On 20 October 2017, during the re-opening ceremony of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, two artists – Vladan Jeremić and Uroš Jovanović – were detained on charges of insulting Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, by using his photograph in two separate performances. The artists were released the same evening due to the lack of a legal basis for the charges, reported art collective ArtLeaks.
Jeremić, a member of ArtLeaks and one of the organizers of the performance Salon of the Unbribables held in front of the museum, was detained due to the use of paper masks resembling the portrait of the Serbian president in his performance. Half an hour after Jeremić was detained, Jovanović was detained after private security guards requested police assistance when the artist attempted to enter the museum with a large framed photograph of the Serbian president, displaying the message: “Aleksandar Vučić – the Best Artist”, as part of his performance. Security had told the artist he could not enter with the photograph and claimed he resisted them.
Both artists claimed their performances did not intend to insult the president, and rather were intended to raise the attention on broader issues that burden Serbian society. Their performances represented artistic responses to the state of silence in culture in general, deeply rooted corruption in all structures of everyday life, as well as autocratic influences on the arts and popular culture, reported Global Voices.
Although several domestic and international colleagues, including two curators from the Museum of Contemporary Arts, condemned the detentions, acting director Slobodan Nakarada claimed that museum security was simply following procedure to protect visitors and the museum’s property, report SEEcult.org.
“Given the fact that these were announced artistic actions that were non-violent, and they did not endanger anyone, it is obvious that this is a typical case of censorship, which occurred in front of an institution that should be the pillar of freedom of expression and respect for contemporary art, which implies a critical attitude towards different social appearances and phenomena”, stated artist platform Association Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia.