The Dumbo Arts Center (DAC) is pleased to present Battlefields, an exhibition of photographic works by Nebojsa Seric-Shoba. Taken over a 10 year period (from 1999 to 2009), the featured works, documentations of actual battlefields, call into question the autonomy of “place”: the disparity that exists between historical events and the geographic locations in which they occur. Apart from the occasional historic marker or didactic memorial plaque, little visual evidence remains to distinguish one site from another, a disconnect that evokes the transient nature of history, the arbitrary lines of the battlefield and the universality of the theaters of war.
Conscripted to fight in defense of his hometown of Sarajevo during the Bosnian civil war, (1992 – 1995), Nebojsa Seric-Shoba served the majority of his military mandate digging trenches amidst the bodies that littered the battlefield. It is from these wartime experiences that the artist developed a profound sense of distrust for a political machine that saw neighbors taking aim at neighbors, firing across seemingly arbitrary lines of demarcation. Eventually this experience led him to the sober realization that the “history of the human race… can be seen as a history of conflicts,” the majority of which “are destined to be forgotten, buried beneath the surface of history.”
The artist’s subsequent travels found him photographing numerous battlefields, including those at Waterloo, Gallipoli, Troy, Verdun, Normandy, Istanbul, Gettysburg and Kursk. The majority of these sites now see few visitors, and those that do serve primarily as tourist attractions for the morbidly-inclined, visiting only briefly in an attempt to capture the remnants of a history that has long since departed.
The exhibition, Battlefields, at DAC features The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 (2009). Also known as The Battle of Long Island, It was the first major battle of the American Revolutionary War. Tellingly, the current riverside park lying opposite the DAC building marks the actual point of retreat of George Washington and his newly-conscripted Army, a fitting link between past and present at this historic Brooklyn location. The immediate aftermath of this pivotal battle, after which the British held New York City for the remainder of the war, was the burning of nearly a quarter of the city’s buildings.
As competing social, cultural, and linguistic incarnations make it nearly impossible to lay claim to any fixed idea of national history or identity, the relationship between history and place has become a struggle for the possession of the past. In reframing our history through the focused lens of these battlefields, the artist asks us to consider them less as fixed landscapes, and more as part of a living history, with the many memories and points of view that such a history evokes.