Episode 9

Nataša Konjević - The Muralist from Banja Luka

Published on: 25th January, 2024

Banja Luka is the birthplace of Nataša Konjević a female muralist. At the time of recording this episode, Nataša is the only female muralist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, doing big scale murals on buildings. Yes, there are more women and men doing murals, (but none of the other girls paint on a large scale of 10 or 15 meters high

In my opinion, Nataša is a Unique, Trail Blazing person.In the following podcast I find out about her. Not only as a person, but why she chose to paint these huge Murals, her ethical approach to art, and much much more.You can find out more about Nataša on our Blog.

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This episode starts, would you believe, with me in a queue buying meat. And that was quite some time ago. I was in a large hypermarket, which is on the outskirts of Banja Luka, called Tropic. And while I was waiting in line for the meat, I was looking around, like you do, talking to my wife, but looking around.

And then there was this lady looking down on me from this wall. And I thought, good gracious me, what is that? And as I looked around, there was this huge mural. And I was quite surprised, pleasantly surprised. I took out my camera, my mobile phone, to take a photograph of it. But I got the picture. And I thought no more about it until I went to the municipal offices.

In our local town, which is called Lactatia and as we stop at the car park There's this huge wall that has been painted and I thought goodness me This is also very good. And at that time I thought what and there's a little signature block both on the mural in the Hypermarket and on this wall that says conyo and I just saw I wonder what that is Once again, david thinks no more about it until I follow my good friend dalibor who works As a videographer, I believe on a podcast called the escape podcast.

And on one of these additions, I suddenly realized that the person that has created these two murals, and we're going to find out about that in a minute, was also drawing an amazing portrait. I think I can say it was on the escape podcast and you'll find the escape podcast, the link to that. In the description below now, I do know that the person that does this is we're going to find out more about her Is natasha konievich, I believe she's a banya luchanka.

I'll find out if i've got that right in a minute That means a girl from banya luka. So natasha, welcome to the podcast when people normally Introduce people like yourself, they trawl wiki, they trawl the internet, they trawl history books and everything else to find out and then they tell the audience.

I actually believe that the best thing that one can do is to say, Natasha? You tell me, who is Natasha Konevich? First of all, hello David, and thank you for this warm introduction. I don't know I'm just, I'm surprised with your story I know that you saw the wall in Tropic, but the thing is Maybe this will tell you something more about myself, because what you said about taking picture of the wall, that is something I'm, like, really bad at.

For myself, it's more like meeting the deadline. I do the wall. I put myself in it, I work really hard until I finish it, and then I need to run off before taking photo of the wall. So when you sent me the photo you took of Tropic, actually you have better photo of the wall than I do.

Because I just couldn't find the time at the moment to take the photo and I don't know, when you send me the link, I was really happy with it. So thank you for that one, I never told you about the thing with the photos of the wall. Now you studied art, I believe, not only in Banja Luka, but you went off to Belgrade, I believe.

What's it like? For somebody that is passionate about something such as art to leave their home city and to go off somewhere else to study because it's a whole new community and it's a whole new experience. How did you find that experience? Oh it's perfect. I encourage every young artist to do that.

Because for myself, I was born in Banja Luka, I finished my high school, my faculty here, and then, like, when you spend your entire life in one place, I did travel a lot, but still, I couldn't experience the richness of another, living in another city. For me Belgrade was huge experience.

And I would recommend it to everyone because not only I loved the teachers on the faculty I went to master's, but also the city itself It's huge compared to Banja Luka, it's vibrant, it has everything to offer to young person, I think for myself it was really a big thing, and, I don't know, it just filled me up with with all these wonderful things you can find there, the street art the, quite quite a good music scene I don't know, I just.

Just took a lot of things from Belgrade and not just Belgrade, but like wherever you, you have the chance to move from the place. You are living most of your life. You should go. You should take it. It's scary in the beginning. Of course even moving in Banja Luka to my own apartment it was scary, but I think you, you can feel it when you should just have a little bit of courage.

to move out of your comfort zone. I was about to say about comfort zones and conservatism with a small c. When I first arrived in Banja Luka and I was walking around I was quite amazed with graffiti and I will tell you why. I was born in London, have been living back in England now for decades, but I always remember that I found that the graffiti was most offensive to me and whilst walking around Banja Luka I started to realise that there was actually a degree of creativity to it and when speaking to other people of a similar age to me, it was so negative, these brutalist socialist style buildings of which there are still a lot in Banja Luka covered with graffiti.

A lot of the older people were very negative about it and I couldn't understand why. And they said, if you really want to see some art, we'll show you some art. And it's, the traditional sort of stuff that you spend hundreds of euros in a year. Before COVID, of course, when you traveled, you go and see Van Gogh and you go and see all the rest of the stuff.

And then when I was walking through Boddich, that's the first time I have to admit to you that I'd seen walls, canvases, if you will, of this huge size, and I just couldn't get my head around how people did that. So today I'm hopefully going to find out the mechanics of it. I know that you do small works.

I know that you do these monumentally huge works. What made you choose? Murals. It's not something that every artist, student of art would go for. It seems exceedingly complicated and exceedingly time consuming and it's a logistic nightmare. Why murals, Natasha? Why? I love the logistic nightmare.

yEah. To be honest, for myself, I I don't consider myself quite a courageous person, but from time to time I see these little windows where I just need a little bit of courage and then to jump on the train and it will lead me somewhere. For the murals, what happened I finished Art Academy.

Actually, I didn't do the painting. It was art printing. It has nothing to do with murals. And after I finished that, I was involved with this NGO from Banja Luka called Zdravodaste. Maybe you've heard of it. They do a lot of a lot of work with young people. I had the chance.

to visit some international workshops based on street art, illustration theater music, and all different stuff, and I had the chance to meet people who do street art for more than ten years there. For myself, that was the first, how to say the, there I got the wish to do it.

And, before doing really big wall, I did only wall that is a bigger canvas. Maybe two meters by four or something like that. That's basically the baby mural. It's not big. So after that, there was a competition in , which is a city near, near Daniel Luca. And it, it was the first year they organized the mural competition called Paula the Money Court.

And I decided to apply and I applied and I got the first prize. So I needed to paint the wall that is like 12 meters high, and I haven't done it before. Of course I was scared, but I had assistance from my friends, and also I talked with my dad, who is a electrician, and he's a guy who He's good with logics and finding solution to all kinds of problems.

So I talked with him. What's the, what's his thoughts on how is the best way to approach the wall? How should I transfer it? And that was the first time when I used the so called grid system to transfer the sketch to the wall. So basically what you do, you split your drawing into grids, like a puzzle.

Thanks for listening to our podcast. If you would like to support us and the production of future episodes, then please consider maybe buying us a coffee. The link to do that is in the show notes for this podcast. We just had a power cut. This is one of the things Herzegovina, especially, I don't know.

Anyway, Natasha, I'm so sorry about that. You were talking about your breaking up the walls into grids and that's when everything went bang here. So I'm sorry about that. So you break the wall down into grids. Does this make it easier for you then to transfer your idea onto the wall? Yeah, exactly.

So what I said it's like kids playing with puzzles. So you need to fit every piece where it goes. So you just follow the sketch that is like split in the grid. And then you Just connect the dots. Connect the lines. It's a actually huge game In the end I saw on your Instagram feed that you have to Use these cranes to lift you up onto these large scaffolding Construction scaffolding so that you can paint I for one are terrified of heights So not only have you got to put your vision on?

On the wall, especially when it's very high, but also concerning yourself, your own safety, how do you focus? First day is always tricky. First day, you know that you're gonna make mistakes on the wall, on the drawing, and you're just, you're scared you're getting used to either it's scaffolding or it's huge crane, what you said first day, it's always adjustment day.

Yeah, I also have fear from kites, but as my friend told me, who is also a muralist, he told me, no, you don't, because you wouldn't be able to climb up here, you would just faint. So you don't have the fear, you're just being careful, that's it. We were talking or you laughed when you said about, when I mentioned the comment about logistics, not only do you have to find all this equipment that you need, But there's one logistical problem that you must face, which is the unexpected.

We just had a logistical problem here with the power going. What happens like when you're painting and it suddenly starts to rain? How do you cope with that? Paint needs to dry, right? Exactly. But when it's raining, you're not painting and that's it. It's a problem if you have a deadline that should be met.

But on the other hand, for myself, I deal more easily with that because I know it's not something I can impact on I cannot change the weather, so For myself, it's I deal with it easy. Okay, it's raining, I cannot do anything. But yes, it's tricky because a lot of walls that I did are done, let's say, September, October, when the season of the rain is starting, so it's tricky to find the seven days if you need to paint outside.

But also, on the other hand it's I don't know, it's not good also to paint in July, let's say, because it's so hot and the paint dries so easily. So it's really like we, recently we finished one wall in in Gradiška. And it was like, for three days it was hell from one to, till four in the afternoon because It's just, it wasn't possible to paint, the sun was hitting the wall so hard, and if you have the white wall, like pure white, it's hell, because it's just, it reflects back to you, and if you have 30 or more degrees it's just impossible to paint, because the, you mix the paint to put it on the wall, and then in 5 minutes, it's dry, it's, it has the, Yeah, so either way, it's, I don't know, it's perfect if it's a bit cloudy, so I would say 20 degrees and cloudy, that's the perfect weather to paint outside.

Oh, so you'd be really happy in, in, in my home country where we never seem to see the, where we never seen rain. I was with my wife, we went, when we went to Gradizhka, because that's where we were going to speak to you first, and then a lot of things got in the way and we were taking photographs of the wall.

And I remember saying to Tamra, what goes through an artist's head when somebody comes up and says, Hey, I'd like you to do this for me. In other words, a commission. Do you think in detail about that? Do you think about whether it's ethical, whether it fits with what you're all about before you accept it?

What are the sort of things that you, that concern you? If I was to come up now and say, I'd like you to paint. The UK flag on the side of the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska, for example, extreme example, I know. whAt sort of things do you think about? Because I'm sure you would say, David, we cannot do that there.

But so what are the thoughts when somebody comes to you and says, Natasha, I want you to do this. Is it a case of just saying, Hey, I'll do it. Or what is the thought process that you have? I love that you asked this question because I haven't been asked before, to be honest. And I find it really important.

Like for myself, I never took something that I thought was unethical or it's, it can make any harm to anyone. I was really strict about that. I did some work that, for example in the beginning, I did kids rooms, children's rooms, because it was let's say, easy cash. It's quick to do it, but on the other hand, you're not expressing yourself as an artist.

You are not evolving in your art style, and just your creativity there, it's not high. But on the other hand, you You have to ch the chance to gain more experience with painting on the walls. And also like you can spread people that you paint for, they can spread the word about you being someone who paints walls, of course.

But for myself, it was a huge thing to just reject the projects that I didn't feel comfortable doing, that I didn't believe in. Even if it's, it wasn't offensive to anyone, it's just if. I don't believe that's something that should be done, or should be done by me I, I will not accept it yeah I'm strict about it.

This leads nicely on to my next question for you. Bosnia Herzegovina, and the Balkans in general I know a lot of people are gonna give me some hate comments on this, I'm sure, but it's still a patriarchal community. It's still hugely male dominated and I loved the fact that you accepted to do the mural in Sarajevo recently of the first professional female professional journalist, newspaper, proprietor and editor in, in, in chief as part of a a project to highlight successful women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When somebody gives you a challenge like that, does And I mean that, that is a, I would say a political statement in a way. Does that put added stress so you get it right? I mean that one in Sarajevo is brilliant. It highlights to everybody that women certainly have a role in this country.

Yeah, so that one actually we did the book. Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, three years ago, I think, already. When I accepted to do it then I, my opinion hasn't changed in three years. On the topic, I also think that still this is what you said male dominant society. But, I don't know, for myself, I don't see it as a, how to say, as a I I see it as a challenge I, I don't see myself as someone who needs to listen to the propaganda or whatever is happening.

I see myself as someone who has enough skills and is just I have the opportunity to say something and to do something on my own. And I'm quite a stubborn person and I'm persistent, so I don't know for myself I don't see because, sorry, if I'm jumping with the, just my brain this topic is also a huge thing and I have a lot of things to say about that, so I'm just trying to wrap my mind around what exactly to say.

What I wanted to say concerning the being a female street artist here I didn't have that big of I don't know negative critique or people trying To say that I shouldn't do that I'm a female, I should be in kitchen, that narrative I didn't have that. Usually it was like people were thrilled to see women can do stuff that usually it's male stuff.

Just climbing on scaffolding, it's, for them it was like, Oh, female is there. So yeah, I don't know. I with mural in, in Sarajevo I didn't hesitate at all to, should I do it or should I not do it? Because for myself, with the as you already know, in, in Balkans, in Bosnia, especially like the identity thing concerning Bosnia, it's huge.

It's It's suffocating at times you should say who you are concerning the, your nationality and religion and stuff, you know how important here people make it. But for myself, I would like to focus on other things because I think the narrative about who is who here, It's just taken so much time 30 years, it's too much I would like to focus on actual results that people made, for example, as Milena Mrazovic did she, she made a lot of things, as you said she was first female journalist and editor.

in chief and she was composer and actually she did the first concert of classical music and it was held in Banja Luka. So she was living in the city that I was born and raised for some time. So why shouldn't I do it? I don't see the, I don't see the logic, to be honest, behind the thing that I should think about.

Should I do it? Should I not do it? Because she Like, it wouldn't be maybe it wouldn't be logical to do her mural in, let's say Egypt, because she has nothing to do with Egypt, but for, to do it in Sarajevo, of course, I had looked at the picture and sometimes I get weird thoughts going through my mind, but I'm going to ask you about your feelings on this question.

lena was a trailblazer in the:

Do you feel that you're a trailblazer in your particular niche of art? Maybe in I was thinking about that, but like maybe in, a woman street artist in Bosnia because like they're actually a lot of people in Bosnia that do murals and street art. But I was talking to Marina from the girl that started and she's a founder of Street Art Mostar.

So they celebrated 10 years now. And I asked. Last year, if there is a, because she knows all of us, she knows everyone in Bosnia that does murals and street art. And I asked her if there is another female artist from Bosnia that does buildings like big walls. And she said, no, you're the only one. So I don't know.

I, as I'm stubborn, I have to say that I'm also a proud person. So I'm not going to be like I would say we have the word for it in our language just to be like fake humble. I'm not gonna be that Now, just, that's just a fact, for now, as I say for now, I'm sure there is really a lot of young artists that are just starting I'm happy to see what they are going to do, and, for sure, there will be more and more I don't know it's a nice fact to, to have I don't know, to wear it as a badge or something, I don't know.

I would say that if you are the only one, and I checked this out and I couldn't find another, if you are the only one, you normally have the label while you are the only one, of being unique. So it's really nice to know that I'm speaking to a unique person in the field of art. You were talking about what you do so this leads on to, to, to my next question.

What piece that you have created, big or small, are you the most proud of? Okay, I think it would be the wall I did in Gradiška last year the one with the white stork, because it was the first the biggest wall I did alone on my own, and I did it with crane, which I haven't used before I did only smaller wall with crane, it's 7 meters high so it's not that big and this one is 15 meters by 12 something like that and the surface was just terrible and Of course, they were rainy days So it's went on and on the that was the longest I did the toughest one the hardest one also because There were days where we would work for three hours and that was it And that doesn't work.

You need to have the entire day to, to work to just be able to finish it. So maybe I would say I'm, that was the most difficult one to do. So I would say I'm the most proud of that one. I actually I like that as well. And I, and yeah, it's because Gradiška is also the home. Of the stalk in the north of Bosnia, Herzegovina.

I wish we had stalks here, but I dunno we're too far away from it. When you're out and about and you're doing things, for example in, in kindergarten schools. And young people are always so investigative and they must be stood there looking at you doing this, especially the kids and going, what about this?

Do you ever have the thought of, or do you actually ever? Interact with younger people and try and stimulate them into being another you. Yeah, actually I had I remember one thing from the wall I did in Zenica which is also a city in Bosnia. So I did it in a schoolyard, on one of the walls of the school.

And I love the fact that, like, when kids were passing by, they would comment, usually, that they do they're impressed with the, just, people climbing up and down. To be honest, that's, for them, that's enough. And then when they see that you paint something, that's another thing, what I loved, it's seeing one of the, there was one of, one group of kids, all boys, except one, one girl, and they were looking up while I was painting, and, I don't know, I saw, just saw her smiling, and I told her, Do they like it?

And she said yeah, I do. I said you can do it in few years. Like for sure you can do it. And also what I love there, it's just being, just having the opportunity to show to young girls especially to see them, to make them see me while working on the. On the building to make it like a normal thing to see for them like they have seen it Okay, it is the same like when you see I don't know for example some Mushroom that you know, it's rare or something like that when you find it you found it and that's it Like the next time you find it, it's not a big deal So just being able to be there and to show them like this is not impossible This is not that difficult And you can do it even in Bosnia yeah, being, being able to just to do my work in the environment of schoolyards, it's, for myself, I think it's enough, and also kindergarten what you said just to make, I don't know I'm sensitive on the topic of feminism and in general, just showing the girls That it's possible, like you, you can do it and it's not that big of a deal.

So yeah, it means a lot. When you sat down on that first day in the art faculty on the course that you had applied for and been accepted for, you must have had a dream or a vision in your head. Wow, here I am today and this is the output, the highway, if you will, to what I want to achieve. I bet a lot has changed and you never thought that you, on that first day, that you would be doing the things that you are now.

Have things been that radically different from that first dream? Yes, because, I also, when I decided to, how I decided to apply for art faculty, it's also I don't know, for me quite interesting story because I graduated from gymnasium. Yeah. Okay. Thank you. When I needed to do my final exam for the school, I didn't know what to do because every week I had something different in mind.

Usually you take the exam that you will continue. Like it can be of use to you to like the, to go further on the faculty. So I couldn't decide because I wanted to do, to be. Ecologist, biologist, English teacher psychologist, architect, I don't know, a lot of things, so every week it was something else.

And then I just decided, okay, I'm gonna take art classes as final exam because I really love art, but I haven't been that hard I haven't been studying hard while in high school, especially the art class, so I decided okay, I want to learn something more, so I'm gonna take it, and then I'm gonna figure out what what to apply for what college.

I'm And there I met my my friend, he's now my friend, he was my teacher then, he didn't we just met on the exam and he told me like, okay we were just chit chatting and I said, I draw something but, I never took it seriously, like possible career or something, I was just thinking okay, this is something that I like to do when I'm bored.

And basically that was it, like my entire life until art faculty, art was something that I would do when I'm bored. bored and when I want to do something creative that wasn't like The usual story like when I was three, I knew I wanted to be artist No I had no idea until 16 years old that you can live being an artist like I was thinking like okay that happened in past like I It just wasn't something that I thought much of and that art teacher a friend of mine He told me like you should apply for art faculty I'm gonna help you prepare for the exam and just like that, like in that, in one sentence, I was like, okay, yeah, let's do it.

And then I went home and while walking home, I was thinking like, oh, my parents will be so pissed. Like they, there's no chance that they will let me do it. And they were just happy for me to decide to finally make the decision okay, you know what you want to to study, because it was a horror for three months, I was, like, just not knowing what, where to go else, because I was a good student as well, and just had a lot of interest, so it was difficult to decide what to do.

And then when I got into art faculty, it was just like, I, something that I'm good at I can be really good at. It was just more of a, I don't know, while being on art faculty, it was more about getting skills. I took it more, I think, as a school than as, I don't know my career starts here. It's just I don't know, I didn't have the big dream of being like, artist that lives actually of selling her art or, I don't know, especially with murals because as I mentioned you, to you before.

To find out more about us and where we live, why not check out our blog? Yeah, another quick glitch there. Natasha, you've given me an Nearly an hour of your time on a Sunday, which is, which I'm totally grateful for. So here's my last question. What is next for Konyo? What is next for Natasha Konyevich?

We were talking only about murals, but I also do illustrations quite a lot. And it's something that takes a lot of my time. So illustrating children's books or editorial illustration. And. I have for the past three years, I have been working really hard, and most of the work is commission work.

And now I rejected a lot of work, a lot of jobs, so I could have the November, December, and January free just to paint and draw my own stuff, because I haven't done it in a long time. Because it's really difficult to find, for myself. Maybe for other people, I see them, they can do it, but for myself, it's difficult to jump from one illustrator project to a mural and then to find a gap to do some of your work, own work, personal stuff.

It's just, for myself, it wasn't possible to organize everything. What I decided, it's just to, to reject most of the work that was offered for November and December, as I said, I want to make more personal work and Possibly an exhibition, but we will see about that because I really miss painting and drawing and just doing it for the, doing whatever I want because most of the work, as I said, were commissioned work in the past three years.

And I feel that I need to find myself again, to explore more, to experiment more because I find myself now that I got stuck in a loop in a way with the, with works and with the art style that I was doing. So I would really like to explore more and to see where it can lead me.

Natasha, thank you so much for An illuminating, I'm gonna say that, see it's an arty word, an illuminating insight into, yeah, a trailblazer in modern day Bosnia and Herzegovina. And while you were just saying about plans for the future, maybe next year in the summer, if there is such a thing as a day or two of your free time, I think we should take a camera, video camera, and travel the country and do a little road trip based on where your murals are.

I think that would be a pretty cool and exciting project. thAnk you so much again for your time. In the description that goes with this podcast, wherever people will see it, hear it, or whatever, I've got a whole host of links to your Instagram account, to your Facebook page. And also some other art sites and I really hope that people take some time and and check it out because it is amazing.

Yeah, thank you so much for this. And this gives another insight to people that know nothing about Bosnia and Herzegovina, that actually it's a vibrant country with so much to offer and so much to see. And I think Whether people are looking at mosques, churches, hills, valleys, tasting food, drinking rakiya, they're also going to get a buzz out of seeing the wonderful work that you have.

for them to see here in, in your home country. So thank you once again. Thank you, dear David, for hosting me. Thank you for your patience with me to find the time to, to do this. It was really pleasant. And thank you for promoting Bosnia actually in a really good way. So I'm really happy to to be able to do this with you.

So thank you. Thank you once again.

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An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.