Safet Zec: I live in my micro world with ordinary people

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Safet Zec FOTO: IVAN ŠEBALJ

Conscious of ourselves and the environment, also the fact that life is not a race, but a journey in which a citizen should be a worthy one, the most prominent among us are trying to persist in this, and the acquired knowledge and wisdom from that path, they unselfishly share with all those who are keen on knowledge and wisdom.

Among these is one of the greatest BH painters, Safet Zec, and you will more often see him on Sarajevo streets while walking, alone or in the company, talking to “ordinary citizens”, as well as in local cafes drinking coffee, then at some great ceremonies where distinguished personalities like himself tend to come.

The public knows you as the great artist, those closer to you know that you are an “ordinary” man. Who is essentially Safet Zec?

– I come from a family of artisans, I see myself in some ordinariness, and I live that way. I most certainly like compliments, or when people hug me on the street, or when they push each other saying, “There’s Safet Zec“. But I always live in my own micro world with ordinary people in the market, in cafes, places where newspapers are sold. Somehow, I was always avoiding living with people who belong to my guild.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is so ubiquitous in your works, and although you live in several world addresses, you have devoted many cycles to it. What has helped you to persist all these years, to remain faithful to yourself, to your Bosnia? When was the hardest period in your artistic life?

-When you graduate, then you start thinking where will you sleep, what will you eat. So I was working all the time. It is fortunate that it corresponded with my art dreams and visions. In Belgrade, I lived in conditions which lacked dignity, in some settlements that do not belong to me, because I was a child of čarsija, so I was suffering a lot in that period. It was the time when Sarajevo and Bosnia had not yet had the Academy … In the beginning of the last war I was in Sarajevo, and when I left for Italy, I came to realized how insignificant was this Yugoslavian career. There was a terrible need for re-proving, because by that time I had nothing. I guess this tragedy turned me to the only force that I was aware of, which is the work. That kept me all these years. Luckily, I carry such genes, so until this day I’m in the studio all day  long.

It’s fascinating that you are not tired yet. You have been on the stage for a long time, and you have gained audience’s attention, especially on a world level, because of your engagements in Italy; primarily with your work, “The Deposition of Christ” which adorns the central Roman Jesuit church, the chapel “Della Passione”, and then last year the Venetian exhibition “Exodus”.

-What happened in Venice is a miracle. I already had works dedicated to the tragedy, but I agreed to make this appeal to make everyone understand what migrants, who seek salvation in Europe, are going through. I knew that it had to be large in size, in order to make sense, and I worked day and night. When we set it up, I realized it was worth it. It sounds unbelievable, but I saw the whole story of ‘Exodus’ when we placed it in the Venetian church of Santa Maria della Pieta, because the formats are really huge. And when it was placed, I sat down and lit a cigar, as I did in Rome. Emotions just dashed.

In order to remind,  the exhibition was open for seven months, and it was visited by more than a thousand people on a daily basis. That’s not all. The fact that Venice wants to redeem your exhibit speaks of how successful was it indeed.

-The committee of prominent Venetians has been formed recently, and they are now seeking sponsors to buy it. It’s remarkable what happened there, it’s a motor that runs a man. Because, I have been in Venice since 1998, and only with my own energy and quality, I managed to reach a moment that is rare in some careers, and that is the fact that one city, to which you don’t belong, respects you so much, and gives you recognition for one work, a group of works. A catalog for this exhibition has been printed for three times, more than 200,000 people saw it, and seeing their reactions when they get acquainted with my work was really special. And I’m really proud that we exhibited Exodus in the church and the chapels, it was nice to have that standing somewhere as a whole. These are works that do not look for walls, they hang, they are like some big cloths … and many trips are waiting for them. The first stations are political parliaments, places where those who can decide in some way are sitting. So, ‘Exodus’ will be in Parliament in Rome, and then in Brussels. The point is that these cloths are exposed, to speak of one great human tragedy.

I know that it’s hard for artists to separate the works, but I will dare to ask you, do you have one favorite, or maybe even the whole cycle of favorites?

-I have constant enthusiasm for a single figure of Victory, those white shirts, opus of coffee pots, and I made maybe only 10 or 12 of those … In each period there are works that have succeeded more than others. Everything happened for some reason. All my understanding of the work is in fact looking for meaning, entering the area where you have an answer. My Belgrade life, pictures from the 70’s and 80’s, it was a pure sentiment. And when I was done with Belgrade, I asked myself, “Safet, what will you do with that now?” and I said to myself: “You are thinking of your mother, that house, road, rooms, you are thinking about that, this is a process which makes you happy and it lasts.” That’s how it all ended on my canvases.

I know that calls for new exhibitions are coming to you constantly. Did you manage to agree on something? Three are currently open in Abacio, Pula and Udine.

-I will have an exhibition in Mostar in the spring. I will consider this consent to be my appeal. I am preparing new works, and I will put a wonderful text of Ivo Andrić “Zapis o Mostaru”, because I do not understand their divisions, as I do not quite understand it in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It awakens indignation in me.

Apart from painting greatly, you play the guitar with same passion, you relax with classical music. In Počitelj, you are a “tenant” to small swallows, there you make excellent juice from the pomegranates, play soccer, arrange vines, sprout fruit, pick medicinal herbs … Describe one of your days?

-I like to get up early. Then if I’m in Sarajevo, I must go to one of the cafes where I drink coffee. If I’m in Počitelj I do gymnastics in the morning, I walk in the evening. Sarajevo completes me in fact, I go often to the Chamber Theater to attend performances, I’m looking forward to meeting people from this art world …