The Thin Veneer: The Peoples of Bosnia and Their Disappearing Cultural Heritage

April 12 – June 7, 1997
Scott Prior

The Thin Veneer: The Peoples of Bosnia and Their Disappearing Cultural Heritage is an exhibition of photographs, books, maps, graphic materials, and original art work. Guest curators Walter Denny, Professor of Art History, and Joel Halpern, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, worked with Exhibition Coordinator Roxanne Stanulis to select images that show the multicultural heritage of traditional Bosnia and its subsequent destruction during the latest period of civil strife.

Dismayed by the present climate of ethnic intolerance in Bosnia, Professors Denny and Halpern conceived of an exhibition that would demonstrate with visual evidence a broader view of that country's history. By depicting the rich multiculturalism of traditional Bosnia, Denny and Halpern challenge those who have attempted to erase this history. As with every exhibition, The Thin Veneer: The Peoples of Bosnia and Their Disappearing Cultural Heritage also reflects the individual interests of its organizers. Art Historian Walter Denny brought a comprehensive knowledge of Islamic art and architecture to the project while Anthropologist Joel Halpern provided an intimate understanding of the Bosnian people.

Detail of an engraving of the
market place in Sarajevo
(1894) from Rudolph Maron
Maldini Wildenhain's Bosnia
, Zagreb, 1908,
photography Creative Services,
University of Massachusets
This unique collaborative effort has produced an exhibition that utilizes a variety of graphic materials to define the various ethic groups, to document a tradition of coexistence prior to the present conflict, and to symbolically record the widespread destruction of architectural monuments since the civil war began. Joel Halpern's photographs of Bosnian life taken over several decades, complemented by reproductions of 19th century engravings, define the various ethnic groups in Bosnia -- Serbians, Croatians, Muslims, and Jews -- and establish a tradition of interaction between these people in traditional Bosnian society.

Another section of the exhibition juxtaposes recent photographs documenting the destruction of several architectural monuments with earlier images showing the monuments intact. Although the monuments represent only a fraction of the losses to Bosnia's cultural heritage, their juxtaposition 
The Thin Veneer
Joel Halpern, Flute Player,
1964, color photograph, 
20 x 16 inches
makes a powerful statement about the overall devastation to the country's people and culture. Also included in The Thin Veneer is a selection of graphic works from an exhibition entitled Sarajevo '92. The prints were created by the faculty and graduate students at the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Sarajevo from June to September of 1992. Individually and together, they present a powerful testimony of the artists' experiences of living in a city under siege.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a free symposium cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities was held on April 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the University campus.

Generous funds for the exhibition, catalogue and symposium were provided by: the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, New York; Islamic Council of New England; Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts; Center for European Studies at Cornell University; Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; the Chancellor's Office, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, University Museum of Contemporary Art, Middle Eastern Studies Program, and the UMass Arts Council of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


11am to 4:30pm
Saturday & Sunday:
2pm to 5pm

Open until 8 PM every first Thursday of the month

Academic Breaks
State Holidays
Contact Us
Main Number
(413) 545 3672

Staff Contacts

Map of UMCA
151 Presidents Dr
Amherst, MA 01003



Related Media

The Thin Veneer

The Thin Veneer Catalog

Text by Walter Denny, Joel Halpern and Roxanne Stanulis
8.4" x 10.8"; 16 pgs., 37 illus.
Published in 1997
Price $5