He is a cartoonist, illustrator, graphic artist, artist in the service of the press and the recipient of the greatest national and international awards. He says that humourists and cartoonists have been considered insane for centuries. Today the situation has changed, with many speakers and leaders, along with their listeners and followers, having gone insane, while cartoonists are serious, socially responsible and, of course, humorous
The Vlahovićs are originally from the vicinity of Andrijevica in Montenegro. Manojlo Vlahović came to Belgrade to study. A communist and a student of the Faculty of Law, he made friends with Lola Ribar and other advanced young leftists of the time. His girlfriend, and later wife, Draginja was a girl from a well-to-do urban family from Podgorica who had been sent to Belgrade by her father to study agronomy.
Their marriage of love gifted them the wealth of three children, two daughters and a son. His father, as an initial fighter in World War II, was left without a leg, but in 1951 the new government condemned him to Goli Otok [Naked Island, the Yugoslav island prison for political dissidents], although he’d had nothing to do with the Soviet Informbiro of 1948. Someone reported him under an invented charge and this invalid war veteran spent five and a half years on the island that was synonymous with the most severe punishment in the history of Yugoslavia’s existence.
Jugoslav Vlahović, 70, was just five when his mother took him to Naked Island to visit his father, and today he recalls that trip for CorD:
“I was among the few in my generation who visited their father on Goli Otok. I have a clear picture in my mind of the cells I saw back then, I took my father white woollen socks and I recall well his face when I saw him. I was five and that was the first thing I remember. I never understood how they came to arrest my father, who was a faithful Communist, whose word was so obeyed and respected, and who also formed a party organisation in his neighbourhood. I never found a logical answer to that question, and I would say that my turning towards satire was in a way about escaping that harsh reality. My father, however, wasn’t burdened in life by his Naked island experience, nor did he pass on any trauma to us. On the contrary, humour was among his main preoccupations, from the books he read to the cartoons he cut out of the newspaper for me. He would say “compared to Lola, I did well”. And I used my sketches and caricatures to turn life into a tragicomedy.”
Prior to Yugoslav, the Vlahović family had never had any visual artists. However, in his early youth, Juga – as we all call him – discovered that he was closely related to famous Montenegrin painter Miodrag “Dado” Đurić, on his mother’s side, through granny Spasenija, whose maiden name was Đurić. With or without genetics, he demonstrated great skills in drawing as early as the first year of primary school, copying not only letters but also illustrations from his schoolbook.
It was in sixth grade that he received the highest award of the time for a school pupil – Dragon’s Award for the Best Drawing. It was presented to him by Mira Alečković, a writer he already knew about from his school textbook. And so everything progressed with his drawing and artistic creations during his school years, with the certainty that art would be his future:
“In my street lived Vladimir Veličković, a successful painter who’d completed architecture studies. I thought I would also be able to do that – to be a painter and to complete architecture. I enrolled in architecture studies in 1968, completed the first year and enrolled in the second. However, other interests also began emerging; I founded an ensemble, went to rehearsals for Hair, and abandoned college. I wasn’t sorry, because in my first year of architecture studies I’d learnt important things related to drawing, I became proficient at handling accessories and drawing tools because there were no computers back then. This was very useful to me later, when I was doing graphic design, trademarks. I also had great professors.” The Faculty of Applied Arts, where he subsequently completed his studies, was to become his future.
I was among the few in my generation who visited their fathers on Goli Otok. I have a clear picture in my mind of the cells I saw back then… I was five and that was the first thing I remember
After graduating from high school, majoring in natural mathematics, Juga turned to focus fully on art. Music, his orchestra, artistic happenings and auditions for Hair:
“From the audition for the musical Hair to the premiere performance in May 1969, eight months passed. It was very serious work. We worked every day, mostly at night, some participants in this show left, while others came, and we all enjoyed it because it was something completely new in our lives. I found all this interesting because I entered Atelje 212 Theatre from the inside; I would sit at the buffet and listen to Zoran Radmilović and Mihiz, who revealed a new world to me. How would I have become part of that famous Atelje if it wasn’t for Hair? When would I listen to these outbursts of spirit and lucidity from the people who created the atmosphere out of everything that was significant in the culture of those years? I also watched BITEF [Belgrade international theatre festival], my horizons broadened and as the years passed I became ever more aware of the importance of that experience that I’d had while working on and performing in Hair. The 50th anniversary of that premiere was commemorated recently, and it was marked at Atelje 212 with an interesting gathering that I attended. All the people who contributed to making that show world-famous were mentioned, but I think that – apart from Mira Trailović, Zoran Ratković, Jovan Ćirilov, Muharem Pervić et al – not enough mentioned is made of the role of Saša Radojčić, jazz pianist, composer and arranger, without whom the music of Hair wouldn’t have sounded like it did, nor would those songs have been performed so professionally.”
Jugoslav performed in Hair as a member of the tribe. He sang and had a striking look with his long hair and beard. Many people who knew him were shocked to see him naked on stage. They didn’t know that he’d personally applied to be on the adamite team. This was another expression of his free spirit. When he found himself watching the original American version of Hair on Broadway in 1971, his heart began to flutter, he was able to find a connection, and they briefly allowed him to go on stage to be included among the cast of the most celebrated version of Hair on the planet. Speaking about the experience later, he said:
“After the show, in the women’s dressing room, I met a striking, handsome black lady. I introduced myself: ‘I’m Juga from Yugoslavia’, she replied, thinking I was kidding, ‘Then I’m Denna from Denmark’. I told her that I was a painter and we also spoke about that. However, a friend of hers dragged her away from me, joking that – as a communist – I would take her away to Cuba forever. That ended our acquaintance, and it was only much later I realised that that had been none other than Donna Summer.”
It was actually while he was having rehearsals for Belgrade’s Hair, in 1968, that this rebellious rocker founded the first Yugoslav independent acoustic group, which was called Porodična manufaktura crnog hleba [The Family Factory of Black Bread]. Apart from Juga, the members included his first cousins Maja de Rado and Slobodan Saša, along with a few friends. They performed more than 20 concerts at the Theatre in the Basement. He also had the performance team EKIPA A3 (Team for action and anonymous attraction) and remains in popular memory for their ‘Absolute Happening’, performed in front of 5,000 people in Belgrade’s Knez Mihailova Street on the occasion of the Bitef festival, as well as their happenings performed at the Student Culture Centre – SKC and in the cities of the former Yugoslavia (Autobus [Bus], Crni reflektor [Black Spotlight], Dejstvo pozorišnog kostima [Effect of Theatrical Costume] etc.). All of that was new and interesting during those years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Alongside all of that, Jugoslav was a good student, who found the time for everything and was very organised, easily managing to perform in Hair during the evenings and to make it to classes in the mornings:
“The concept of our happenings was joking around, but we were a big attraction and proved very enticing to the young people of that time who gathered at the popular Student Culture Centre. There would be the talk around Belgrade for days when we would gather in a wooden red bus and walk it through the city, announcing an exhibition at SKC. We were received wonderfully in Zagreb, Skopje, East Berlin, while we were even in Edinburgh, but that wasn’t sufficiently artistically critiqued or recorded here. Some important arbitrators of the time simply silenced us, while abroad we were seriously lauded by other important arbitrators. My musical, theatrical and performance career lasted for seven years, and then – after returning from national service in the Yugoslav People’s Army – I devoted myself completely to illustration, caricature and everything for which I’d studied.”
If a caricature is good, it can pass in the New York Times just as it can in NIN, and it reaches readers across the four corners of the world
He experienced success in this field already as a student. He received his first prize at the first competition organised by the military, at Air Force House in Zemun. The president of the jury was famous cartoonist Milorad Dobrić. When some important army general in attendance saw the long-haired Juga receiving the award, he turned to ask Dobrić: “Well, did you really have to reward this hairy man?” To which Dobrić responded: “We had to! He submitted seven caricatures, all better than the best.”
Juga recounts an interesting story from which we can easily extract the point about how he would most simply describe himself, with his desires, working habits and organisation of life:
“One professor, a researcher at Stanford University (U.S.), did an experiment with the youngest schoolchildren. He poured beautiful chocolates onto the desk and said that each child could take one chocolate each during the next 15 minutes when he would be absent. And that every child that didn’t take chocolate during those 15 minutes would be given two upon his return. Most of the kids took their chocolate, with only a few waiting to get two. All of those children were later followed during the course of their schooling, studies and life, and it turned out that the kids who got two candies were more successful in their jobs, far more successful than those impatient kids who grabbed one immediately. I’d say that I would be among those kids who waited for two chocolates.”
Last year saw Istanbul host the 35th edition of the world’s largest contest in caricature drawing, organised by the Aydin Doğan Foundation from Istanbul. The prize for this contest is actually a kind of Oscar for Caricature. After 10 rounds of voting on 2,450 works by 750 artists whose signatures were covered, the international jury declared Yugoslav Vlahović the winner.
Speaking on that occasion, he said: “For centuries, humorists and cartoonists have been considered insane. Today the situation has changed, with many speakers and leaders, along with their listeners and followers, having gone insane, while cartoonists are serious, socially responsible and, of course, humorous”.
This award could be said to represent the crowning glory of his success to date, but CorD’s interlocutor also recalls his first special award:
“I received the former Yugoslavia’s top recognition, the Pjer Award, in 1977. I was 28 years old. That drawing was a graphic work that I later, along with some others, turned into a graphic map. It’s difficult to imagine today what caricatures meant in Yugoslavia at the time, how they resounded. Mladina, which was then a very influential Slovenian weekly, published a two-page interview with me, under the headline “Prišel je Jugoslav!”, which translates as “Jugoslav has come!” So short, yet so conclusive. I had then just arrived at NIN, and it was really a great honour for me, but also for NIN, to receive such recognition. And NIN was then sold all over Yugoslavia, enjoying a huge reputation and massive circulation figures.”
Jugoslav remains at NIN to this day. He has become a trademark of this weekly that remains equally as respected. Media was very important for him and he always knew the power of the press. There is a story about him and his colleagues from Team A3 while they were visiting Zagreb. They immediately went to a gallery, while Juga immediately when to a newspaper office – because he knew that if it wasn’t recorded in the newspaper then nobody would know that they’d even come to Zagreb…Absolutely no one.
Jugoslav has had a passionate love of newspapers throughout his life that endures to this day. He’s travelled extensively around the world and toured the newsrooms of major publications wherever that’s been possible. He has, of course, visited The New York Times, The Times of London, Italy’s La Republica, Vienna’s Wiener Zeitung…All of these newspapers have published his caricatures.
In addition to works featured in several books he authored himself, Vlahović has published several thousand caricatures and illustrations in foreign and domestic magazines. He has illustrated and graphically prepared books by other authors, covers of the records and albums of pop and rock bands, calendars, posters for various artistic events, postage stamps and other graphical materials:
“If a caricature is good, it can pass in the New York Times just as it can in NIN, and it reaches readers across the four corners of the world. It was most important for me for my caricatures to be clear and simple, not to complicate; for me to have a clear idea that everyone would recognise. Satirical graphics are widely recognised around the world; Picasso inaugurated those satirical graphics as a new art back in 1971, as a movement that continues today. This form of intelligent, humorous drawing then began appearing in the press and in books. And most of these great cartoon satirists are, as a rule, tragicomic, because their caricatures are actually tragicomic. This was particularly evident in Eastern Europe, probably because of the system that Czechs, Poles and other nations lived under during the time of socialism. They developed this metaphorical expression because they weren’t allowed to express themselves directly, unlike their counterparts in societies that had a long democratic tradition. We were also a revelation for the New York Times with the caricatures we brought from here, from Yugoslavia. That was initially Zoran Jovanović, and after him, I came, then Pertčić and Mirko Ilić.”
Someone once complained to me that I never drew Milošević, which isn’t true, but that kind of caricature didn’t suit me. That’s not my style
During his time lecturing at the Faculty of Applied Arts, Vlahović was particularly interested in developing his students’ imagination and creativity, because imagination and thoughtfulness are the most important factors for cartoonists and illustrators. For most, that came down to beautiful but literal illustrations:
“I was able from the very beginning to impose my pointed style, like many other caricaturists who built success on their recognisability. My style is to visually define phenomena and to be more concerned with deviations from life, and not with specific people. Someone once complained to me that I never drew Milošević, which isn’t true, but that kind of caricature didn’t suit me. That’s not my style. I’m not a specialist in daily political caricatures, I’m more of a general practitioner cartoonist. And I’m not a typical caricaturist either; I’d say I’m more of a humorous illustrator and graphic designer.”
When Montenegro’s DPS party launched its first election campaign in 1990 when all the leaders were young and unified, Milo Đukanović, Sveto Marović and Momir Bulatović requested that Yugoslav Vlahović create their logo and everything related to their promotional material:
“I did that successfully together with Tomislav Peternek, so we did another campaign together, for the Vojvodina socialists. I received lots of offers after that; I was called by some politicians who are no longer on the scene today, but I no longer wanted to do that. Even Arkan [Serbian paramilitary leader Željko Ražnatović]called me, but I went to America at that time, so luckily I had a good excuse to turn him down. I later heard from those who worked for him that he didn’t even pay them. The stench of war was in the air and I withdrew from that completely.”
When it comes to working relationships, he has maintained one friendship from the beginning to the present day, and that relates to the album and record covers of rock band Riblja Čorba [Fish Stew]. Juga and Bora Đorđević, the founder of Riblja Čorba, met at Atelje 212:
“I performed in Hair and Bora was in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. He later called me to join the group he was then forming, Suncokret [Sunflower]. I saw that it would succeed. I was at the first rehearsals, where they played KaraMustafa for me. I didn’t like that folk repertoire, because I was musically more avant-garde. However, I still had a dilemma about whether or not to accept, but an invitation arrived for my national service in the army and that solved my problem. When Bora recorded Riblja Čorba’s first single in 1978 – Lutka sa naslovne strane [Cover Page Doll] – we together devised what would go on the cover; that was a real interaction. And his idea was for that to be a fishbone. I made the sign and the entire logo, and that’s how this distinctive symbol of the Riblja Čorba was born, and it has remained as their most enduring symbol. Those are these successful things, such as Bijelo dugme [rock band White Button] which already had its own button as a symbol that left an enduring mark. I’ve always said how important that visual recognisability is, and it’s something not many have in the music industry. My 25th cover for Riblja Čorba, which I’m currently working on, will be released soon, though I’ve worked on the last dozen or so with my son Jakša because his help is essential and valuable to me in this age of computers.”
The music world doesn’t have many such enduring collaborations like the one between Bora and Juga. Neil Young had his own designer Gary Burden, who died last year after doing 40 covers for Young. Famous illustrator Roger Dean and company reached a total of 30 for the group YES, but in Juga’s case he is the only author, with no photographer or anyone else involved in the work except him, so we could say that he’s a one-man show…with the exception of Jakša’s assistance, of course. And, interestingly, Jakša actually completed his studies at the same college where his father lectures, but he was in the class of Rastko Ćirić and not Juga. Jakša works for Post Serbia as a designer, designing stamps and other items, and differs greatly from his father.
The recent celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first performance of Hair at Atelje 212 included a panel discussion at which Juga also spoke. This culminated with a surprise for the packed hall in the theatre’s basement. Yuga invited his family members to the front and together they played and sang several songs from Hair. The orchestra was renamed for this occasion as The Family Factory of Wholemeal Bread.
On the stage were his son and daughter, Jakša and Marta, Marta’s husband Tiho, Jakša’s wife Marija, their friend and Juga’s student, graphic artist Vlada Lalić, and Nada Simić from the original cast of Hair, who had just arrived from Australia, where she lives. This was another unique contribution of Yugoslav Vlahović to the memory of Hair.