Terra, Kikinda: How a local artist used home turf to create a world’s best terracotta art collection

As a twenty-something third year student at Belgrade’s art Academy in 1960s, Slobodan Kojić dreamt big. A Kikinda native, he envisaged creating an art colony which would make use of his native city’s clay pits – which powered the city’s brick and roof tile industry – so artists could create majestic, grandiose works of terracotta.

The use or clay in the arts in what is now Serbia, predates not only the country but even the settlement of Serbs. Archaeologists regularly unearth Roman terracotta artefacts around the country, while pottery making in the Western Serbian village of Zlakusa is a UNESCO protected piece of immaterial heritage.

Still, Kojić faced an uphill struggle and only managed to have a start in 1982, when Yugoslav art started moving back from abstractions. He managed to start a truly international art symposium inside the defunct 19th century industrial building which belongs to Toza Marković, Yugoslavia’s largest brick and tile factory.

The art created at Terra for the past 40 years, using mostly shoe-string resoures, is truly breath-taking in its originality and ambition. Equally surprising is the fact that Kojić did not break under pressures of the various crises that hit Kikinda. During the 1990s, when Serbia was under sanctions and fuel was in short supply, Kojić got his international guests to be driven in horse-drawn carriages so they could create their art.

Thanks to Bogdan Vukosavljević, a Serbian sculptor who is part of the sypmposium this year, I managed to see the varitey of art produced at Terra as well as the great spirit of creativity that permeates the place. At 78, Kojić is still very much the engine of the place, and has managed to expand Terra to the streets of Kikinda and, since 2018, to a museum in the old equestrian barracks on the outskirts of the city. His drive, as well as the lucky fact that Toza Marković nearly escaped destruction through privatisation during the tradition, managed to put Kikinda on the global art map, and draw in diverse artists from all over the world, from Argentina to Japan.

Terracotta sculptures, whether exhibited inside the cavernous barracks or in the overgrown gardens of the old factory, not only look imposing, but also look alive. They change with time, developing lichen and even trees, making them more immediately relatable than bronze, steel or marble. The fact that all art is mostly in monochromatic terracotta, really allows you to appreciate the variety of artistic approaches by some of the world’s best sculptors in the works that are exhibited throughout the Museum, workshop and Kikinda’s main square. Finally, all works are a great homage to the plains of Northern Banat, as they literally celebrate the local turf, and show that it can be moulded into something fantastic.

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