Mirso Bajramovic is visual artist living and working in Gennep, the Netherlands.
He was born in Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia (present Bosnia and Herzegovina). Mirso received his artistic education at the University of Sarajevo, where he attended architecture-classes from 1973 until 1977. His career as an artist started in Dubrovnik, where he live from 1982 until his departure to The Netherlands, in 1986. Mirso is a member of Dutch GBK Artist association since the beginning of 1993. Mirso’s work was shown at over thirty solo exhibitions in The Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium. His paintings can be seen in numerous private collections in the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia.
As a society, race, class, sexual identity and religion divide us. We are filled with rage, shame, fear and guilt. The arts offer us the possibility of bridging the social and political caverns we have constructed in our heads, institutions and society. Today, the arts continue to play an active role in the process of justice mediation in the world. It unites people around perspectives that have historically divided them.
1988. Kunsthandel Brabant, Uden, The Netherlands
1989. Galerie La Porte, Gennep, The Netherlands
1991. De Wieken, Molenhoek, The Netherlands
1992. Kasteel Heijen, Heijen, The Netherlands
1992. St.Vinzenz Krankenhaus, Altena, Germany
1993. Kunstgalerie Toro, Wenray, The Netherlands
1996. Stadsschouwburg, Antwerpen, Belgium
1996. Kunstuitleen, Cuijk, The Netherlands
1996. Artifex, Cuijk, The Netherlands
1996. Salon international d’art contemporain, Nice, France
1997. Streekmuseum, Gennep, The Netherlands
1997. De Gele Rijder, Arnhem, The Netherlands
1997. CBKN, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
1998. Mariendael, Sint-Oedenrode, The Netherlands
1998. Het Petershuis Museum, Gennep, The Netherlands
2000. Dr. Anton Philips zaal, Den Haag, The Netherlands
2001. Kunst-Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2001. Beursgebouw, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
2003. Villa Belriguardo, Kleve, Germany
2005. Cultureel Centrum Corrosia, Almere, The Netherlands
2005. Museum Het Petershuis, Gennep, The Netherlands
2006. Niersdal project, Gennep, The Netherlands
2006. Gallery De Bakkerij, Bergen, The Netherlands
2006. De Hamert, Wellerlooi, The Netherlands
2007. Kopstukken Project A77, Boxmeer, The Netherlands
2007. Kunst in het Maaspark, Mook, The Netherlands
2008. Bericht van licht, Museum Het Petershuis, Gennep, The Netherlands
2008. Kloster Graefenthal, Kessel, Germany
2009. Bugemeesters project, Stadhuis Gennep, The Netherlands
2010. “K@R-t-Blanche”, Roepaen, Ottersum, The Netherlands
2011. De Ontmoeting, Gennep, The Netherlands
2013. K(r)oningsportretten, Grote Kerk, Breda, The Netherlands
2013. ‘Ons Koningshuis’, Galerie Markant, Beilen, The Netherlands
2013. K(r)oningsportretten, Galerie Noord-Holland, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Gezichten, meer dan levensgroot, monochroom. Geen portretten van specifieke individuen, maar tijdloze gezichten. Tegen een zwarte achtergrond lichten ze op; universeel én tegelijk heel karakteristiek. Kopstukken noemt de maker ze, bij mij komt de naam Vergezichten op. Mirso Bajramovic schilderde er een serie van, stuk voor stuk even indrukwekkend. Waarom hebben ze zo’n enorme zeggingskracht?
Er zit beweging in; sommige gezichten kijken ons aan, op andere wijken de blikken terug, naar binnen, en de doeken zijn geschilderd met groot vakmanschap. Maar daar gaat het uiteindelijk niet om. De kern is dat het gezichten zijn.
Als je tegenover iemand staat lees je zijn gezicht als eerste drager van zijn individualiteit en karakter. Alles draait daarbij om kleine verschillen: de stand van de wenkbrauwen, volheid van de lippen, misschien een andere huidskleur; het blijven in wezen details. Dit gelaat van vlees en bloed draagt op zijn beurt de hele rijkdom aan menselijke gelaatsuitdrukkingen. En ieder mens is een expert in het lezen daarvan. Een opgetrokken wenkbrauw, lippen die iets vaneen wijken, een gefronst voorhoofd: uit vluchtige spiertrekkingen leidden we hele persoonlijkheden af. Het belang van het gelaat en de uitdrukkingen ervan, is niet te overschatten in onze communicatie en interactie.
De Franse filosoof Levinas gaat zelfs nog verder. Hij zegt dat we onze menselijkheid zelf te danken hebben aan het zien van het gelaat van de ander. Bijna alles in de natuur kunnen we zien als stof die onderworpen is aan de wetten van oorzaak en gevolg. Maar in het gelaat van de ander nemen we het raadsel van het bewustzijn waar. Zijn gezicht toont mij een afgrond: ik mag die ander niet als ding zien waarmee ik kan doen wat ik wil, want hij heeft een eigen wil, een eigen bewustzijn, een ander perspectief op het raadsel van het bestaan. En daarmee zet die ander me aan tot zelfreflectie: ik ben niet alleen, er zijn anderen om rekening mee te houden. De ander is een mysterie, want wat is dan dat bewustzijn dat ik weerspiegeld zie in dat gelaat? Vanuit het mysterie richt hij een oproep tot mij: zie me in al mijn kwetsbaarheid, kijk me aan, luister naar mijn verhaal en laat me in mijn waardigheid.
Bajramovic brengt het raadsel en die oproep in zijn Kopstukken op overweldigende wijze aan het licht, of misschien beter gezegd, ín het licht, want het is alsof hij schildert met zuiver licht. Het zijn geen bestaande mensen die hij schildert, zijn Kopstukken zijn geen portretten, maar het zijn beelden van de universele ander die oprijzen uit zijn onbewuste in het diepst van de nacht, als hij schildert en luistert naar het raadsel van het bestaan.
Zo komt Bajramovic tot de kern en hij toont ons een oplossing; dezelfde oplossing die Odysseus noemde in antwoord op het raadsel van de sfinx: het is de mens. Maar het mooiste is dat het mysterie daarmee niet verdwijnt, maar juist dieper wordt – in plaats van eindpunt het beginpunt voor een meditatie. Gezichten die uitzicht bieden op wat universeel is in het menselijke, kortom, vérgezichten.
Portraits bordering mask
If it’s true that every work of art can be considered as the result of some kind of obsessive passion, then the name of Mirso’s passion is the portrait. More precisely, not so much a classical portrait in its own right, but a human face in all aspects of its facial expressity.
What is actually a human face and how it can be presented? In its elemental form, it is just an oval, with slits for eyes, nose and mouth – and that’s all. But that oval, at the same time, shows off plenty of differences (due to nuances of physiognomy), so it’s impossible to determine, like with the structure of the snow flakes, two identical forms, two identical human faces. Precisely the urge to decipher the secret of human faces lies at the heart of Mirso’s art. The mythical expressiveness of his paintings put them very close to the mask or totem, as they emerged from the darkness of non-existence, with barely accented character traits. At the same time, it’s not clear whether these human faces are withdrawing from life, or have yet to enter it; whether these are a prenatal human faces or post-mortem dark holograms, a kind of death mask? Do they come from history or perhaps they are just preparing to abdicate from it? Are they painted before the Final Judgement, are they condemned for heaven or hell? Whether they have been marked by the eternity or just a passing moment?
Following Michelangelo’s canon that the artist should liberate a true form by rejecting all superfluous, Mirso in his paintings turned to ruthless reduction. As the result, his portraits are monochromatic, with a distinguished chiaroscuro effect, usually painted in the dark shades of gray, which often goes to black. These monumental head-masks, exposed in nature, stand out from the surrounding environment as a messengers of another world and the contrast between the bright, true-color panorama (with a horizon line in the background and blue sky above) and prominent squares of black and white canvases reveal their mythical and oneiric origin. Hence, I guess, the omnipresent gray of his work (gray is the color of sleep). One could even say that a teleological impulse is intrinsic in his painting: in his universe of portraits that he has been tirelessly creating for decades, with obsessive steadiness, he seemed to seek that first, basic archportrait from which all other human faces emerged; he searches for the basic concepts, an archetype of the human face, which the Creator bore in mind before the first day of Creation. Here lies the explanation why Mirso did not use live models – he dwells in the world of Platonic ideas.
Each ‘finished’ portrait is an invitation to keep on searching. It’s a repetitive pattern: each portrait is a call for the next.
The ambiguity of these portrait-masks allows the possibility of different interpretations: while, on one hand, these portrayed heads may represent a mirror in which the observer could reluctantly recognize his fears, with the same plausibility, on the other hand, he could see in them the idyllic reality of Vermeer’s still lifes. Their ambiguity is also the key to their success. Every work of art has to be open to different possibilities of interpretation. Art without secrets is not art at all.
If you are searching for Mirso Bajramovic you should not look in Dubrovnik or Sarajevo, but in Gennep. Whereas that is not the humblest of towns, and whereas, in encyclopedias and dictionaries, Gennep and Bosnia are practically neighbours, it is still a long way getting from one to the other in the real world. Bajramovic and his family can tell you all about that. Mirso is a Dutchman, by the way, and if you want to see him you will have to speak Dutch, preferably Dutch without a trace of a Bosnian or Gennepian accent. Actually his Dutch is so free of outlandish or inlandish blots that no one could be and sound more immaculately the Dutchman. Whereas he, as was to be expected, is not a `son of tepid Western shores` (as the Portuguese Dutch poet Isaäc da Costa described himself). Yet he even speaks the Gennep idiom fluently, if so desired; he does not feel superior to the angels about whom Mark Twain said that they even speak their mother language – angelic ENGLISH, naturally – with an accent.
What is certain is that Mirso Bajramovic is an artist, a painter, and, furthermore: a Dutch painter. Question: can that epithet `Dutch` be inferred from his paintings as well as from his passport?
Is his art as sonorously Dutch as his voice and letters? Or did the Bosnian who integrated in `no time` in so exemplary a manner, remain an alien in the Dutch art world, one who becomes a foreigner (with mitigating circumstances), as soon as he sits down behind his easle? Were Spinoza and Descartes (to mention two of the most highly gifted and talked-about foreigners we ever had over here), despite all, still foreigners whenever they seriously started thinking or writing or something as thought-provoking?
Or have we, conversely, been taking them as our examples in finding out how to become just as exemplary Dutchmen as all those other well-brought up (Spinozist- or Cartesian-trained) `boys of Jan de Witt`? Quite a few foreigners became honorary Dutchmen, and so did us credit as well. And quite a few Dutchmen – including many painters – apprenticed themselves offshore in order to become universally respected Dutchmen in the end. To become is better than to be.
Allow me to state that we, the Dutch, should renounce our rights to almost all our exemplary Dutch painters, scientists and even clergymen as soon as we start having second thoughts about their Flemish, German, Italian French, Portuguese or even Hungarian (i.e. the Maris brothers) backgrounds. The Belgians, it has been claimed, apodictically, do not exist. Question: do the Dutch exist? And if they do, how many of them were once extremely rich or poor Flemish, French, Spanish, German, Italian or Portuguese immigrants or Indo-Dutchmen?
Another question: how many French artists are left if one disregards all foreign `French` artists – Dutchmen, Russians, Belgians, Algerians, Romanians, Japanese, Bulgarians, not to mention Bosnians, Serves and Croatians? Are there any American artists, apart from the Sioux, Comanches, Hopis, Zunis and Navahos, who are not the descendants of foreigners with or without residence permits – of Americans with unamerican countries of origin?
Now let me try to describe what happened to me, a Brabantian Dutchmen, when, speechless in countless ancient and modern languages, I was confronted with the first painting to which the Bosnian Dutchman Mirso Bajramovic introduced me. A work from his hands. Which was `communicating itself` to me, very eloquently, and in immaculate Dutch, let me add. But alas, I did not come up with a reply. Not one word of Bosnian or Dutch occurred to me. Or rather: much too much occurred to me simultaneously, except for anything verbal, a single word in one of my innate or acquired mother or father tongues. But – let me repeat it – the painting with its extraordinarily refined enunciation was not to blame. No, I was offside and tongue-tied. Countless associations appeared on the tv-screen of my consciousness, but none was subtitled decently enough in any language or dialect to come out of my mouth decently-framed. The articulate painting had silenced me, so who can picture my distraction and understand that my silence had to do with overawe? And with a desperate attempt to express approval and admiration. Who can picture my bewilderment and explain to the artist that it was the inimitable quality of his painting which was reflected by my silence (which he did not imitate)?
In my position I should at least be able to speak up when a work of art or an artist reduces me to quiet admiration. And why. Now may I try to picture all those things which did not – but almost did – (instantly) occur to me on the right moment?
Well. I retrace the steps of my esprit de l’escalier, as I mount the stairs connecting the basement and top floor of my silence. What did initially occur to me was too trivial to be true, not worth expressing. But those same dreadfulnesses did become – after some days – the first words in a chain of associations which did merit reconstruction. `Oriental`, I had said, and `exotic`, expressions I most seldomly and reluctantly use. I’m afraid I even dished up some shameful generalities connected with the `Thousand and One Nights`. In any case: I thought the painting `SPLENDID` and, moreover, `GRAND` – and said so. Justifiedly so. Infinitely meaningful yet meaningless words. It was a large painting studded with undutch carbuncle-sized stars, which are as much beyond us, Occidentals, as that `Starry Night` painted by Van Gogh under a mediterranean sky. But I did not think of Vincent but of one of those medieval manuscripts, scalloped with planets and stars, which open up seventh heaven to us. Once I had got that far – close enough to the Van Eyck brothers, the Duc de Berry and that first Turkish luxury edition of the Koran in the British Museum – I finally started to feel comfortable in the language of Bajramovic and his `magnum opus`, entitled, no doubt, like so much modern art: `u.t.`, `untitled` or `namelessly beautiful`. Only, just then the painting was getting (entitled to) a name. I loved it and was thinking of the Dutch poetess Neeltje Maria Min and her `for the one who loves me I will be named`. Suddenly the work would be named `The Adoration of the Shepherds`, and one of those stars stood still so on reflection I called the painting `Sainte Chapelle`. Causing some uncertainties of nomenclature. The shepherds emancipated, becoming kings, magicians, astrologers, and, for a change, the painting was now named `Twelfth Night` or `The Journey of the Magi` – and what was that festival called again in Greek? Yes, Epiphany.
`Epiphany`, meaning `appearance` (to the heathens, the foreigners and us, to be precise). What did appear in Nazareth, what did reveal itself there? Something, anyhow, with claims to the name of `firmament`, a nocturnal phenomenon radiating appreciably more light in Galilea and Bosnia than it does north and west of these, whether that be Genova, Gelsenkirschen, Goteborg or Gennep.
Yes, behold the verbal byways one must travel in reaching sacred places and in defining one’s quiet adoration of a work of art which has mastered its foreign, Neanderthalian languages and its Dutch – High Netherlandish – so perfectly. As well as that language which is so eloquently mute that one is tempted to become verbose. As at this moment.
Mirso is star-struck. The second painting he presented to me was almost as `astral` as `Epiphany`, even though it `showed` and `indicated` more about our world. For instance? Well, simply a street in a town, called Sarajevo or Dubrovnik, those ideal places where Mirso was born and bred. High above nocturnal Sarajevo the stars are spotted and identified: first Mars, than Venus, first war than sex, or rather love and what passes itself off for it in this existence down below. Between that town and those stars there is no (Southern) Cross but there is a half moon.
Is the title of this painting indeed `Dubrovnik`? Or would `Last time I saw Sarajevo` be even more suitable?
Up to this point I had moved in the realm of magic, poetic, not to mention orphic, art. An art, it might be claimed with slight exaggeration, which is the especial reserve of artists deriving from regions east of us. That’s where they know best how to paint such sacred nocturnes, how to perform the astral liturgy. Mirso Bajramovic too is one who paints `Hymns to Night`. He too follows Jean Cocteau’s poetical direction of `carrying night through day`, extending the possible world of the dream into the profane world of up-to-datedness.
But he is not just a painter of nocturnes and `Night thoughts`. He is also a commonsensical man with a Western inquisitiveness about the system, the anatomy of romantic imagery. I say: part of his art is about art and even that Art creates art. This did not make him a post-modernist. To him the modern tradition is not `old news`, a decrepit archive, `Yesterday’s Papers`, from which one may legally quote from memory. No, he remained IN the tradition. Which is still as fully operative in former Yugoslavia as it is in the whole of Europe.
So Mirso Bajramovic is not simply an artist who carries night through day, he also wants the sun to shine in the darkness, make the light of reason clarify the dream. Or rather: he comes up to the arch-aphorist Karl Kraus’ expectations about people who dare call themselves artists: `An artist is someone who manages to change a solution into a mystery.` What does he do with that mystery, this happy artist? No, he does not solve it. He starts to search for her whom G.B. Shaw named `the sphinx without mysteries` – the muse, maybe. What she does and wants Bajramovic to do, what she still has in store for him, is and should be a mystery for now. What is certain, notwithstanding, is this: first Bajramovic silenced me, then he made me speak interminably. May I be forgiven for both.
Mr. Maarten Beks