Memes Under Fire

I found the “Jurassic Park” movie logo on a t-shirt at Goodwill one day — except that the title line had changed.

There’s a story here, and I knew it: call it “Memes Under Fire;” or “Memes of Despair.” And it happened in the ‘90s…

… in a city under siege: few ways in, few ways out.  Day after day, year after year, enemy artillery rained down shells from the surrounding hills. Snipers poured fire on anything with two legs.  People died and buildings fell, every day. Municipal services fell to shambles, civic order stretched beyond the breaking point. Wherever you looked, you saw damage.

The citizens carried on. Some fought each other. Some defended the city with guns. A few defended the city with art.

From 1992 to 1996, this was Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia: under siege by Serbian-backed forces during the Bosnian War, a conflict so complicated that even Wikipedia’s synopsis made my head hurt.

For most of the siege, Sarajevo got no international help at all. It seemed like the outside world had just forgotten the city.

So a  Sarajevo graphic design collective called Trio decided to remind the world. With very little left to design in a besieged city with no resources, and with a punk-rock sort of mindset, Trio produced a series of darkly humorous postcards that injected the name “Sarajevo” into well-known icons of art, film, and advertising.

Trio’s primary message to the world was: “Remember Sarajevo!  We’re still here!”  They wanted the world to think of Sarajevo whenever it saw the familiar corporate logos. Bosnian humor is dark as hell, apparently.

As well as the“Sarajevo Park” design, Trio produced “Enjoy Sara-Jevo” (a redesigned Coca-Cola label); “The Sarajevo Zone,” (a “Twilight Zone” parody); a bullet-riddled Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup can (renamed “Sarajevo’s Chicken and Rice”);  a classic Uncle Sam who “wants YOU to save SARAJEVO;” and many more.  Search for them; they’re very effective.

The Trio postcards got out of Sarajevo. They spread across the world. Leading art critics and the international media lauded them as the siege continued. They helped keep Sarajevo’s plight in the news.

Eventually the siege ended. The city began its long recovery. Someone, somewhere along the line, put the Sarajevo Park design on a t-shirt.

It’s not exactly the same design; there are minor differences. The Internet has never heard of this t-shirt; it could well be an American bootleg; the t-shirt itself is an American brand.

Bootleg or not: even as Sarajevo rises again, the message remains. Perhaps no longer “Remember us!”   But certainly, “Don’t forget!” Now more than ever.

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