Harun Mehmedinovic: ‘Storytelling Exists to Empower People’

By Aleksandra Dukovska


Interview Highlights
Small presence of Balkan in the news                       

Technology has distanced us from live communication

Storytelling  is there to empower people

After the fear is gone, is there any room for a new image of Balkan countries in the Western World?

Harun Mehmedinovic: I think there is as long as people from those countries adopt a wordly point of view. Balkan needs international representatives, public faces. Outside of a handful of artists, Balkans is far behind all of Europe and most of the Middle East, Americas and Asia as far as presence in the arts. There is as little Balkan presence in the international arts scene as there is from rural Africa except for African artists because of the shortage of resources it’s far harder to make headway. Balkan doesn’t have that excuse. In Balkans the problem lies in the general cultural attitude to enforce averageness.                   

Is it hard to build bridges between cultures?  

Harun MehmediinovicIt’s ultimately all about communication and familiarity. Language has its communication limits but arts do not, so perhaps arts should be  at the forefront of exchange of cultural values. However, with the globalization, dissolution of cultures as we know them now is all but inevitable, this is one planet now. This brings many challenges, especially in the storytelling sphere. 

The history of storytelling has been man vs. unknown, stories often universal, are still rooted in local context, local value systems. With breakdown of borders, increase of technology, planet is shrinking. It’s hard to find “answers” for an individual by merely leaving one’s place of birth like it was 1000 or even 100 years ago. There is a paradox of modern times; we have never been more connected but never more disconnected.

I recall the polish author Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s play “The Crazy Locomotive” written at the turn of last century, which essentially states: “technology will speed up life, and therefore, send us faster to the gave”. Well, technology has sped things up, it’s opened doors to just about all parts of the planet, we can reach out to anyone in seconds, yet people have never been more medicated or depressed in history. Perhaps they are not getting what they really want, which are what Campbell refers to as “the rapture of being alive.”

The modern life has made us more “safe” and “comfortable” and therefore removed all rites of passage where we earn our identity instead of having one sold or prescribed to us. Technology has distanced us from live communication and all its nuances. Sense of adventure is being drained from society and with it the “rapture of feeling alive” and the values gained from facing one’s own fears and obstacles in the process.

Where is the connection between Rumi and your photographs?

One of the influences for my project is Rumi, or lets just call it the entire tradition of Sufism that has highly influenced Bosnia and countries north of Iran, especially some of the ex-Soviet republics in that area.

The idea of letting go of systems and forms of control, indulging in love, but lets call it passion as it extends beyond just relations to other people. Rumi’s poetry taps into the primal, into the very basic passion that lies in everyone, into some natural human values such as love and freedom.

I had an interest to do an art project with some friends of mine who aren’t usually into the arts, and this idea of asking them to take a day out of their lives, away from their 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. jobs, away from their responsibilities and dysfunctions of organized society.

Scotty Dickert Ariel Belkin_CA

The idea was to not plan anything but perhaps the first place, give in to spontaneity and improvisation, and see where things go without trying too hard to steer them into some direction. It is quite Rumiesque, if you recall one of his pieces about “letting go,” something we all deep down feel like we need to blow off some steam of everyday life:


             “Very little grows on jagged rock.

               Be ground. Be crumbled.

               So wild flowers will come up.

               Where you are.

               You have been stony for too many years.

               Try something different. Surrender”

Perhaps taking one out of their daily environment, allowing them to behave as they deep down want, whether it be wild, infantile, almost drunk-like is very much along the lines much that Rumi writes about. It’s a return to primal needs and wants. And what better environment for art? Think of it as if a band went away somewhere to create their new record.

Harun Mehmedinovic: Storytelling Exists to Empower People

The core of Bloodhoney photo project is people to something extraordinary outside their usual work environment. Sanja Bestic jump photographed by Harun Mehmedinovic in Columbia Icefield, Canada

It’s about play; passion, spontaneity and improvisation, some of the best things come from that state. We live in a world where right brain, the empathetic/emotional side, is further and further shut out living in a world built by left brain (which has all but removed the nature, especially in the cities), organized by left brain (structures of living, 9-5, etc.) where individuals live not in the moment, not in the immediate, but in some plan/concoction of expectations (on their own and those of around them, and the society at large). And where are the arts? Completely marginalized.

What about invention?

People who think outside the box are hardest to come by today, since it takes connection with universe, with “chaos,” with the sublime to think beyond the parameters set by the left side of the brain.

The society is essentially run by fear and paranoia, the idea that structure must be there or else it will be total and utter chaos, that we must fear everything and prevent everything. It seeks everything to be demystified. It knows nothing of adventure and passion. It, in other words, makes tools of people.

Perhaps it is time for arts to try to balance that out somewhat, if that is even remotely possible. Storytelling is there to empower people, remove fear, encourage them to go on adventures, be childlike in most positive ways, and this project is very much about that.   


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