Contemporary Art Market: Refugee captures emotional scars of traumatic war

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The Independent Online
BODIES distorted, tortured and crucified, painted by a Bosnian artist who witnessed such horrors before fleeing to Britain last week, are about to be shown in this country.

An aid group which has been bringing refugees out of Bosnia since 1992 was so struck by the talent of Mensud Keco, rescued from Sarajevo last week, it has helped him organise an exhibition of his paintings.

Marita Allwood, co-ordinator of Haven, based in Leicestershire, said that when its workers were asked to bring out Keco, they were informed that he was an artist - but not that good an artist. 'We didn't know whether he was a pavement artist or a Michelangelo.'

In fact Keco, born in 1957, has exhibited extensively, as far afield as Montreal and Vienna. The war and the emotional scarring are his inescapable themes.

Keco said: 'For eight months I was in Sarajevo. My house was 20 metres from the hospital . . . Every day, I saw people without legs, without hands . . . It was very traumatic. And I must paint this.' He sees his paintings, which look to Munch's expressionistic The Scream, as 'the dying of a human body'.

He said: 'The body is sometimes shown in totality and sometimes deformed by its own tragedy . . . These ideas have a special relationship with Bosnia, a people's individual tragedy - the human body in spasm - without arms and legs.

'The continuing desire of some human beings to kill and maim, strengthens my wish to paint that tragedy of the human body and spirit . . . By presenting a painful face, I am fighting the pain.'

As soon as he arrived he began painting. Ms Allwood said: 'His paintings make you cry . . . His is a voice that cannot be ignored, a sharp reminder of what is being done in the name of freedom.'

His one-man show opens at the Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, Leicestershire, on 29 January, although a few works will be on view this week. Mike Goldmark, of the gallery, explained that he specialises in contemporary art in a figurative tradition. When Ms Allwood showed him a photocopy of a drawing, he said: 'I took one look at it and thought this is the real thing. This man can actually draw.'

At least half of the proceeds from the sale of the pictures will go to Haven, founded in April 1992. Its funds from donations are boosted by concerts given by her husband, Dick Allwood, a composer and musician.

Keco escaped from Zagreb a week ago. In November 1992, he and his wife were given permission to leave Sarajevo to promote Bosnian culture. They travelled with a Red Cross convoy of 12 buses until stopped by Serb soldiers who refused to let everyone through. His wife, who was on another bus, was detained and sent back to Sarajevo.

Keco said: 'The last I heard from her was that she had been in hospital and whilst . . . there, some people had broken into her flat and taken it over. So there is no place she can go now. The worst of it all is that . . . I cannot get to her to help her. That thought is killing me.'

(Photograph omitted)