Azra Akšamija


Bosnia- Herzegovina, Europe
  • Photo: Alicia Guirao/Factum Arte
  • copyright: Azra Akšamija
  • copyright: Azra Akšamija
  • copyright: Azra Akšamija

For Monument in Waiting, Azra Akšamija researched 250 of the more than 1,200 Bosnian mosques that were destroyed or damaged during the Bosnian War (1992-95). As a part of the research for this project, Akšamija collected individual stories from the war. The details of these stories inspired a narrative kilim, designed by Akšamija and woven by women war victims in Sarajevo. The design includes traditional kilim symbols recast into the forms of barbed wire, mines, hand grenades, and rockets, among other motifs that represent abstracted war stories.


The kilim’s central “tree of life” motif contains references to the mosque destructions and renovations and the impact of the war on individuals and communities. Legends and personal stories collected in interviews are represented by the bird motif, which is set in the ends of the tree branches. In this kilim, the story of the Ahmići Mosque is represented with the symbol showing two birds standing in the same nest, which Akšamija designed in reference to the community’s dilemmas over differences in dealing with memories of war. The Umoljani Mosque at the Mount Bjelašnica, which was the only edifice that survived the nationalist extremists' attack on the village in 1993, is portrayed with a white bird. Finally, the story of the Begsuja Mosque, Zvornik municipality, is depicted with a symbol of a bird that has a pig’s nose under its feet. A symbolic bird with a big foot refers to a folktale of a kidnapped woman in the 17th century, who transported herself from Budapest to Sarajevo by stepping on the foot of a mysterious man who appeared to her in a dream. The wish to be miraculously transported to somewhere else, as in the legend, was an experience that many Bosnians had during the war.


The kilim has been left unfinished on its upper border, as this is a story that still has not ended. The resolution of the wrongs and war crimes committed and of the suffering inflicted is far from over. The top of the kilim is intentionally left unfinished to indicate the continuing process towards closure through therapeutic means such as weaving, and that working to restore the architectural and emotional devastation in Bosnia-Herzegovina could become an endless process. The initiation of this process is visually communicated through the motif of the growing “tree of life”, to which new branches with new stories can be woven. Yet, these stories would need to encompass all the destroyed mosques, churches, and all other lost monuments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While the completion of this project remains utopian, the ritual hanging of the 99 prayer beads onto the kilim edge symbolically launches the process.


The ultimate intention is for Monument in Waiting to be permanently displayed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague as a memorial to the Bosnian victims of the war.