Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Wound Culture

Visual Representations of Cultural Trauma in Serbia

Dr. Daniel Šuber, Slobodan Karamanić


The research project deals with the development of visual culture in Serbia since the 1980s until the present, thereby concentrating on three major issues:

  1. how the visual culture has been impregnated with Milošević’s politics of nationalization and mobilization during the second half of the 1980s;
  2. to what extent visual representations have to be perceived and analyzed as another mobilizing factor per se;
  3. if a distinctive and characteristic culture of visual perception can be discerned in Serbian everyday life culture.

These issues shall be addressed by focusing on graffiti culture in Serbia. Even within the field of Visual Cultural Studies graffiti has been neglected as an autonomous political factor and outcome of a particular visual regime. This is even more significant with regard to the Balkans. Our analysis thus aims at exploring the micro-political effects of graffiti. By this approach we also seek to rebut the widespread view according to which the vast majority of Serbian population succumbed to the seductive nationalist rhetoric of the Milošević regime as an apposite explanation of the outbreak of the Balkan wars.

One of the starting points of this endeavor is derived from an analysis of Serbian war movies produced in the wake of the 1990s wars (Šuber, forthcoming). Taken together, they display all features of a collectively traumatized society to an extent that had led interpreters to apply the term “wound culture” (Krstić 2000) to it. This wounded culture, according to another hypothesis of the project, reiterates the ancient Kosovo narrative which itself has been reinvented during Milošević’s “Kulturrevolution” (Garde) since 1986. This narrative was also configured along a traumatological structure (Šuber 2004). Thus, the visual culture of the 1990s must be set against the background of the political events of the 1980s. This constellation allows for exploring the crucial question concerning a cultural sociology whether the effectiveness of cultural patterns and mental maps are eventually dependent on micro-sociological transpositions to the micro level. With regard to the case in question we might consequently address the issue whether we must ascribe cultural trauma to Serbian collective identity even long before the actual outbreak of war in the 1990ies and classify it as one of its foremost generating preconditions (Alexander et al. 2004). Graffiti, according to our principal methodological assumption, have to be viewed as a central cultural transmitter of collective images to the sphere of everyday life.