians, agreed to open the exhibition and that he is the author of the publication texts.

See the works of Nikola Marković here.