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Transformation of the cities of the Western Balkans through youth art - ReLOaD
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This platform has been created under the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans,which is funded by the European Union and implemented by the UNDP

Transformation of the cities of the Western Balkans through youth art

Young people from the Western Balkans, inspired by the Regional Program of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2), are transforming cities with their murals, sending strong messages of friendship, peace and cultural preservation, within the Regional Program of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2).

Street art will surely live on for a long time in cities across the region, thanks to the growing number of young people who believe in the power of this form of expression.

“This art unites the community and encourages people’s creative thinking, opening a dialogue about important topics and values”, are the words of the young artist Darko Gulevsky from the Macedonian city of Bitola, which open a completely new window into the world of street art.

The creative works of young people from this area adorn dilapidated buildings, large walls and neglected public spaces. However, much deeper messages are hidden behind their colorful and unusual works.

“Our murals represent the pulse of inventiveness of our generation and our struggle to express ourselves freely,” says Petar Tomski from Bitola.

He was among 50 young people who, in the volunteer action “Hate speech on the walls of Bitola”, painted murals at three locations in Bitola, namely on the walls of the elementary school “Stv Naumov”, the secondary school “Taki Daskalo” and the kindergarten “Prolet”. The action was carried out by the Bitolj Youth Cultural Center and the non-governmental organization SFERA International as part of ReLOaD2.

“The walls are a mirror of our city. Therefore, we intentionally chose educational institutions where hate speech messages were written in order to leave a positive impact on young people,” said young volunteer Angela Baleska.

Empowering women

The same wishes and thoughts are shared by young artists from Albania who, as part of the “Y4K – Youth for Kavaja” project of the “Today for the Future” organization, painted a mural with a strong message on the main square in the city of Kavaja.

“I stand on the mountain of the sacrifices of a million women before me…” is the message on the mural in Kavaja, which is a kind of tribute to the generations of brave women who shaped the history of this city.

Aware that they live in an environment where women face discrimination and challenges from an early age, young people decided to promote women’s strength and gender equality through wall art.

“This mural tells a thousand stories. Four women, four generations, four journeys – each one is different, but represents a unique aspect of our society“, said Viola Cikalleshi from the organization “Today for the Future”.

On the streets of South Mitrovica in Kosovo* dozens of young people painted six murals as part of the “Promaja” project implemented by the non-governmental organization “Futja Ngjyrë” as part of ReLOaD2. Project manager Dea Gaxha says they sought to foster a sense of unity and cultural upliftment within the

community. Therefore, the painted murals exude elements of the rich cultural and traditional heritage of this environment.

“With our activities, we not only showed the creative strength of artists, but also encouraged them to connect more deeply with the colorful history of South Mitrovica,” said Gaxha.

Young people say that participation in the “Promaja” project gave them new knowledge, but also connections with creative people with similar interests.

“I learned so much about the process of creating a mural, but also its deeper meaning, cooperation with other artists and interaction with different individuals,” said 21-year-old Dhurata Begolli.

Young artists from Pljevlja in Montenegro also painted a mural called “Flora” through ReLOaD2 as part of the project carried out by the non-governmental organization “Lastavica”. From “Lastavica” they say that this mural represents an abstracted interpretation of the plant life with which the artists raise awareness of the importance of ecology for Pljevlja, which is on the list of the most polluted cities in Europe.

“In the mural painting process, we actively involved academic artists from our community, as well as young people from other parts of Montenegro. This was an opportunity for them to express their creativity and gain practical experience in art in a public space”, said Aleksandra Aranitović, president of the NGO “Lastavica”.

Vukašin Tanjević, an academic artist who participated in the creation of the mural, points out his great satisfaction because citizens in a small area like Pljevlja quickly accepted the urban approach of painting walls.

“The ‘Flora’ mural has become a symbol of the city, and we hope that in the near future it will get its second part, which would make it a mural in the form of a diptych,” said Tanjević.

New generations of artists

For young artists from neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, new knowledge about street art was brought by the project “The Art of Basketball”, which was realized as part of ReLOaD2 by the Igrajmo Zajedno Initiative (iZi) in cooperation with the Association Obojena Klapa. About thirty young people from Sarajevo participated in mural painting workshops that resulted in a new mural on the wall of Hastahana park in Sarajevo.

“The painted mural serves as a kind of magnet for all recreationists and athletes who can enjoy it while playing basketball,” said Benjamin Čengić, one of the founders of the Association Obojena klapa.

The project coordinator of the iZi initiative, Mirna Hrapović, says that “The Art of Basketball” is an innovative project that combines culture, art and sport and promotes volunteerism among young people.

“We are very happy that with our joint efforts we beautified the public space that remains for the community to use even after the end of the project,” said Hrapović.

More than 50 young people in the Municipality of Babušnica near Pirot in Serbia also had the opportunity to learn mural painting techniques as part of the “New Colors of Babušnica” project, which was carried out by the “Osveženje” Association.

“The goal was to get young people involved in the work of the community because they don’t often have the opportunity to participate in activities that deal with the improvement of their environment and the space where they spend their free time,” said Marko Cenić, project assistant.

At the end of the workshops, the young people painted three murals on the central square of the Municipality of Babušnica. One of them was designed by Marija Ćirić, who wanted to present her upbringing through a picture of different sea animals.

“This art installation is a way to show my experiences, emotions and transformations through different stages of life. Through this mural, I want to inspire and remind other people to look back on their development, to accept changes and grow, and to find their own unique symbolism in life,” said Ćirić.

ReLOaD2, which is financed by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has supported many projects in the countries/territories of the Western Balkans aimed at developing skills and new opportunities for young people with its activities within the youth component.

* For the European Union, all references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with Resolution 1244 (1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For the United Nations, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). 

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