Bigger than Myself: Heroic Voices from ex-Yugoslavia

Unsung heroes, but human beings capable of influencing the course of political events and history: it is to them, to these civil heroes who often remain invisible and silent, to solidarity, and to the great ideals that today more than ever before are needed, that this exhibition is dedicated: “Bigger than Myself. Heroic Voices from Ex-Yugoslavia” curated by Zdenka Badovinac with Giulia Ferracci, to be held in Galleria 3 at the MAXXI the National Museum of 21st Century Arts from May 5 to September 12, 2021.

A composite and complex mosaic of almost one hundred works by over sixty artists from the former Yugoslav countries that tells not just the difficult story of a territory traversed over the centuries by wars, conflicts, and instability, but also describes the utopistic of a country – Socialist Yugoslavia – initially built on the idea of brotherhood between nations and unity among workers.

From the days of World War II to the drama of civil wars, from the processes of independence until more recent years, these artists come to terms with their history, reinterpreted through the gestures of those heroes who, in different ways and at different times, sacrificed their lives for others in the name of a higher ideal, “greater than them,” as the title of the exhibition tells us.

But the exhibition is more about the present than about the past, It speaks about our time of globalization, consumerism,  power based on new technology, environmental and refugees’ crisis. We live in times that are increasingly dominated by cynicism, by fear of the other, by consumerism, and by the dramatic consequences of a model of a hypercompetitive society that is increasingly individualistic, the exhibition “Più grande di me” aims to bear a message of peace, liberty, equality, brotherhood, and sustainability.

As Giovanna Melandri, President of Fondazione MAXXI says: “For many years, MAXXI has explored the artistic ferment that has grown behind the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern horizon, in areas where the historical wounds are yet to heal. It is the common thread of our research, a tool of “cultural diplomacy” that aims to offer, through the knowledge and dissemination of art, a possible reinterpretation of the past and a light with which to explore the future. This exhibition describes the artistic scene of a territory, shaken over the centuries by multiple upheavals. The voices and sensitivity of the artists exhibited here explore the deep entanglement between nationalisms and the torsions of extractive capitalism; they tell of another vision concerning the person and the community. Upon closer examination, they evoke a different, social, sustainable Europe, in which identities and cultures can coexist and enrich one another. Perhaps this is the challenge we should all be engaged in.”

Hou Hanru, MAXXI’s Artistic Director, stated: “This project is a new step of MAXXI’s continuous research focus on the interactions between Italy and the Mediterranean region, bringing further the manifestation of the dynamics that constantly form and reform the artistic cultural, and geopolitical space of what we call Europe, a mutating region that is key to restructuring of the globalized world”.

Zdenka Badovinac says: “For this exhibition, I conceived the concept that describes two forces that are “bigger than myself,” which means bigger than us, individuals. One is an idea, a value, for which one would be willing to die. It refers to heroism, to the question: “what are relevant heroic gestures today?” The other is about the global capital, a total power that dominates everything today.

It is true that the exhibition speaks primarily of this duality hidden in its title, the duality between the ideal and the pragmatic, but at the same time, it overcomes this duality by bringing into its narrative the third element. It should be emphasized here that both aspects, idealistic and pragmatic, are explicitly human. However, this is only apparently so, as the third force, a non-human voice, the voice of nature, is present throughout the exhibition”.