Babylonian Language Confusion – Ljubomir Micić and Yugoslav avant-garde movement

Yugoslavia’s avant-garde invented a new language and orthography in the early 20th century! The movement was at the forefront of the aesthetic revolution of the time and  demanded an aesthetic re-evaluation of the world. This was kick-started in Zurich in 1916 with the appearance of the art form Dadaism as a reaction to the civic aesthetic forms of pre-war art and literature. 

Early avant-garde periodicals in Yugoslavia were related to the cultural climate of post-war Zagreb and Belgrade. Zenit (Zenith) magazine (1921-1926) was launched in Zagreb by the avant-garde artist Ljubomir Micić (1895–1971). In 1926 it was banned and the editor was forced to go into exile.

The photograph of Ljubomir Micić and Boško Tokin with Zenit No 4 from 1921, from the book ZENIT, National Library of Serbia, CC BY-NC-SA

Adopting the basic postulates of the European avant-garde, Ljubomir Micić founded an authentic Yugoslav avant-garde movement called Zenitizam (Zenithism). This represented a unique blend of Russian Futurism, German Expressionism, Dada and anti-Dada with traces of Balkan Luddism. It was reflected in the figure of Barbarogenius, whose purpose was to decivilize Europe and pave the way for new values.

Other avantgarde periodicals include Dada Tank (1922) and Dada Jazz (1922), published by the avant-garde artist Dragan Aleksić (1901–1958) and Dada Jok (1922), edited by Branko Ve Poljanski (1898–1947). 

Jo Klek – Advertisements – page fragment from the book ZENIT, National Library of Serbia, CC BY-NC-SA

A unique blend of poetry and pictures, signs and their negations, different scripts and languages, as well as poetry, painting and architecture marked the artistic concept of the magazine. Issue 5 of Zenit (5 June 1921) contained Zenitistisches Manifest, written in German by the French-German poet Iwan Goll (1891-1950). The Manifesto introduced the quest for the New Man and abolished the division of people into nations with the exclamation: We are all Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians and Australians!

Zenitistisches Manifest, 1921, Zenit No 5, title page, National Library of Serbia, PDM
Vo imja zenitizma! (In the Name of Zenithism) – page fragment from the book ZENIT, National Library of Serbia, CC BY-NC-SA

The examples have been selected from the tradition of historical avant-garde. At the beginning of the 20th century, this movement was still not clearly defined but merely followed the postulates of radical negation, confrontation with tradition and the establishment of a new connection between signs and images. 

Grčka vatra (Greek Fire), DaDa Tank, p. 3, National Library of Serbia, PDM

By Saša Ilić
Translated by Tatjana Domazet
National Library of Serbia

The blog post is a part of the Rise of Literacy project, where we take you on an exploration of literacy in Europe thanks to the digital preservation of precious textual works from collections across the continent.

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