Art in a nuclear bunker: Bosnia’s newest gallery

ARK is the newest gallery on the art scene in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it’s not like anywhere most art lovers have been before. The exhibition space is housed in a former nuclear bunker that was built when Josip Broz Tito was president of Yugoslavia.
The name itself stands for Atomska Ratna Komanda, or Nuclear Command Bunker, and was once a top-secret military location. Even now, it can be hard to find, as there are few signs directing visitors to the gallery, meaning you need to be in the know and have accurate directions to hand.
ARK is located an hour’s drive from Sarajevo, near the town of Konjic and has been a labour of love by two artists. Edo and Sandra Hozic set the gallery up and transformed the unlikely building into a contemporary art space that really works. Its appeal is bolstered by the fact that it is hosting a renowned biennial of works, which launched on April 21st.
Visitors are met by two unexceptional-looking white buildings in the foothills of Mount Zlatar, near the Neretva River. Reminders of the war that tore through the region in the 1990s are not far away, with the distinctive warning signs denoting landmines a particularly chilling presence.
The works of art start even before entering the buildings and one has a direct association with the area where the gallery is located. A piece by Egyptian artist Basim Magdy has the following words printed on it: “Let us build a monument to remind us of our futuristic past.” It is a reference to the monuments Tito commissioned to dot the landscape of the former Yugoslavia.
Instead of finding a sanitised art gallery inside, ARK makes use of the nature of the space as a former nuclear bunker and immediately makes the visitor feel uncomfortable. Entry is gained through a short tunnel, the air is stuffy, there are no windows and the sense of time is skewed by the style of lighting that has been chosen.
ARK’s codename was Istanbul and despite being completed in 1979, it was not known about by local people until 2003. It was designed to house 350 of Yugoslavia’s top political and military officials for up to six months and could withstand 25 kilotons of TNT.
Today, it is home to 125 works of art created by people from 102 countries. Some of the most poignant pieces, however, make reference to the location and its former use. Ana Dzokic and Marc Neelen have made an installation for one of the original bathrooms that explores the idea of creating the provision for an entire population to survive a nuclear war, not just the elite.