Milena Dragićević Šešić

Culture of Dissent, Art of rebellion. Psychiatric hospital as a Theater Stage: Zorica Jevremović, an Artist in Inner Exile

In Belgrade in-between 1991-1995 theatre professionals have faced numerous dilemmas: to fight nationalism & pressures on non-Serbian artists; to leave institutional theatres in order to create their own workspaces; to stop participating in public life or – just to “be actors” performing in comedies and vaudeville that dominated Belgrade’s repertory theatres. Few artists & intellectuals have withdrawn from active participation in theatre life both from institutional and alternative theatres. After removal of Vida Ognjenovic as a director of national theater, five best actors left the theatre and traditional audience started to boycott it. In the same time, few artists had left KPGT, the most influential alternative theatre in the 80-ies, showing their dissent to political involvement of its leader Ljubisa Ristic. Among them was dramaturge Zorica Jevremović, who in March 1992 organized exhibition and in April the whole program devoted to Bosnia (Bosna – ljudski tragovi) in Student Cultural centre. Later that year she has chosen the psychiatric hospital Laza Lazarevic for her theatre work (1992-1995). Besides Dah theatre antiwar performances, this was the most engaged form of theatre practice in Belgrade in that moment.

Jevremović alternative theatre was active in the departments M, L, and F where she led different artistic workshops gathering an artistic ensemble composed of professional artists, amateurs (doctors and their families), and patients. Theatre shows and performances have been done in different spaces inside and outside of the hospital. Each show gathered around hundred spectators invited to interact with actors. This complex experience was finished in 1995, being forbidden by the hospital director fearing its exposure in the outside public space.

This paper will try to assess meaning and importance of this alternative theatrical project elaborated within culture of dissent (sharing sense of shame and guilt). Supported by civil society movements and intellectual and artistic community which could not find its place in official system, these theatre experiences have been an attempt for recreation of “normality” in a closed and frustrated society facing wars, refugee flows, media war & hatred. In that moment there was no public spaces of dissent (etatisation of cultural system happened in summer 1992 by new law). Radio B92 was the only platform for gathering peace activists and independent intellectuals. Visual artists turned to private homes as exhibition spaces (Milica Tomic, exhibition Private-Public), musicians to jazz clubs and restaurants, young students of architecture found non-used Sugar factory for their project X, and Zorica Jevremović entered in a psychiatric hospital as a paradigm of that days Serbia (psychiatrists like Raskovic & Kecmanovic described Serbs using psychiatric vocabulary even prior to war and dissolution of the country).

A closed institution such as a psychiatric hospital became a free platform for patients (out of whom many with war trauma), theater artists, doctors and nurses, to discuss and to express their traumas and dilemmas in highly ideologically and socially divided society. Research will combine interviews, performance analysis, narrative analysis, interviews and my own notes as spectator-participant.


Milena Dragićević Šešić is the former President of University of Arts, Belgrade, now Head of the UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and Mediation, professor of Cultural Policy & Cultural Management, Cultural & Media Studies at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts Belgrade. She is a Member of the Joint Academic Board for Master in International Performance Research (MAIPR), held by the University of Warwick, Trinity College Dublin and University of Arts Belgrade. She is a Member of the Steering committee of Cultural Policy Research Award (European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam). Member of the Board of the European Diploma in Cultural Project Management (Foundation Marcel Hicter, Bruxelles), and of Interuniversity Center Dubrovnik. Former Chair of Art & Culture Subboard of OSF (Soros network).

She was appointed a a Lecturer at the European Diploma in Cultural Project Management, Brussels; the Moscow School of Social and Economical Sciences; the CEU Budapest; the University of Lyon II; the Iagelonian University Krakow, the Jyvaskula University, Finland; the University for Culture, Riga; the Lasalle College Singapore; the University of Bufallo, US: NYU, Columbia University, etc. She published 15 books and more than 150 essays. Among them: Art and alternative; Urban spectacle; Horizons of reading; Indian Theater: from tradition to activism, Art management in turbulent times: adaptable quality management (with S. Dragojevic); Culture: management, animation, marketing (with B. Stojkovic), Intercultural mediation in the Balkans (with S. Dragojevic); Neofolk culture; Vers les nouvelles politiques culturelles… Translated in English, French, German, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Macedonian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Turkish, Mongolian, Arabic & Chinese.