explorations

A Memorial in Exile

Mittal-orbitArcelorMittal Orbit (designed by Anish Kapoor/ Cecil Balmond). Image courtesy of ArcelorMittal. All rights reserved.

A Memorial in Exile:
Orbits of Responsibility for a war crime from a Bosnian mine to London’s Olympic Park

On July 2, 2012, London’s Olympic tower — the ArcelorMittal Orbit — was reclaimed as a ‘Memorial in Exile’ by survivors of the Bosnian concentration camp at Omarska, now a fully-functional mine operated by ArcelorMittal. Iron ore and profits extracted from Omarksa have been used to manufacture London’s newest landmark.

 

Press Conference
2 July 2012, East London Centre

Speakers/participants:
Survivors from the Omarska/Prijedor camps: Satko Mujagic, Rezak Hukanovic, Kemal Pervanic, Sudbin Music, Fikret Alic, Mirsad Duratovic
as well as Srdjan Hercigonja, Milica Tomic, Antonia Majaca, (Four Faces of Omarska Belgrade), Adisa Pamukcic, Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Ed Vulliamy (journalist).

 

Introductory remarks by Milica Tomic (Monument Group / Four Faces of Omarska):
“We are here today because we believe that questions of humanity are at stake. Humanity is, of course, what we celebrate in the Olympics –the achievement of the human body. This is what brings us together here to London in 2012, but there are other moments when the universal concept of humanity emerges – these are tragic moments when the concept of humanity is violated, when bodies are wounded and destroyed, when atrocities amount to crimes against humanity. The concept of humanity thus contains – great beauty and radical horror. In this event we seek to bring these two facets of humanity together. When we celebrate humanity we must also remember its fragility. We come to speak to you today of the problem of Bosnia, a problem that seems far away in time and space, but we hope to show you how present it is, here on the site of the Olympics, both materially and politically. The thing that puts these sites and times together – Omarska KZ in Bosnia with the Olympic Village in London; 1992 with 2012 – is the ArcelorMittal Orbit.”

Nabil Ahmed read an excerpt from Dehli-based Anirban Gupta Nigam’s online essay:
“Criticising ArcelorMittal is important. The company’s arrogant actions might just mark the first significant act of corporate delinquency committed by an Indian company with global ambitions. The problematic politics of a major corporation from the formerly colonised world seems to signal to a larger shift in global structures of power. Indian capitalists have arrived: they will violate ethics and principles as much as anyone else across the world from now on. But what about the Orbit as an artwork?
Rather than condemn Anish Kapoor for doing business with ArcelorMittal, it might be more productive to see attempts to mark the Orbit as a memorial as a radicalisation of Kapoor and Mittal’s vision: what they promised only in rhetoric is now being done in practice. The questions raised about the public use of public art of this kind can be turned on their head when a community stakes claim to this structure. These claims are made possible because of the material power of steel to forge a connection between two disparate localities, events and times. Given ArcelorMittal’s harsh clampdown on visitors in Omarska, there is reason to believe that the Indian-in-London will react strongly to any attempts at making the Orbit. However, it is precisely in this contestation over marking and re-marking that other, more significant connections might open up. These connections can link dispersed geographical regions where corporate power, aesthetic practice and large scale mining are colliding in interesting and dangerous ways: the camp in Omarska, the Olympic Tower in London, and the vast tribal regions of India where rampant, violent mining has become the norm.”

 

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Facts and figures

• From 25 May 1992 till 22 August 1992 the Omarska mine in Prijedor, Bosnia was used as a concentration camp by Bosnian Serb forces. At least 3,334 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor were imprisoned in the Omarska camp, 700-800 were killed. Still missing in the Prijedor region: 2, 916 men, 262 women and 11 children.

• In 2004, ArcelorMittal assumed 51% of the ownership of the Ljubija mining complex that included Omarska and resumed commercial mining operations.

• In 2005, ArcelorMittal made a commitment to finance and build a memorial on the grounds of Omarska. 

• Seven years on and twenty years after the war crimes committed there, still no space of public commemoration exists. 

• Grounds, buildings, and equipment that were once used for the perpetration of these crimes now serve a commercial enterprise run by the world’s largest steel producer. 

• On 14 April 2012, Mladen Jelača, Director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor confirmed to Professor Eyal Weizman, of Goldsmiths, University of London and artist Milica Tomic of the Monument Group, Belgrade, that iron ore mined at Omarska mine has been used in the fabrication of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.

 • In the absence of this promised memorial and until such time that it is built, London’s Olympic tower — the ArcelorMittal Orbit — will be reclaimed as the Omarska Memorial in Exile.