WAG: An Oasis for Art Practitioners | The Daily Star
12:10 AM, July 29, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:28 PM, July 29, 2013

WAG: An Oasis for Art Practitioners

The First World Art Games held between June 29 and July10 in Croatia celebrates unity in diversity in art

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Wag Bangladeshi artist Laila Sharmeen works on her street painting.

Imagine an ambience where creative minds get together, share experiences, converse interactively, draw inspirations to rekindle flames of creativity--or just sit back and relax! Too utopian to be true? But World Art Games, popularly known as WAG, is an oasis for art practitioners, traversing genres and mediums, where all creative people can mix and mingle, exchanging ideas and promoting peace while using the language of art.

A brain child of the Croatian artist Peter Weisz, WAG is a non-profit organization. Reflecting on the organization’s motto, Peter says ‘Unity in diversity is at the core of the philosophy on which WAG is built.’ Youthful though in his 60s, and bubbling with energy, Peter leads WAG from the front as the President of the organization.

Peter is fully aware that there are many arts biennales, but no arts Olympic, that is to say, can provide a comparable forum that can provide a space for not only for competition but for camaraderie, or to use another metaphor, that provides a bridge across cultural divides.

It was early 1990s that the idea of WAG came to Peter. He was working as a professional artist in Israel then. He picked up the phone and called up his good friend Yehudi Menuhin to share his ideas of a cultural Olympic. “Yes”, said the great musician enthusiastically.

Peter then nursed the idea of the Olympic passionately with him until 2008 when he put up his first retrospective show in his birthplace Osijek, the fourth largest city of Croatia. He shared his long-cherished dream also with the mayor of city he grew up in. ‘The response was fantastic,’ says Peter animatedly. He no sooner discussed the idea with the mayor than he was given an office to start the operation of WAG. And the rest is history.

Colombian artist Sergio Jiminez performing “Second Skin”. Colombian artist Sergio Jiminez performing “Second Skin”.

WAG is now represented in 40 countries through its national committees, who meet annually to discuss and plan future programmes and undertake activities that in the best spirit of the Olympic Games celebrate the joy of togetherness through competition. Like the Olympics WAG will be held in different countries and these countries must win the right to stage WAG through bids to host a ten-day bi-annual event.

Held in the Croatian cities of Ludbreg, Vukovar and Umag, the first World Art Games hosted  over 200 artists, musicians and performers from more than 40 different countries including Bangladesh. With Colombia, Argentina and Mexico together fielding 38 artists, Latin America dominated the games events.

With the ‘Little Prince’ pin in the buttonhole of his jacket, Sergio Jimenez’s presence electrified the games scene. Always playful and childlike, Sergio perhaps was making a statement much in the same tone of the pilot from the book The Little Prince who felt we grown-ups never understand anything by ourselves. In other words, he was pointing at our loss of innocence.

Sergio gave one performance called ‘Every single being is a world in itself’ at Ludbreg main square, where “the Center of the World” plaque is located. Croatians, it should be pointed out, believe that the center of the world is located at that point. Blindfolded, Sergio circled the square and slowly closed in on the plaque, placing papers on it and taking prints of the plaque by rubbing it with a charcoal. He believes that the human body is a territory and he views it as physical territory. He distributed papers among the participating artists of WAG, requesting them to mail the ‘piece of the center of the world’ to his address in Bogota. He is, clearly, for de-centering the world on the one hand and inviting new centers to flourish on the other.

Sergio’s next move was to create ‘Second Skin’ with Colombian Fashion designer Andrea Castro at Castle Betthyany. He orchestrated his moves on this occasion with the tempo of the music and the catwalk of the models. He approached the audience in a series of movements and had them draw lines on his body with markers. The idea was to get him drawn by people from different culture and society.

WAG: A brainchild of the Croatian artist Peter Weisz

Artist, critic and curator from Texas, USA Anthony Merino was the most loved person of the games for his simple and unpretentious demeanour. His presentation about his black friend who had been murdered touched everyone in the audience at the Ludbreg City Library. But in talking about his friend’s death he raised philosophical issues about dying and asked questions about what would possibly be the best tribute to someone who is dead. In concluding, he invited others to talk about their experience of the loss of loved ones.

For next door neighbor from Assam, Wahida Ahmed, the margin of difference between fantasy and reality is negligible and perhaps they even overlap. Her painting depicting the Twin Tower explosion with children’s paper airplanes encircling the towers shows that our realities are as fragile as the paper airplanes.

Laila Sharmeen decorated her street painting at the Open University of Umag with traditional Bengali motifs of flower, fish and bird and Bangla alphabets to evoke the quintessential colours of Bengal and also pay tribute to Bangladesh’s language movement. She drew the basic design for the 40 feet painting, explained the colour scheme to artists from India, the USA, Colombia, Finland, Netherlands, and Croatia and then invited them to apply paint on the work. She also engaged people from local community and tourists visiting Umag to turn her project into a collaborative-community painting. The scene of the street painting was carnivalesque, especially because of the Pokko Cherri Band from Malaysia that played foot tapping numbers.

Laila and I reached the Croatian capital Zagreb a few days before the games started and had an opportunity to visit the Museum of Arts and Crafts, then hosting Caravaggio’s masterpiece Supper at Emmaus. The painting was loaned by Italy to commemorate Croatia’s accession to European Union. Painted in 1606, the work depicts the well-known Gospel episode of the encounter between the risen Christ and two of disciples on the road to Emmaus. Surrounded by disciples, an inn keeper and an elderly female servant, Christ blesses the broken bread on the table with his index finger pointed to heaven.

This redolent image captures much of the spirit of the WAG-- so full of events richly punctuated with great food and excellent excursions!

Ziaul Karim is an art critic

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