– Autumn/Winter 2006

Tyranny and Tribalism: The Art of Ivan Grubanov

Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt

Ivan Grubanov, image from the Study of My Father: A Relation to the Origin, 2004, slide projection, 73 images. Courtesy of the artist

Ivan Grubanov, image from the Study of My Father: A Relation to the Origin, 2004, slide projection, 73 images. Courtesy of the artist

On 11 September 1993, respected war reporter Robert Fisk walked into a decimated mosque in Bosnia and commented on camera, 'When I see things like this, I wonder what the Muslim world has in store for us.'1 The destruction of religious emblems and artefacts is nothing new.

Towards the end of the Roman Empire, there is evidence to suggest that widespread iconoclasm accompanied the forcible replacement of paganism with Christianity.2 In contemporary Kosovo - where an estimated 863,000 Kosovo Albanians (90% of the ethnic group population) were expelled and at least 100,000 Serbs (accounting for half the former Serbian population) were forced to flee retaliation - many Serbian orthodox churches have been destroyed as a symbol of the Serbian rule that the Kosovo war sought to end.3 Serbian artist Ivan Grubanov recently completed a series of drawings that hint at an inventory of the icons lost to posterity during this rout. With delicate lines, he traced the fragmented outlines of cupolas and captured the chains of frescoed saints, simultaneously stripping the source material of its potency. The motivation behind the Afterimages series (2006) does not, however, seem to be confined to empathy with his countrymen in their enforced exodus or outrage at any sacrilegious intent (Grubanov has noted the 'evil Christian European heritage' of Serbia).4 Neither does this work seem to be concerned with religion per se, but with the systematic erasure of symbols that hold meaning for particular groups of people. Grubanov's nascent practice reads as an attempt to understand something about the underlying impulses that give rise to destructive behaviour, which warrants further investigation.


  1. Robert Fisk, Beirut to Bosnia, 1993.

  2. Eberhard Sauer, The Archaeology of Religious Hatred in the Roman and Early Medieval World, Gloucester: Tempus, 2003.

  3. 'Human Rights in Kosovo: As Seen, As Told, vol.1, October 1998 - June 1999', www.osce.org.

  4. Ivan Grubanov in conversation with Avis Newman and Martjintje Hallmann, Documents, Amsterdam: Rijksakademie, 2006.

  5. Dragan Plavsic, 'Balkans', Anti-Imperialism: A Guide for the Movement, London: Bookmarks, 2003.

  6. Tony White, Another Fool in the Balkans: in the Footsteps of Rebecca West, London: Cadogan, 2006, p.232.

  7. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New York: Viking Press, 1963.

  8. T. White, op. cit., p.128.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ivan Grubanov in Documents, op. cit.

  11. Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo, London: Jonathan Cape, 1969, p.50.

  12. Ibid., p.51.

  13. Anthony Storr, Human Aggression, London: Penguin, 1968.

  14. L. Harrison Matthews, 'Overt Fighting in Mammals', in John Dennis Carthy and F.T. Ebling (eds.), The Natural History of Aggression, London and New York: Academic Press, 1964, p.32.

  15. See Richard C. Lewontin, The Doctrine of DNA: Biology as Ideology, London: Penguin, 1993.