In the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, adolescents are common visitors during organized high-school visits, but we lack their self-motivated visits. With this program (implemented from September until December 2023) we wanted to make the contents of our museum’s collection more relevant to the life experiences of adolescents and encourage them to think in the direction of social activism. To achieve the main goal, we hired a dramaturg as an external collaborator, an Art History student interested in museum education as a volunteer, and a museum pedagogue from the institution.
To bring the content of the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to the target group, we determined several important topics that we connected with the narratives of certain paintings from the permanent exhibition of the museum: social inequality, leaving the Country, the right for emotional expression, identity, and loneliness. The paintings that we connected with the mentioned topics are the following: “The Conversation” by Danijel Kabiljo, “On someone else’s Bread” (1928.) by Đoko Mazalić, “Study” by Ivo Šeremet, “Travelers” by Lazar Drljača (1913.), and “Child of the Street” (1932.) by Roman Petrović.
To enable participation in the program for high school students who do not often come into contact with visual art and museums, we signed a contract with the High School of Tourism and Hospitality in Sarajevo. We also invited young people to participate in the program through the museum’s social networks.
The program’s activities were divided into three parts: connecting the participants with the selected paintings through the Visual Thinking Strategy method, creating theater scenarios based on one of the selected paintings and related topics, and rehearsals of the museum theater play for public performance. For the first group of activities, in which we brought the participants closer to the social, political, and economic context of the creation of the artwork, we conducted research in the museum’s documentation. Then we discussed each work with the participants and asked for their subjective opinions about their meaning, the connection with the context of their creation, and the contemporary era. Each of the weekly activities would begin with a circle of safety within which we would discuss topics from their perspective with the participants. Then, we would play different theatrical games such as ‘hot chair’, dance-freeze, family portrait, and others whose purpose was to free the body and voice.
The participants chose the following paintings for their theater plays and wrote scenarios based on them: “Child of the Street” by Roman Petrović, “The Conversation” by Danijel Kabilj, and “Travelers” by Lazar Drljača, which they connected with the themes of loneliness, identity, and social inequality. We decided to combine the stories into one frame based on a real story from the life of the painter Roman Petrović. In the 1930s, Roman Petrović lived modestly but principledly in Sarajevo. He met a group of orphans to whom he offered temporary shelter, food, and money in his studio while he painted them. From this unusual friendship, a cycle of paintings called “Children of the Street” was born. In ex-Jugoslavian Art History, this cycle of paintings is considered the best achievement of socially engaged art. In our theater play, the main character is Ivor, an orphan boy who wanders around the city looking for food and shelter with his friends from the orphanage which closed after unpaid debts.
Ivor is a really good storyteller and he is trying to amuse his friends by telling them the remaining two stories created by the participants. One of the stories that Ivor tells is about three warrior brothers, symbolically named Mors (Death), Amare (Love), and Pax (Peace), each of whom sets out to fight for his ideals. In this story, the fight takes place through the performance of the participants who interpret the characters, of which only Pax remains alive. The second story that Ivor tells his friends is about loneliness and love between a widower and a widow located in an old mahala in Sarajevo.
In the four-month process of working with adolescents on the program, the museum transformed into a theater stage, the paintings on the walls into scenography, and the museum furniture into props. Over time, the participants gained an increasing sense of self-confidence and the right to express their opinions on assigned topics. Also, by spending time in the museum and interacting with the original museum exhibits, they increased their awareness of the value and importance of preserving cultural and historical heritage. Over time, the participants gained increasing self-confidence and the right to express their opinions on assigned topics. Also, by spending time in the museum and interacting with the original museum exhibits, they increased their awareness of the value and importance of preserving cultural and historical heritage. For the general public of the museum, a group of 5 high school students from Sarajevo played a museum theatre play called “Inaudible Voices” in the space of the permanent exhibition. For the audience that attended the premiere on December 20, 2023, we prepared evaluation forms of the play, through which we wanted to find out if they recognized the contemporary problems the young people wanted to express.
We had the great privilege of presenting the “Youth Museum Theater” program at last year’s regional conference entitled: “Atypical Interpretative Tools in the Museum: music, dance, theater, movement” organized by the Association of Museum Pedagogues of Serbia and the national committee of ICOM Serbia. For this purpose, an article was written for the ICOM Serbia magazine, in which we theoretically elaborated on the need for art museums for a program of this type. In the spring of 2024, we intend to perform replays of our museum play “Inaudible Voices” for Sarajevo high school students.
Author of the text:
Aida Šarac Berbić
Museum pedagogue at the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina