Culture, Travel & Sport

A Bosnian artist’s handbook for migrants

The only walls we should build should be those which teach us how human freedom must be our greatest achievement.

With these words, Bosnian artist Mladen Miljanović begins his handbook, Didactic Wall, a guide for migrants to survive their journey across the Balkan country.

The book was exhibited in the City Gallery of Bihać, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina close to the Croatian border, the gateway to the European Union. Mr Miljanović took the drawings and texts created for the book and engraved them into a large composition on a marble panel.

“The basic idea of this handbook is that there is no unnecessary or misleading knowledge, but only the possibility of being misused,” writes Mr Miljanović in the book’s foreword.

His military training gave him the inspiration to draw and to write the guide: each page describes a different barrier to overcome, whether to move and survive in tough weather conditions, to pass through fences, to orientate and move during the night, to facilitate the movement of the elderly, the children, or how to give first aid to the injured.

All in simple, instructional, black and white line drawings, accompanied by brief descriptive texts in Arabic, English, Spanish, and Urdu.

“Art is a field that can transform any kind of knowledge into a positive context and thus the society within which it operates or intervenes,” he continues. “The Didactic Wall is an artistic local intervention that educationally and didactically seeks to intervene in the shadow of the current burning problem of migration movements both on the local level and across the globe. The whole project does not seek to exploit the hard times of migration by artistic means, but by trying to make it easier and to point out the necessity of empathy and help on that long and difficult path.”

“Miljanović’s work takes a clear stand that migrants and refugees, as collateral victims of disastrous policies, have the absolute right to be accepted, socialised and integrated into the mainstream of the developed West,” commented curator Irfan Hošić.

In the town of Bihać, refugees are trying to cross the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia daily. During the summer hundreds of migrants and refugees were housed in an improvised tent camp in a forest, with no toilet, no running water and no electricity, despite protests from the United Nations and International Office of Migration (IOM), over the conditions.

“For the migrants and refugees, Bihać has become a place on the edge in the literal meaning of the expression,” said Mr Hošić. “The place of imprisonment between two realities – one that they are headlessly running away from, and the other – they are madly running to.”

The book specifically targets those people in need. It is very light so that it can be carried around; the black and white text makes it easy to read even when there is no natural light; and it heavily relies on images so that also people that cannot read will be able to understand it.

Ironically it can also save lives: the author inserted a pouch of flammable powder in the cover which can be burned as a flare to signal for help.

“In case of emergency, to reveal your location roll up this book and burn it,” read the book’s final words.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.