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Gian Luca Palazzolo: Sarajevo defined me as an artist

The Italian artist Gian Luca Palazzolo, better known by his artistic name Libicocco, painted sevdah, more specifically, the emotions that this traditional Bosnian music awakens in a person. In fact, the author has come up with a specific way to express emotions and feelings arising from sevdah through his visual art. He came up with the idea that flowers and plants that come out of human skin are a way to express the pain that letting out our emotions can bring, but also the beauty of that process, the love that comes out.

The exhibition with the symbolic name “Sevdah/Salvans” was his first independent exhibition in his career, which was first seen by the citizens of Sarajevo, namely in the Museum of Literature and Theater Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to sevdah, another term for the name of the exhibition – Selvans is actually the name for an Etruscan deity who protects forests. The Etruscans are a mysterious people who lived in the area of today’s Italy between 900 and 800 BC. In this way, the author combined two inspirations and two cultures, and connected Bosnia and Herzegovina and Italy in a unique way.

With this exhibition, Gian Luca returned for the third time to Sarajevo, “the city of his soul”, as he calls it. In the National Museum of BiH, he revealed in an interview for Visit BiH magazine how much his story about sevdah and the Selvans actually makes sense, as well as how BiH and Italy are really connected on that level.

Your works are inspired by sevdah. What enchanted you so much in this traditional Bosnian song?

-What really inspired and enchanted me about sevdah are strong emotions. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Bosnian yet, but I feel those emotions. It is a mixture of music, voice and melody. I think it speaks to everyone on a very deep level, deeper than we can imagine. As I have tried to show in my paintings, it is something that grows within us and then comes out in all its pain and beauty.

You have stayed in BiH several times. Which cities have you visited, and what particularly delighted you – people, food, history, culture…?

– Yes, I’ve been here three times in total. The first time as a tourist, the second time I was a participant in an international art colony, and the third time because of an exhibition. I stayed in Sarajevo most of the time, but I still had the opportunity to see Mostar, Konjic, Počitelj and Blagaj. I found a country with beautiful, wild nature. I also had the opportunity to discover more about the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the National Museum, I discovered an incredible and mysterious past. But I think what I liked the most was the people I met. Everyone is so friendly, proud and welcoming, always with a smile on their face, always ready to talk seriously, laugh, and make me feel at home.

You said that Sarajevo is the city of your soul. How it happened. What makes Sarajevo so special for you?

– I’m not really sure what the charm of Sarajevo is. But I felt it from the first day, when I went to a bar to drink coffee in the morning, when I saw people playing chess in the square, or when I almost stood on the “Sarajevo rose” and felt that I had to go around it, out of respect, and even when I got lost in the streets of Baščaršija. It is a city that has suffered a lot and yet is so open, so full of energy. There are people from different cultures and everyone brings something. It’s like a mosaic, lots of different colours and maybe it’s hard to understand what the picture is, but you can’t stop looking at it and loving it. In many ways it is similar to the city where I was born, Livorno, so full of different people from all over the world, so friendly and always up for a joke. Maybe I’m drawn to that mix of similarities and differences. And I may never fully understand what I love about Sarajevo, but I can’t stop loving it!

You had your first solo exhibition in Sarajevo, on the topic of sevdah. It seems that this city has returned your love, because in Italy you are constantly promoting the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina with your works. If you would recommend your friends to come to BiH, what would you tell them, why should they come?

– I have to be careful, because when I’m with my friends I always end up talking about Sarajevo! And I always recommend it, because it is a city where everyone can feel at home and find their place. I tell them that they should not visit certain places, not in a “tourist” way, but let them just walk, get lost, look around and let the atmosphere of Sarajevo embrace and guide them. You just have to sit with a Bosnian coffee and watch all these different people walking around. That’s how Sarajevo gets you.

Can we expect you again in BiH, as a tourist or with some new project?

– You think you’re going to get rid of me? Oh, of course I’ll come again! Now I have real friends in Sarajevo, and you can’t stay away from friends for long. I hope to be able to come back and bring my art again, but I would use it to be a tourist and visit different places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I know that my life can no longer be separated from Sarajevo.

Did you find new inspiration after sevdah?

– I think I got a lot of inspiration from visiting the National Museum and discovering the ancient history and culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have always been attracted to mythology and old gods, and in the first room of the museum I found many “old friends”, even the god Selvan, after whom my exhibition is titled! Art in Sarajevo has so many different inspirations, since it comes from different cultures and religions. I want to explore it and I think I will come up with a project in time.

How important was the connection with Sarajevo in your professional career, did it open any new paths for you in your homeland?

-Sarajevo is a turning point in my artistic career. In 2019, I was invited somewhere officially as an artist to the art colony for the first time, and now with Sevdah/Selvans I had my first solo exhibition in a museum, with the media. This is the first time I can officially say that I am an artist. I returned to Italy with more confidence in my work, with pride. People mention Sarajevo when they talk about me and my new works and exhibitions, so I think it really helped me and it defines me as an artist. My career, my life and my soul will always be tied to Sarajevo.