The monument to bruce lee yes and why? By Nino Raspudić

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By Nino Raspudić*

In July 2004, during a public presentation, Urban Movement Mostar NGO came forward with an initiative to build up a monument to Bruce Lee in the city of Mostar. The news spread rapidly after being announced by local media and then broadcasted by the most powerful world mass media. The major interest for the initiative has been shown in all of the ex-Yugoslav region; initiators and Urban Movement Mostar members have been interviewed by all the relevant newspapers, radio and TV channels, and there have been many reportages on the project. Mostar's Bruce Lee has opened a discussion on monuments in general, on space semiosis, collective memory and similar issues having a great importance for that area, for its recent past of massive war casualties and damages during the 1990s, and for its traumatic present of political and economical transition, which has caused a breakdown of traditional social, political and cultural identities. It is significant that practically at the same time “The Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Arts” initiated the project titled “De/construction of monuments” that questioned the same problem matter. The Center recognized in the initiative to build up a monument to Bruce Lee original and theoretically well elaborated intervention in urban space and decided to support it on a level of partnership. The idea is to erect a life-size sculpture made in bronze, i.e. some 170 cm high, that would be located in the center of the town. Although we do not pretend to be formalists, in order to anticipate all possible accusations that we might be dealing with kitsch, we insisted that the monument should be made by sculptor with formal academic degree. During realization of this project we had to pay attention to the silliest and the most incredible details such as an orientation of the monument. We shall comment on this particular subject later on.

If the monument to Bruce Lee were being erected in any other city in the world the whole idea could be described as an “homage” to one particular person and actor (for example in Hong Kong where he was born or in Los Angeles where he shot most of the films that made him famous). It also might be observed as some bizzare manifestation of local kung-fu fans. But story about Bruce Lee, in a politically divided Mostar, is much more complex and full of significance. That is why we are glad that the most of mass media recognized the news, not as something bizzare but something more serious and elaborated. Mostar is the city which during the wars on the territories of former Yugoslavia suffered, perhaps, the most tragic destiny. The city with rich historical heritage constituted by all three Bosnian and Herzegovinian entities has survived two wars. In both, the fighting was going on in the central city area. By the end of the war the city ended up divided into two parts between two majoritarian communities (Croatian and Bosniak). Although the city is formally unified in one municipality, very painful process of reconstruction end reunification is still in progress. In a given situation urbanism exists as a form of “prolonging of war using different means”: each one of two constituent parts of the city is trying to give to “their own” space “their own” characteristics, to “posses” it even more by constructing their religious and cultural objects and symbols. Unfortunately, this competition in “marking space” is going on an extremely low level profession wise. If we add to all previously mentioned elements the general state of absence of law, which is reflected on our surrounding through total devastation of public space, illegal construction works (mainly directed by population “newly enriched” by war profiteering and transition without frame of law) it is clear why Mostar and its citizens feel more and more alienated in their own environment and why is their attitude toward public space more and more negligent.

The Bruce Lee-monument initiative represents an attempt for the public spaces to regain their meaning, and at the same time to question the significance of monuments and symbols, the old and the new ones as well. Theoretically speaking, we are dealing here with a typical postmodernist proceeding of blending of different registries/registers. By mixing up a «high» stylistic registry (monuments, grandeur, bronze) and a «low» one (mass-culture, kung-fu, heroes of our childhood), a short circuit of reception is produced: the «high» stylistic registry is being deconstructed and the overwhelming mythomany is being ironized (Who are our heroes? Whom to and why do we build monuments?), but in the same time the «low» registry is being revalorized, for its power to evoke little ordinary things of everyday life, that do not have anything to do with politics and ideologies, and that bring people and nations together, instead of separating them.

Furthermore, in this city traumatized by war, still split by its consequences, the citizens are overburdened by politics and ideology to the extent that even on the level of local elections the discourse about the fight for the survival of the people is still used. In the abandoned and pillaged city the authorities pass to/shift all the problems consciously/on purpose on the political and ideological level, sustaining the balance of fear. The only local television made an inquiry on the subject of maintenance of city streets among local population. When one citizen was asked what did he think about the holes on the roads, he said: “Please do not ask me anything about politics… /I do not want to talk about politics”. I would not like to ignore the existence of real political problems, such as unsolved national issue, but those have become so hypertrophied that impregnate all spheres of life and usually serve as a screen for not solving actual, “small” problems. These days, when the politics and ideology occupied and poisoned all segments of our everyday lives in our city and the whole Bosnia and Hezegovina, by building up the monument we would like to show and remind that there is a great part of our lives, memories of our childhood, the first real values of life that have nothing to do with politics and “great narrations”. Therefore, the purpose of the monument is to defend the non-political sphere of life in order to provide it with dignity.

Our intention is not to be apolitical and to find some kind of escape into childhood, but to outline some spheres of life and to remind on things that also constitute/are part of our identity, but that were never used as a pretext or excuse for killing somebody. Furthermore, in the city where everything is split/divided, we would like to remind that, outside of the vicious circle of national conflict, there still exist numerous things that are common to all inhabitants/citizens of Mostar. For example everybody is fond of Bruce Lee: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, left and right political options… The value of Bruce Lee's figure lays in its universal character and in its concretness, capable of provoking concrete emotions, first of all a sense of necessity to fight for justice. Therefore, in Mostar it is not the actor or the character played by him that the monument is being built to, but it is the very idea of justice, represented in a plastic and universally acceptable way, that is also able to awake some positive vibrations through the figure of the famous kung-fu hero we have loved so much during our childhood.

Bruce Lee, the man of different race, coming from another continent, was dear to us all, no matter our political or ideological convictions. For generations and generations that were raised on his seventies movies, he was the embodiment of honesty, fight for justice, protection of the week, loyalty to his friends and master. At the time when all moral values are underestimated, when kids in Bosnia and Herzegovina carry guns in school and find their role models in criminals, the monument to Bruce Lee in the center of the town would be a reminder on our childhood dreams about more righteous world where the raw force would not count, where the biggest strength and importance lie in skill, quick wit and the power of will of the person fighting for the just cause. Bruce Lee was among all, a symbolic bridge between the East and the West. He was a son of a Chinese father and an English mother who left Hong Kong as a young man in order to seek fortune in America. He contributed to a great extent to popularization of oriental martial arts, but also oriental culture in general. It is not strange therefore that we chose him to stand between the eastern and the western part of Mostar. In the hyperpoliticized/overpoliticized space, concerning the fact that we are building up a monument in the divided city where once lied a frontline between two enemies, we even had to think where should the statue of Bruce Lee, standing in a fighting position, be oriented to. If we turned it toward east somebody could maliciously interpret our act as anti-Bosniak. If we turned it toward the west somebody could say that the monument is protecting/defending The Eastern Mostar from the West side Croats. That is why we decided to orient it towards the North: Towards Sarajevo, Zagreb, Beograd, Bruxelles, Washington or Halle…

We are sure that, concerning all the above analyzed elements of deconstruction and construction, the monument will definitely become a sort of tourist attraction. Thanks to the Bruce Lee monument initiative for the first time in fifteen years Mostar is being mentioned in a positive context. It is the first time that world’s media relate Mostar to something constructive and creative, that has nothing to do either with politics or war. We hope to be able to organize an opening ceremony in spring of 2005., which would be accompanied by numerous alternative cultural events. In the meantime, the stamp with the image of Bruce Lee is being edited and the arrangements are being made for the literary event called “Bruce Lee Summer Festival of Poetry”. Pretentiously enough we hope that this monument to small everyday things that connect all the citizens of our town would, as a kind of common denominator, contribute to the shaping/creating of a new identity of our city. We hope that in a near future, when somebody, for example here in Halle hears the name of Mostar being mentioned, would, instead of associating it with war, ask: Mostar? Isn’t that a city with the Bruce Lee monument?

We were not able to choose city where to be born. Being born in Mostar in plain 20th century was not actually the most fortunate thing that occurred to us, that is why it is very important to me that you understand that the idea about building up the monument to Bruce Lee, and all the fun that goes with it, was born from profound pain and misery of one unhappy town. We are the people who have outlived our own town and our own world. Or perhaps it was not our world/that world never belonged to us? It is better to put it the other way around – we still have to create and build our world. The monument to Bruce Lee should be a little modest contribution, that, in the words of my colleague, will not drive anybody away from Mostar but it will definitely attract many people. And the last but not the least: next to the life size monument with a simple inscription in its base that says: “Bruce Lee, 1940-1973, Your Mostar, there will be a fountain, which will give a monument a practical function. The central square where the monument will be located is favorite gathering place for many retired elderly people/senior citizens. Since Mostar is one of the warmest towns in Europe, many get thirsty. Thanks to his/her heroes up to this point, retired person cannot afford to sit in a coffee shop or a restaurant and have a drink. Taking into consideration that fact the fountain built in the base of the monument to Bruce Lee will be more than welcome. But to be able to drink from the fountain, a thirsty passenger has to bend down and pay respect to the great kung-fu master…

*This spech was deliverd in the frame of a workshop held by relations in Volkspark in Halle/Saale on November 5, 2004. Nino Raspudić is co-founder and head of the NGO „Urban Movement“ in Mostar. He is assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy, Zagreb University.
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