Serbian street artists make football the beautiful game

AFP , Thursday 24 May 2018

Graffiti or street artists in Belgrade are playing out a football rivalry on the city's walls in a development far from the image of ultranationalism and violent Balkan fans.

Fan groups attached to Partizan Belgrade go by the nickname 'the Gravediggers', and include the graffiti artist Derox, who is also part of 'the Grobarski (gravediggers) Trash Romantizam' (GTR) art group.

When AFP meets him Derox has been working without break repainting 35 highly impressive mural paintings with the acronym GTR.

They had been vandalised during an overnight operation likely conducted by fans of bitter city rival Red Star.

The two giants of Yugoslav and Serbian football were founded at the end of World War II.

Some people believe Red Star draw support from the middle classes and Partizan traditionally from the working classes.

GTR art group co-founder, 31-year old Ivan Lovric, is not so sure about the traditional divisions but says Partizan is also the club supported by the intellectual elite.

Derox, 33-year-old Milan Milosavljevic, is finishing the portrait of surrealist Franco-Yugoslav painter Ljuba Popovic.

"I love Partizan not only for the football," he says, insisting GTR is an "artistic movement linked to football".

He says what he does is a poke in the eye for those to whom "people who watch football are described as idiots".

And "there is the word ART in the name: pARTizan", he says.

- Orwell, Morrissey, Strummer -

On his drying mural Ljuba Popovic claims that he has been "supporting Partizan since 1942".

The club was founded three years later in fact.

Other GTR works feature the British writer George Orwell and musicians Morrissey, Joe Strummer and Eddy Grant.

"Eddy Grant is really a Partizan supporter," says Lovric who is studying English literature.

He recalls a song, where the reggae singer offers to put on an "invisible hat" to "visit Belgrade": "Relax and I'll take you to where it's at."

As for Strummer, continues Lovric, before becoming the frontman of the Clash he was a gravedigger.

Morrissey was chosen because GTR liked his lyrics contained in a Smiths song: "To die by your side is such an heavenly way to die".

What about Orwell? Lovric is convinced that "he had everything needed to be a Partizan fan". Also he contributed to the American Trotskyists magazine "Partisan", he says.

- 'Our way is art' -

Launching GTR in 2012 "we did not have any doctrine or plan. We just wanted to do something for the love of our club," says Ivan Sarajcic, a bearded 47-year old IT programmer.

He co-founded the movement after reading a post on Facebook, a line of Lord Byron, amended by Lovric: "She walks in beauty, like the night. And I live for Partizan and fight".

The group's preoccupation with romantic art clashes with the violent image often attributed to local supporters.

But the issue does not worry GTR.

"I am not against violence if it is between two groups who agree to fight together," Lovric says.

Everyone has their own way to express his love for the club: "Our way is art."

The GTR frescoes have become part of a Belgrade tradition. The city is sprinkled with portraits of young men, often hooligans or members of criminal milieu some of them commissioned by relatives in honour of those deceased.

Most of the time the GTR artist works with onlookers and sometimes even in front of the police.

One day, "a police car passed by, slowed down. They said 'Good job'. And left," Lovric says.

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