Town as a stage: Bujanovac

“Leave a trace, change the place“

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At the end of October 2017, we gathered a creative youth troupe from two Bujanovac high schools and together went sightseeing and discovering the town: the street and the crossroads, the important meeting places of its inhabitants, their habits, the magic hidden from visitor’s eyes, but also the gaps and flaws these young people would like to fill in and restore…

We gathered on Saturdays and Sundays in the classrooms and halls of the Faculty of Economics in Bujanovac whenever we needed peace and quiet, and often we were on the town square, at the fountain, where we held ad hoc choral performances, took pictures, put posters with slogans and messages for fellow citizens, where we encountered and parted, from where we went further through the town…
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Throughout the process, high school students were encouraged to present their opinions, positions and ideas through various forms of expression: speech, performance, choral singing, slogans and other short narratives, photography. For this, they were preparing through “games” in order to practice team work, confidence and public appearance. Revealing the expression forms went parallel with raising awareness of different identities the youth from Bujanovac may have, as well as recognising the need for social engagement in the local community and designing the ways to achieve the desired changes.

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Initially, we talked about the everyday life of young people in Bujanovac and learned about the town from their perspective:  their favourite places, what they did in school and after school, where they met, what they appreciated, what they lacked, what they would like to change.

The story of the town and identities was launched through the workshops “My Place in My Town” and “People Make the Town”. The high school students built self-portraits through words and photography, defining their own roles in the community. The next task was to portray each other, but also their fellow citizens personally important for them. Out of this action, a mini exhibition of photographs was created, with bakers, clerks, waiters, neighbours – their houses, cars and shops; as well as the participants themselves at their important places and in various situations. The photos were accompanied by witty slogans that explained the situation and described the people. The exhibition was set first in “Sezai Suroi” school and then in “Sveti Sava” school, so that the students could eventually present it to their teachers, during the presentations of the teacher and student research  at the Faculty of Economics.

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During our subsequent encounters, at the workshops “Broader Picture, Broader Frame” and “In the Mirror”, we switched from the topic of personal to the topic of collective identity of the youth. We analysed the photos when only a detail was shown to us, and also when we had a view on the whole picture, in order to conclude that understanding and interpretation is most often conditioned by the context and observation from several different angles. “In the Mirror” dealt with the public perception of the youth in Bujanovac – how young people saw themselves, and how others saw them: parents, teachers, the elderly. Everybody easily agreed that the mirror was a bit distorted on both sides, and that the objective image was somewhere in between. The gap between the wishes and expectations of adults and youth was described as misunderstanding between “traditional” and “modern”, but they stressed that it was possible to find balance if everyone was looking at the situation from the position of “the other”.

In addition to searching for identities, we went searching for words, objects, places … We visited places important and precious for the students, as well as for those who wanted to see changes. The fountain at the town square did not work and the students decided to “revive” it and change its function: it became a stage for choral performances and a public notice board with important messages to fellow citizens: in Serbian and Albanian or by combining words from both languages, so that everyone could understand.

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While searching for words we found out that the Albanian and Serbian languages had many common words, written and pronounced in the same or similar way. Together, we compiled a glossary of such words on a long paper scroll that could be rolled out to the floor and read aloud at the square (similar to the fact that important news were read from the parchment in the Middle Ages). In the next step, we developed a method of learning different words: we compiled slogans in Serbian and Albanian, but in a way that the key word in the sentence was written in another language, for example: Trego osmeh botës/Pokaži buzëqeshjen svetu. In this way, everyone learned a lot of new words…
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The fact that words without actions are not complete was revealed during a series of actions: every search for words became an act of social engagement. Messages with mixed words were put up at the town’s fountain, and each word game became an activist exclamation. At the workshop “Word Recycling” the students listed what they did not like, what scared and annoyed them, and then they were given the task of dividing these words into letters and used the same letters to compile words that signified something good and nice. Out of the words they made speeches – a bit mysterious, a bit twisted, but quite specific to them and suitable for practicing a public appearance… which was our next step…

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Public performance makes many of us feel uncomfortable and not at ease. Our participants practiced and gradually overcame stage fright, and from the podium of the university amphitheatre, they moved to the town square and sang at the fountain, and then held several reruns of the performance during the market day, at various places in the market, when crowd was the biggest.

In order to have as many ideas as possible for performances and actions, we introduced a permanent segment called “Everyday life – from ordinary to extraordinary”, where we presented examples of engaged art from various parts of the world, as well as examples from the Group 484 Educational Program in working with high school students.

High school students were led through this process by Ivana Bogićević Leko, theatre director; Nataša Čakić Simić and Sanja Stamenković, youth workers, with different art techniques, and Tamara Cvetković, from the Group 484 Educational Program. To avoid being lost among the words, Fatos Mustafa and Fidan Fejzuli were in charge of translation.
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In December, we started working with elementary school students from 4 elementary schools, and the high school group continued with activities, this time with Jasminka Petrović, children’s writer, and Vlada Petrović, designer. With Jasminka they talked about the ways in which we could shape reality and make fiction or art from its elements, and with Vlada about different marketing techniques that could be used to convey an important social message. This was an introduction to the conversation about the messages they wanted to send and the channels through which these messages were sent. It was arranged that students create a calendar for 2018, which would send 12 important messages and be some kind of youth and alternative guide through Bujanovac.

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At the following meeting, high school and elementary school students wrote, drew, gave suggestions, discussed and agreed upon the contents, and then all these ideas were textually and visually shaped by Jasminka and Vlada Petrović, together with Illustrator Dobrosav Bob Živković.

Promotion of the calendar, as an end of the year celebration, was held on December 22 in the Cultural Centre “Vuk Karadžić” in Bujanovac. On the large stage, in the full hall, students presented months of the calendar and its messages through the performance directed by Ivana Bogićević Leko.

Download calendar HERE

Watch short MOVIE about the project

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Project: Our town, our schools

Objective: contribution to the development of interculturalism, both in the school environment and in the everyday life of children and adults in Bujanovac.

Implementers: Group 484 (Educational program “We and the Others”) and the Coordination Body of the Government of the Republic of Serbia for the Municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa

Support: Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation

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