At the end of 2003 Bosnian Veselin Gatalo was drinking with his friend — call him Kavanski– and musing on the state of affairs in their war-battered country. The conversation, as reported by Gatalo:
“Do we have any heroes?” I asked Kavanski. I said nothing. I knew he had a ready answer.
“We have Bruce Lee.”
“C’mon!” I said.
We were silent for a while. And then Kavanski said: “Of course! We should erect his monument. Bronze one!”
Then we realised that I… was the president of NGO with no money, premises or phone and that we, as powerful as we were, could do something for our town and our hero.
“You are right, Mr. Kavanski.”
“You are right, too… I mean, you are right that I am right. A hero from our childhood deserves a monument. Non-smoker, non-alcoholic, hated weapon.”
“Yes, “ I said. “No one will wonder what his family was doing in the Second World War. Far away enough but so close to everybody at the same time… He was dear to Serbs, Croats and Muslims… Mr. K., you are a genius,” I said.
So Gatalo phoned around, found people amenable to the idea, and launched a movement to erect a statue of Bruce Lee in Mostar. Ten years before, the city was the scene of fierce fighting. The ancient bridge of Stari Most was destroyed by artillery. Hit teams of Serbs and Croatians murdered Bosnians and each other. There hasn’t been much to cheer about since except that the killing has stopped. Gatalo’s project was cheered.
In November 2005 the bronze statue was unveiled in Mostar. A few hours after the ceremony, it was vandalized, the nunchucks were stolen, and the statue was removed to be repaired. Even so, many other towns in the former Yugoslavia were swept up in the Bruce Lee enthusiasm and resolved to erect statues of their own heroes. In 2007 the Serbian city of Zitiste erected a statue of Rocky Balboa, one very similar to that in Philadelphia.
“Nobody from the wars of the 1990s or from the former Yugoslavia deserves a monument, because all our leaders did was to prevent us from progressing… My generation can’t find role models so we have to look elsewhere. Hollywood can provide an answer.”
Soon other places were putting up statues. The town of Meda said they would create a statue of Johny Weissmuller, who was born in Meda. The statue would depict him as Tarzan “because [Tarzan] began with nothing and managed to survive against all odds in the jungle”. Meda’s city hall wants to remind people that, after World War II, refugees from a number of ethnicities found refuge in Meda: “They needed to be strong just like Tarzan.”
A statue of Bob Marley was erected in Banatski Sokolac and Serb and Croatian groups played at the unveiling, reminding people that Marley “promoted peace and tolerance”. A statue of Tupac Shakur is planned for Belgrade. It will go up in the poorest part of the city, in an area known to be very dangerous. “There is no part of the city that looks more like a ghetto than this.” In fact, the neighborhood is inhabited by gypsies. The idea is to both underscore the plight of the Romany in East Europe and to provide a model for youth.
Not all of these projects have turned out well. When Samantha Fox agreed to perform at an awards ceremony in Cacak, the city decided to put up her statue. But after Fox endured shouts of “Show us your tits!” at the concert she ignored the dedication ceremony and only a bare pedestal bearing the words “The Rumour” marks the concept.
The construction of monuments to pop culture figures is called Turbo Sculpture from 1980s songwriter Rambo Amadeus (yes) who said:
Folk is the people. Turbo is a system of injecting fuel under pressure into the motor cylinder with internal combustion. Turbo-folk is a burning of a nation. Turbo-folk is not music. Turbo-folk is the beloved of the masses. Awakening of the lowest human desires. I did not invent Turbo-folk, I gave it its name.
The term “Turbo” became applied to a great deal of post-war culture in the former Yugoslavia — Turbo TV, Turbo Politics, Turbo Architecture. The Turbo idea in general rejects the nationalist and extreme ethnic views of the wartime period and refuses to accept the leaders and fighters of that era as heroes. The painter Mileta Prodanovic served on a committee to create a monument to those lost in the war. The committee dissolved after being unable to agree on a design. Prodanovic sees value in Turbo Sculpture:
These Hollywood monuments are a subversive response [to the governments of that time], which they are mocking. People realize that many of our soldiers in the wars of the 1990s were criminals who stole, robbed and killed. So people are searching for alternative role models and this is a healthy rejection of nationalism.
Not everyone thinks highly of Turbo Sculpture. Milica Tomic, an artist who also served on the committee, said:
This turning to Rocky or Tarzan is unhealthy and dangerous.We need to find a way of representing our grief, our responsibility and our despair. Until we do that, Serbia cannot come to terms with the present and the future.
Tomic represents grief, etc. by decorating herself with fake wounds and posing for photographs. She is a very serious artist. Turbo Sculpture lacks seriousness. And, of course, despair.
Sometimes people who think a lot about conceptual art cannot recognize a non-grant funded concept that is right in front of them.
The major essay on Turbo Sculpture is linked several times above and here. It was also available in a narrated slide-show here but I can no longer get the thing to play for me probably because Vimeo hates Canada.