P.O. BOX: SAVAMALA NEIGHBORHOOD

Sava River, photo Natasha Ceci

Ghost people by Krishka, photo Natasha Ceci

view of Savamala, photo Natasha Ceci

The traffic and soot tangle along the Karađorđeva south of the Kalemegdan fort and next to the river Sava: truck drivers, trams, the central bus and train station. The story of Savamala (name that comes from the homonymous river and the Turkish Mahale, or “neighborhood”) is the story of a neighborhood in Belgrade that 120 years ago shined as a political and administrative center and that is now abandoned, as an expression of heritage that is now clashing for the socialist ex-Yugoslavia. But you can still see the 19th and early 20th century buildings and the Ottoman empire’s marks. What history and the war didn’t sweep away is left to neglect and the not so advisable fame of the neighborhood. However the spectators’ gazes and the shadow of gentrification, that has invaded many European capitals, have not appeared so far, even because of a lack of funds and the politics under way on city plans. In place of these processes a path of creative transformation is taking hold, sometimes mainstream, but that also involves the neighborhood residents through forums and workshops, therefore aiming at a “sustainable” development. Among the various realities of this out of the ordinary re-qualification there’s the multifaceted project Urban Incubator, born in the local branch of the Goethe Institut that includes art programs, city planning, architecture, even in their sociological aspects, supported by various German and non-German universities.

On this wavelength the NextSavamala project, having just finished in Hamburg, aims at creating, through a web platform and several forums and with the participation of the citizens, a future vision of the city, while the Swiss architecture magazine “Camenzind”, arrives in the Serbian capital to widen the debate’s boundaries: Savamala as a forgotten neighborhood. It does so by collecting memories from the place not on books or in archives, but through the residents’ memories, collected in every form in a 1:2000 Model for Savamala, or by intercepting the sounds of urban space and transforming them into installations, concerts, or radio programs ((Slušaj Savamala sound art project).

The people in a neighborhood can also assume the rarified forms of a ghost and tell stories and speak of the streets. The “ghosts of Savamala” appear as drawings on house walls, evanescent and graceful as in legends, drawn by Barbara Ismailović and Tijana Tripković, illustrators and designers who are part of the group “Krishka” (www.studio-keishka.com). “Every ghost scattered around the neighborhood” say the young ladies “says something about this place: the relationship with the river, that we hope can be re-evaluated, with fishing, with the clubs in the area, or with the women that you can see along the way around Kalemegdan, busy selling their hand woven laces. We know that people like our work, that they don’t think of it as vandalism, because it talks about them”.
With a similar romantic but mostly critical base, a few young people (Sanja Seliškar, Anđela Čeh, Nikola Herman and Petar Đošev) mark the asphalt with paint: “Mesto za ljubljenje” or “Kissing area”: free space to allow the free flow of displays of affection. Not bad for a country that still suffers from a strong traditionalism, still alive notwithstanding the changes that are happening in its society: “it’s a metaphorical space in which we claim our maximum freedom of expression for whatever genre and at any level, yeah sure, it’s also a romantic idea, but this isn’t the main objective of the project”, state the authors. The rebirth of Savamala weaves through various forms of street art and a few meeting places: it’s the case of Spanish House, an old building, now used for cultural events, recuperated after a series of ups and downs that had it become a museum and then an aspiring hotel, or the adjacent KC Grad, a space open to debates, conferences, concerts and film projections , “rival” of the more glossy Mikser Haus, reign of design. The Mikser Festival (www.mikser.rs) takes place in May and is considered to be one of the most popular Serbian festivals of creativity. But on all of Savamala’s buildings the mysterious Geozavod reigns undisputed, built at the beginning of the 20th century, that from a bank was converted into a geology institute without sacrificing the magnificence of its internal spaces, seldom open to the public.

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