if you want me to save you.
from Montenegro, born in Rožaje. He is an artist, storyteller and performer, and joined his host organisation Künstlerhaus Bethanien as the recipient of an MRI scholarship in February 2021.
He kisses women for the sake of art and men for love. And vice versa. For some, that's enough to warrant throwing ice cream cones or coins at him. Others laugh and flirt with him, blow him kisses, show him love. Love and resistance – this is the fundamental attitude with which Dante Buu approaches art and life. "You should oppose cruelty with your head held high, stand for something, not just be contrary. I think that with love and resistance, you can change things in the long run", he says.
Photo by Jana Anđić
Death threats and narrow restrictions
Dante Buu has been living and working in Berlin as a scholarship holder of the Martin Roth-Initiative since February 2021. In his home of Montenegro, this is not actually possible. He is the first and thus far the sole Muslim artist from the Balkans who is openly homosexual. He has received death threats and his work has been restricted and pared down – if anyone exhibits him at all. Montenegro’s extremely traditional society has neither money nor a platform for someone like him; there is not even the space for a life of freedom.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist
A drama – for others
"I was tormented and picked on a lot as a child because I was very soft and ‘girly’. I loved Barbie dolls and skirts", Buu explains. "I was bullied by children, but also by parents who forbade their children to play with me because I was ‘like a girl’." His salvation was his loving family, who stand by him to this day.
When he came out to his parents as gay at 14, he was afraid, but they said, "That's totally okay", and things just went on, Buu explains. "I thought it was going to be some huge drama, but it wasn’t. Rather, it’s others who make a drama out of it. It's sad. You just want to live your life and instead you have to constantly deal with discrimination and harassment."
From a position of strength
His way of dealing with this is his art. Dante Buu’s subjects are love and resistance, intimacy and the untold stories of ordinary people, for which he uses himself and his own story. He submits himself to performances – for hours, sometimes for weeks – and connects them to photos or videos in which he himself appears, or to large pieces of embroidery that he sometimes works on for years.
"It's about the experiences we have, and it's about self-empowerment", says Dante Buu. "People can treat me with hostility, threaten me, pick on me, but my art comes from a position of strength. I won’t hide."
Love and hate balance each other out
He showed his performance "and you – do you die happy?" in Berlin in the spring of 2021. For eight days, day after day, he stood motionless for four hours in the display window of Künstlerhaus Bethanien, dressed in a black suit with an old-fashioned dial telephone in his hand, mascara tears applied to his face, while in a second window his video "Weekend Lovers II" played – a film in which Buu passionately kisses a woman and, over and over, other men.
"I don't know what was so provocative, but a lot of people reacted aggressively. They launched all kinds of things at the window from the street or rammed their bikes against the window. Some people held up porn on their cell phones at me, others threw coins at me", Buu recounts. "But on the other hand, there were also people who kissed the window or drew hearts on it as they passed by. One girl called out to me, “Blink twice if you want me to save you.” I laughed so hard. That love from the audience made up for the aggression, if you like."
“I am so nice to you & you are so mean to me”
In the summer of 2021, a subsequent performance took place at Künstlerhaus Bethanien; "I am so nice to you & you are so mean to me" had him attached to a cross for five hours at a time for 27 days – not as a religious commentary, as Buu emphasizes, but as a symbol of loneliness and suffering from the social demands that we as individuals often impose on ourselves. The performance was coupled with an exhibition ("thigh high") in the same building, where Buu presented his embroidery pieces for the first time. They had previously been shown in videos as part of performances, but the pieces themselves had never been exhibited. "I find it hard to show them because my embroidery pieces are very intimate", he says. "I spend so much time with them, I go through so many phases with them. When I display them, I feel almost naked."
Stories woven with silk threads
The embroidery piece "A Portrait of My Parents/Summer" (Fifth Season), for example, is one meter fifty by two meters, filled with black silken thread. It took him four years to complete. Other works do employ colour, but all of them have a personal story or question as a catalyst. "I have a big basket full of embroidery threads. I instinctively choose a colour and embroider as I feel in that moment until the thread is used up."
For Dante Buu, these pieces contain everything: his own experiences, the story of his mother, his aunts, his grandmother and of his homeland – for embroidery has a long meaningful tradition in Montenegro. This is especially true, of course, for women.
“Can we do without an agenda for once?”
"For the sake of marketing myself as an artist, it would probably be better if I committed to a genre", says Dante Buu. "But I want to do what I want, and that's always been a problem. Then it's, 'Oh, he doesn't fit this agenda, he doesn't fit that agenda.' And I think, 'Can't we do without an agenda for once?’ I've lived under restrictions for so long, I want to be free."
Photo by Bastian Hopfgarten
The Künstlerhaus Bethanien is an international cultural centre in Berlin. As a studio house and workplace for professional artists, and a multi-layered project workshop and event location, it has set itself the goal of promoting contemporary visual arts. Its chief focus is an international studio programme, in which artists from all over the world develop and present projects every year.
Text: Marion Meyer-Radtke; editing: MRI
Photos and videography in video/audio slideshow: Rolf Schulten; except the last photo in video/audio slideshow: Photo by Bastian Hopfgarten
Video/audio slideshow design: Johanna Barnbeck
Photos in gallery: Rolf Schulten