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Bosnian genocide exhibit travels to SIUE

Three years ago, graphic design artist Barbara Nwacha began telling a story.  Using text and images assembled by a team that included the University’s Dr. Ben Moore and Dr. Jack Luzkow, Nwacha pieced together what was to become “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide,” a 32-panel exhibit recounting the horrors of the Bosnian war and genocide.

She worked into the early hours of the morning from mid-October into late November, perfecting her work in the graphic deesign lab at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she is an instructor.

On Oct. 4, after travelling to multiple locations such as the University’s library, Denver and Capitol Hill, the exhibit went to SIUE, where it is now on view in the Morris University Center Gallery until Nov. 3.

The multimedia exhibit, which debuted at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, features texts, photographs, maps and video that testify to the ethnic cleansing and genocide which targeted the Muslim population of Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

From 1992-95, hundreds of thousands of Bosnians were killed, beaten and raped in concentration camps run by Serbian Ultranationalists, and thousands more were displaced by the violence.

Prijedor, a city in the Northwestern region of Bosnia, was the site of several such concentration camps, including Keraterm, Omarska and Trjnopolje.

A large part of the exhibit’s materials were collected by students enrolled in the honors course, “The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity” in 2007 and 2008. It was taught by Moore and Jack Luzkow, chairman of the history, philosophy and religion department, who also spearheaded the University’s Bosnia Memory Project together.

The class gathered and organized historical documents and conducted filmed interviews with survivors, which were later compiled into a documentary.

Another collaborator on the exhibit was Amir Karadzic, who recently won the University’s Jason Sommer Dedicated Semester Award for his participation in the Bosnia Memory Project. 

Karadzic, a native of Prijedor and the former head of the “Union of Citizens from the Municipality of Prijedor,” has worked as the University’s liaison with the St. Louis Bosnian Community. He was among the presenters at an Oct. 12 program to mark the exhibit’s opening at SIUE.

As images of war-torn bodies and buildings flashed across the projector screen behind him, Karadzic talked about the psychological strain that the war and genocide has placed on survivors, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. He added that he himself no longer feels at home in Prijedor.  “It’s not my city anymore,” Karadzic said.

Nwacha and several University affiliates also spoke that evening about the vision and purpose behind “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide.”

Patrick McCarthy, project advisor to the exhibit, explained the significance of efforts like the exhibit to Bosnia’s healing and to its future, noting that the Serbian ultranationalists who committed genocide during the war still hold positions of authority in Bosnia and have blocked efforts to memorialize the victims.

“Justice has not come to this region,” Associate Professor of Communication Jasna Meyer later said.

Moore, whose freshman honors seminar class also attended the program, said the exhibit “is about giving people back faces, an identity, a past.”  He also praised the survivors for their strength of character. “When we have worked with survivors we don’t find hatred or bitterness,” he said.

One survivor of the war was present at the ceremony that night: first-year student Belma Cajic and her family escaped from Bosanski Novi, Bosnia on a crowded bus headed for Germany at the beginning of the war.  Cajic said seeing the exhibit was bittersweet. “It’s sad, of course, but it’s good that people are taking notice.  I like that it’s out in the open,” she said.

With little prior background knowledge of the Bosnian war and genocide, Nwacha says she felt “haunted” by the names and faces she encountered while working on the design of the exhibit.

The hardest part is dealing with the content. You have to live with it — it’s with you all the time. I hope that after seeing it, people learn that this can happen again. We need to learn to treasure and respect people,” Nwacha said.

“Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide” will be on display through Nov. 3 at the Morris University Center Gallery.

The gallery’s hours of operation are 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday.

 by Megan Myers

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