After the realization of the last program in the Kontekst Gallery, on November the 13th, 2010, Kontekst team informed the public about its decision to end the project Kontekst Gallery and continue its work through Kontekst platform only. In the issued press release the reasons of ceasing the work of Kontekst Gallery in the Cultural Centre “Stari Grad”: “After March 2010 and the establishment of Cultural Institution “Parobrod” – which took over the function and the public space of the Municipal Cultural Center “Stari grad”; and due to various pressures in the form of an official demand to vacate the working facilities, as well as the refusal of communication by the new management – we made a decision to end our work in this space. However, our decision to close Kontekst gallery is to a grater extent caused by our disagreement with the policy of the new cultural institution. This policy is only a symptom of the new cultural policy in Serbia in which culture is conceived as an instrument in the process of European integration, nominal implementation of human rights and tolerance, as well as the process of culturalization of society in order to create apolitical subjects for the dominant ideology – while structurally and systematically retrograde social values such as: nationalism, clero-fascism, hegemony of patriarchal matrix, intolerance towards all kinds of otherness etc., are still being reproduced.”
As a reaction to this press release Građanske inicijative (Civic Initiatives) issued a press release supporting Kontekst Gallery stating that “Civic Initiatives are supporting the decision, future work and activities of Kontekst Gallery and are calling other civil society’s organizations as well as institutions of culture to do the same.”
The public reaction titled “Space for political party’s youth” by an artist Darinka Pop-Mitić and a theoretician Svebor Midžić followed. Besides other, it was said that “the city authorities and right wing organizations obviously agree that contemporary arts is something that should be on margin and should have its place in ghetto. Instead of art exhibitions, visual arts program of the new institution of culture will be filled with the exhibiting activities of political party’s youth as well as with tame and appropriate topics such as ecology and incorrect parking. There, where were previously contemporary arts, now will be ecological light bulb.”
Walking Theory, a platform for theory and practice of performing arts issued an open letter to the City Secretariat for Culture protesting harshly against “the way and reasons because of which Kontekst Gallery stopped to work” within the institution of culture Parobrod. It was stated that “such displacing of those who have been for years constituting, not only locally but also regionally and internationally recognized cultural production of Belgrade can not be accepted and it represents part of the broader negative principle of local transition in culture that must be recognized and suppressed…We appeal the City Secretariat for Culture to reflect about the historical moment in which Serbia is in the time of transition, the moment when socialist cultural-political model is not entirely suspended and new and neo-liberal capitalist is still not established. This moment is unique because it opens the possibility to achieve social consensus about art as public good, and thus obstruct that it is thrown on the marked as a commodity.”
Škart, Dah Theatre, Grup Monument, Working group Four faces of Omarska, artist Milica Tomić and Women in Black sent an appeal to the City Secretariat for Culture to “recognize the importance of the work of Kontekst Gallery and demanded that the Secretariat offers to the gallery concrete support providing it with an alternative space for work as there are many such spaces in this city and they are often not in usage or abandoned….We think that destruction of the Cultural Centre “Stari Grad” and Kontekst Gallery – that have been for many years regionally and internationally recognized on the basis of their cultural production – in order to constitute party political institution of culture Parobrod is bad and unacceptable. Of course, for us it is not a secret that this is a consequence of new cultural politics, that departs from the market as a place for self-regulation of the need for the products of culture and thus from the profit based on cultural production. But art is not commodity on the market but it is a public good and its value can not be estimated on the basis of commercial success. Contemporary arts will of course loose the battle with the more profitable fields of cultural industry. We expect the City Secretariat for Culture to demonstrate more understanding when it comes to the further development of contemporary arts.”
STATION service for contemporary dance Belgrade, appeal that the City Secretariat for Culture should find space for the work of the organization Kontekst in which the programs of the association would be organized continually and smoothly. In the letter it is put that “In the time of transition when this type of critical reflection in culture is in every way being suspended on one hand, and on the other the model of entertaining artistic production is pushed, the work of the Kontekst Gallery and similar organizations is of the key importance for the development of Serbian society. Public space for dialogue is necessary basis for the development of Serbian society and organizations that work on providing such public space should be supported not closed down…As responsible and as most important strategic partner of the civil sector in culture, we are addressing you and asking to, in dialogue with Kontekst team, find the solution and thus demonstrate understanding for the situation in which culture in Belgrade is. As further work of Kontekst within the institution Parobrod is impossible it is necessary to find urgently an adequate solution.
Open letter to the City Secretariat for Culture triggerd by the shutting down the project Kontekst Gallery was sent as well by independent artistic associations from Šabac: Stepenice (Stairsway), Assotiation Svetlost (Light) and Kolektiv (Collective) where it was stated: ”we see problems that the association Kontekst faced much more broadly, as a symptom of a new cultural politics that departs from the belief that artistic production must be profitable and competitive i.e. valorized by the laws of the market. It is clear that no space is left for the non-profit organizations that understand culture as public good. Thus, it is clear that the space contemporary arts that previously had will be filled by commercial, profitable contents…With this open letter we want to support our colleagues from the association Kontekst but also to point out to the political actors, media and broad public in Serbia the problems that cultural institutions in Serbia face in the process of transition according to neo-liberal market model.”
An appeal for the providing working conditions to the “censored” Kontekst Gallery was formulated also by the editorial board of the magazine Prelom, magazine for theory, film, and contemporary arts where besides other it was said: “As colleagues and collaborators of the Kontekst Gallery we want to show our discontent and disagreement with ways and reasons because of which Kontekst Gallery stopped to work in the former Cultural Centre “Stari Grad”, i.e. in the present institution of culture Parobrod. We think that repressing cultural actors, that through their years long work have been developing serious and critical approach to the contemporary art practices, on the basis of ensuring the place for the “political party’s youth” of the ruling people in this municipality and development of “colorful urban landscape” of easy going, vivid and socially irrelevant topics, represents unforgivable act of marginalization of culture and its vulgar instrumentalization from the side of ruling political structures.
Kontekst Gallery is one of the most profiled initiatives for displaying and discussing works of young artists from the region – an initiative that successfully bridged the collapse of institutions such was the Center for Contemporary Arts and Yugoslavian Biennale of Young Artists. Through the persistence, self-education, critical approach to the social reality, and braveness to initiate discussion on topics that are rarely discussed (sex work, trafficking, question of nationalism in contemporary arts, etc) the team of Kontekst Gallery created unique space in the cultural-artistic scene in Belgrade. Closing down Kontekst Gallery this space will be lacking, and Parobrod with its program politics can not replace it.
Contemporary art is not commodity, nor space for easy going topics and free time activities!
Contemporary art is a space of imagination, freedom, education, critical thinking, forming of politically aware and responsible social subjects!”