Clare Twomey meets Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović

Ceramicist and academic Clare Twomey met Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović, who survived the notorious Omarska concentration camp during the Bosnian War. Nisad experienced the pain of communities turning on one another, as school friends became oppressors. The pair discussed Nisad’s experience of the concentration camps, and how human solidarity can triumph even in horrific circumstances.

Clare’s ‘Humanity is in our Hands’ project is a response to meeting Nisad.


On Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January 2015, Clare Twomey invited the public to give their thoughts on the subject of humanity. The artist walked over Westminster Bridge from 7am until 7pm, politely and quietly giving away 2,000 invitations to people she encountered.

This invitation said: Today you are invited to be part of a new work, your words will be placed on thousands of beautiful porcelain objects that will be made in the coming year. These objects will be handed back to the public as gifts on Westminster Bridge, on this date one year from now, 27 January 2016. The recipients will become the custodians of your thoughts.

The artwork is an exchange of ideas held on a precious material that is time-withstanding yet fragile. The artwork is reminiscent of the exchange that happens in many forms in our society everyday, unsaid agreements to care, to carry forward concerns of the humane.

The public responded to the invitation with hundreds of beautiful texts, words and stories detailing the qualities that society could cherish to accomplish a humane society.

Clare has now handmade the artwork – 2,000 delicate porcelain spoons, inscribed with words collected from the public. The spoons relate to Nisad’s life story – whilst in the concentration camps he and his fellow prisoners carved spoons from wood, using a piece of broken glass. Clare’s porcelain spoons are based on one of these wooden spoons. They make a connection with nurturing, feeding and caring for each other.

These thoughts from last year’s participants will be given back to a new set of members of the public, again on Westminster Bridge, on Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. The artwork becomes a gift, a fragile gift that needs care and warrants consideration.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said:

’27 January 2016 will the culmination of Clare’s ambitious, thoughtful and profound project, which honours the life story of Nisad Jakupović, and challenges us all to consider our responsibilities to create and preserve a humane society. The gifting of these 2,000 beautiful objects is a wonderful and fitting activity for Holocaust Memorial Day.’

Clare's spoons

Public responses to ‘Humanity is in our Hands’

The responses below are answers from members of the public to the question ‘What human qualities allow society to flourish?’

Geoffrey Makstutis, 49 – For a society to flourish, each individual must be able to attempt to see the world as others may see it. This means being willing to stand outside of our own beliefs and values, in order to explore another’s. If we can (at the very least) attempt this, we can then move on to compassion and understanding

Tony Quinn, 44 – Society requires empathy, equanimity, friendship, generosity, fun and love to flourish! Economics and commerce do not result in a successful society, despite what politicians would tell you

Kava Mulvey, 47 – Compassion, intelligence, optimism, realism (those last two in tandem) – to come up with the ideas and determination, stamina, persistence and charm to see them through! And a dedicated space / time (i.e. evening a week) for a project / process

Roberto, 38 – Compassion & Mindfulness

Julia Rowntree, 63 – Humility, ability to learn, kindness, generosity, leadership & love

Patrick Robichaud, 55 – Hope. Hope cannot be crushed. Even in the most dire circumstances, hope cannot be extinguished

Bart Hallett, 48 – Gestures of kindness without personal gain

Madeleine MacMahon, 29 – We must never stop learning from one another. If we can do this, then we will grow both as individuals and as a society

Rob Kesseler, 63 – Respect, tolerance, awareness, imagination, commitment, competitiveness, resilience, humility, a love for life. A willingness to listen, to share, to speak out, to keep quiet

Bronwen Ackhurst Malcolm, 51 – Freedom and tolerance

John Dewhurst, 25 – Society cannot flourish without a mutual respect for your fellow man and woman. From respect flows empathy and until we fully empathise with all those who make up our community we will not be able to make a truly just and flourishing society

Anonymous – Tolerance and compassion, among many other things. But perhaps most importantly the ability to perceive when others are being mistreated, and having the courage to fight against these injustices, rather than overlook them

Joe, 32 – Living without prejudice and treating every individual with respect and dignity allows society to flourish

Jay, 36 – Care, respect and thoughtfulness., Taking time to recognise and celebrate all that is good in the world, and take time to help those around you… life is a shared experience. Treat everyone as an individual with feelings, put down that brush

Lisamarie Harris, 36 – To have an open mind allows an open heart

Ellen, 43 – Love, intelligence, friendship and above all determination to act to support those in need and improve the world around them

Elspeth, 4 – “Granny is as wise a two owls, one inside of the other”

Helen, 37 – For society to flourish, people need to think beyond themselves, they need to show compassion, tolerance and understanding to those who they perceive to be ‘different’. They need to recognonise that everyone is of value regardless of race, creed, gender or sexuality

Anonymous – Kindness. Generosity. Enthusiasm. Humour

Richard Launder, 61 – Celebrate difference

Sophie B, 30 – For society to flourish, you need friendship, kindness, tolerance and understanding. You need to recognise and appreciate not only people’s similarities, but also their differences. The old saying states ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’ – and it is so true

When Clare met Nisad

Clare Twomey meets Nisad

Clare says that “Meeting Nisad was an easy meeting. It was like meeting an old friend. He had stories to tell me, stories that I understood. We are both born in the 1960s. Nisad is three years older than me. We both had childhoods and growing years with our families, supported and loved. Nisad grew up in Bosnia and I grew up in the UK.

In 1992 Nisad was the person I read about in the headlines. He was one side of the Bosnian War, the genocide and I was watching on the news. Now I meet Nisad and he told me his story of that time, he has great hope in humanity, he has great hope that his children will not see the same atrocities. In this work “Humanity is in our hands”, I make a work for the next generation to hand on, our thoughts of humanity at its best, not at its worst.”

Nisad’s story

Image of Bosnian genocide survivor Nisad and his brother in Omarska

Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović (right) with his brother in Omarska before the war

Nisad was born on 30 April 1965 in the town of Prijedor in north-west Bosnia. He comes from a big family, with 10 brothers and sisters.

When Nisad was aged one his family moved to village of Kevljani in the Prijedor municipality. Nisad’s dad was a railway worker – his three oldest brothers also went on to work on the railway. All of Nisad’s brothers and sisters attended Omarska secondary school.

Their mother stayed at home doing housework and gardening, as did most mothers in the villages in that region. He remembers living in an integrated community where Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs lived and worked alongside each other, with little notion of ethnic difference.

After secondary school Nisad finished a four-year geology course in Prijedor, gaining the title ‘geological technician’. However, he did not find employment as a geologist. Like many young people in that area in the late 1980s, he went to work as labourer in Croatia.

Ceramicist Clare Twomey has Bosnian coffee with survivor Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović

Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović shares his Bosnian coffee with Clare Twomey

Image of Bosnian genocide survivor Nisad and other prisoners at Manjaca Camp

Prisoners at Manjaca camp including Nisad (sat behind his brother, who is wearing the red jumper)

On 30 April 1992 the Serbian paramilitary force took over the municipality of Prijedor, which Nisad says is an event that ruined his birthdays forever. In March 1992 he had returned home for a regular break from work and was forcibly detained by the Serb paramilitary until 24 May 1992 when they attacked the village.

While under arrest at a local school pitch, Nisad remembers a guard – a former desk mate from school and close neighbour – ignoring him when he needed help. Yet he also recalls another familiar face, someone he knew less well, helping him out in a similar situation.

‘There were a few specific really bad days that everyone remembers.’

Nisad was taken to the Omarska Concentration Camp, where he was imprisoned from the opening of the camp until 6 August 1992. His four eldest brothers were also detained in the camp. They were held captive simply because they were Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims. He remembers being told by his older brother to wear a black T-shirt so as not to stand out from the crowd when special forces came to the camp to select people to beat.

When ITN filmed at the camp, Nisad was hidden from the cameras as he showed visible signs of torture.

On 6 August he remembers an ITN news crew entering the camp with journalist Ed Vulliamy. He was hidden from the TV cameras by the camp authorities, as were most of inmates who showed visible signs of torture. Camp guards chose prisoners in a better condition and who had arrived at a later stage to feature in the report.

Nisad was later transferred to Manjaca Concentration Camp where he stayed until 14 December 1992. Nisad’s normal weight before Omarska was 75 kg, but when measured by the Red Cross at Manjaca just after being transfer from Omarska he was just 54 kg. In 72 days he had lost 21 kg. From Manjaca he was taken to a detention centre in Croatia. The Red Cross worked to relocate those being held by finding family connections in other countries. Nisad’s brother was already in the UK.

On 3 February 1993, on request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he arrived in the UK to start a new life with no knowledge of the English language.

In 1995 he married the daughter of another concentration camp survivor and had two children. From 1998 to 2001 he studied civil engineering at Kingston University in London. Today Nisad works as a civil engineer, and is a published Bosnian-language poet.

Nisad feels that it’s important to share his story today to raise awareness both in the UK and in Bosnia, where a permanent memorial at Omarksa has been rejected.

Image of Nisad's Red Cross document

Nisad still has his Red Cross documents

Clare Twomey is a British artist, researcher, and curator. Her work deals with performance, serial production and transience, and often involves site-specific installations. She has worked with public institutes such as the Foundling Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate, and has presented commissions in the USA, Korea, Holland, Canada, Japan and Italy.

Through her work at the University of Westminster she has undertaken academic research into the role of the audience in the creation and destruction of dialogue in the museum context. As an artist Clare aims to bring reason, motivation and engagement to the Memory Makers project, and hopes to create awareness of genocide and its human impact.

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