Jugoslav Vlahovic | Interview

A fixture of the anti-establishment scene in Belgrade since the 60s, acclaimed cartoonist Jugoslav Vlahovic visited Malta last week.

Last week, the decorated Serbian cartoonist Jugoslav Vlahovic visited Malta on a whim. “Oh, we’re always going to the same places,” his daughter Marta tells me when I arrive at their room in the labyrinthine St George’s Palace Complex in Paceville. “We were just looking for something different, and there it was.”

As Jugoslav himself returns from a swim (an admirable feat in what we would call freezing weather) and we decide to start the interview at the nearby Huggins, he tells me of a connection that is far more serendipitous: “When I read about Malta, I noticed it had only ever snowed here twice. The first time was on March 17, 1949 – the day I was born!”

This anecdote comes at the end of the interview, a crucial cooling off period (as I’m sure any journalist will tell you) when inhibitions are loosened and nuggets tend to slip out. I regret not having more time to spend with this veteran, as I’m sure his award-winning talent owes not a little to his ability to squeeze out life’s coincidences and quirks into concise expressions – be they verbal or visual.

But our time is limited, and his output is vast. Having graduated from the Second Belgrade Gymnasium, and later at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade, Vlahovic went on to form an acoustic band with his relatives, Porodična Manufaktura Crnog Hleba (Whole Wheat Bread Family Manufacture) – while they released just one full-length album, they went on to define the genre in Serbia. This was coupled with his foray into theatre: he appeared in a local production of Hair around that time too. “I probably had the longest hair in Belgrade,” he chuckles. “And to this day, I’m known as the ‘balding professor with long hair…”

Indeed, he has come full circle in a lot of ways – he now lectures in the same academy he attended, and it seems as if his progeny are following in his anti-establishment footsteps: Marta sings and plays keyboards in the progressive metal band Organized Chaos, while his son Jaksa is a cartoonist and a musician in his own right, juggling gothic metal band Abonos (of which Marta is a former member) and the thrash metal outfit Bombarder.

Perhaps it’s a genetic quirk that got transferred across a generation, but whatever you want to call it, Jugoslav swears by it: “I became interested in caricatures as an art form when I was around 15, and since then I was always drawn to the pithy, humorous image. It’s difficult to execute because you need to have a clear idea to begin with, and then be able to compress it in an equally lucid image… but I find the entire process really satisfying…”

But while he’s resigned to the fact that this impulse can’t really be taught, Jugoslav explains how tries to give students a historical picture of the art form, going as far back as the 18th century master Francisco Goya down to the 20th century. What it boils down to is an intuition for the grotesque – an accurate, pointed exaggeration of life.

“Picasso himself said – I think it was in the year he died – that he saw ‘a new, emerging art form’ in the work of caricaturists…”
His artistic career is most clearly marked, perhaps, by two sustained commitments: he has been the editorial cartoonist for the celebrated Belgrade weekly NIN in 1976, and has been creating album covers for local hard rock band Ribja Corba since 1978 – both of which he does to this day.

Read more in MaltaToday Sunday edition