Parisian Studies

23 pencil drawings – art studies of museum pieces from Louvre and Quai Branly in Paris.

“Man is a creature in a mask”, says Oto Bihalji Merin in his great monograph Masks of the World published in 1970. It contains an overview of numerous masks used by man from the Stone Age to the present day as well as the functions of those masks in different rituals – the religious ones but also those that appear every day in the form of work equipment, make-up, clothing or behaviour. These are the objects to which human societies used to attribute magical properties, while attempting to establish communication with the world of demons and spirits, with the metaphysical foundation of human existence.

It seems quite natural that the masks of different (mainly African) tribes and the heads of their deities provided inspiration for the cycle of drawings by graphic artist and draughtsman Duje Medić, who is also an author fascinated by the mysticism of traditional culture. His encounter with the treasures of non-European art took part in the Quai Branly Museum, which was opened in Paris in 2006 and was founded following the initiative of the former President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac, in the tradition of his predecessors Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand (each of these supported the

construction of a single museum in Paris); all these museums  were founded with the sole purpose of  showcasing the artistic creation of different, mainly primitive cultures of the world. The expression and ability to reduce the form on numerous exhibits displayed in those museums compete and more often than not go beyond the freed imagination of modern and contemporary artists. This museum, which is a monument to both colonialism and humanistic universalism, enabled Medić to feel the power of traditional culture and another excuse for being fascinated by it. The faces embodying the forces responsible for the functioning of the physical world and the human soul spoke eloquently to him about man’s compliance with profound and unfathomable laws of nature as well as about man’s attempt to manage them. As Oto Bihalji Merin wrote in the above-mentioned book, a mask “allows its bearer to influence the supernatural forces that he is addressing but also to be transformed due to their effects. The bearer receives their substance and then transmits it to his or her co-tribesmen”.

Traditional forms and motifs can be found in numerous Medić’s existing cycles but he has never wanted to exploit them in an


aggressive manner or to make them adapt at any cost to suit today’s modes of artistic creativity, while consistently approaching them discreetly, with interpretative respect. Drawing ritual masks, mostly those from the Quai Branly Museum (along with several masks and figurines from the Louvre) was his way to honour the ancient sources of human consciousness of themselves, whose traces are still present in the artistic creation and religious ceremonies and practices of different cultures, including ours. With a series of small drawings of those holy objects, the artist conveys their compressed energy, elegant forms and radiating mystique to us. In his pen drawings these timeless forms look particularly monumental. While being reduced to grey tones between the blackness of the graphite and the blankness of the paper, they resemble human existence in this world between two nothingnesses. Skilful shading reveals numerous mesmerizing and dynamic faces representing deities and demons, which turn out to be nothing but human faces; they act as a disguise concealing our ancient fears and desires.

Feđa Gavrilović