This year, the Global terroir section is showcasing the city of Tirana, which, in 2020, is celebrating its hundredth anniversary as the capital of Albania. Deep within the Balkans, this country, long held at bay by the Western world, has achieved fame in recent years owing to its dynamism and its many artists who have achieved recognition on the international art scene.
Since the death of dictator Enver Hoxha in 1985 and the fall of the communist dictatorship that followed in 1991, the Albanian people have committed to making up for the delay that their society accumulated under the regime and to gradually integrating the idea of a Europe that, for too long, had represented a distant mirage.
In France, several events dedicated to contemporary Albanian art have taken place: over thirty years ago, L’Albanie, un réalisme socialiste [Albania: A Socialist Realism] at the Galerie de l’Esplanade in La Défense or more recently the monographs of Anri Sala1 at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC in 2004 and at the Centre Pompidou in 2012, the solo exhibition by Adrian Paci Lives in Transit at the Jeu de Paume in 2013 and, three years ago, Albanie, 1207 km est [Albania: 1 207 km East], an exhibition dedicated to the contemporary Albanian art scene, brought into perspective with the history of the country and its national collections.
One of the specificities of Albania is the figure of Edi Rama,2 Prime Minister since 2013 and an internationally renowned artist. Although he has promoted various artistic initiatives – the creation of the Tirana Biennale from 2011 to 2009; the launch of a project to enhance public space by colouring the facades of buildings in the capital; or the establishment in 2015 of the Center for Openness and Dialogue (COD), an art centre housed within the building of the Ministerial Council – his presence at the head of the country has complicated the relationship between art, its perception, and Albanese civil society, attracting some harsh criticism from the local art scene. The question of the regulation of the status of artist3 notably represents one of the main demands from artists addressed to the prime minister, as it would allow new generations to enjoy legal recognition and a special retirement system.
Within the framework of a research trip for La belle revue to Tirana, we met several artists with an international profile who, in addition to their artistic practice, are contributing today in an active manner to the energy of the local cultural scene through various initiatives: Genti Korini, cofounder of the Bazament space; Endri Dani, Olson Lamaj and Remijon Pronja, cofounders of the Miza Gallery; Donika Çina, involved in the coordination of the ZETA Center for Contemporary Art; and Driant Zeneli, cofounder of Harabel Contemporary Art Platform.
Thanks to these encounters, we were able to observe the shared desire to make the local artistic milieu attractive that – despite the lack of far-reaching dialogue between the independent and institutional scenes – enjoys the pulsating energy of the city and its inhabitants. The absence of a solid institutional system dedicated to the support and promotion of artists finally leads to the appearance of new independent sites and forms of experimentation characterised by great freedom of expression.
In order to better understand the local art scene, we called in three authors – Albanian and foreigners who present a strong relationship to the territory. Adela Demetja, curator and founder of the TAL (Tirana Art Lab), proposes a brief panorama of the development of contemporary art in the capital, from the fall of the communist regime to the present day, tracing the historic and contemporary places that have formed the history of the Albanian artistic milieu. Artist and researcher Valentina Bonizzi then tells the stories of three Albanian women from different generations and the development of their careers within the local art context. Finally, Raino Isto, art historian, artist, and curator, examines the practices of certain contemporary artists who have broached the theme of heritage and its conservation – often highly conflictual – within Tirana’s public space.
- In 2013, Anri Sala represented France at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale.
- The Albanian political career of Edi Rama (Tirana, 1964–) was launched with his election as Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports from 1998 to 2000, then with his election as Mayor of Tirana from 2000 to 2004, and that of Prime Minister since 2013. As an artist, he participated in several editions of the Venice Biennale and his work has been shown at major institutions: the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Marian Goodman Gallery (New York, the New Museum (New York), or the Haus der Kunst (Munich).
- For more information on the question of the status of artist in Albania, see these three articles (in Albanian):
“Discussions as to the status of artist have begun in Albania, the Minister of Culture is currently drafting the law”, Kosova.info, 29 June 2019 [DOI: www.kosova.info/ ne-shqiperi-kane-filluar-diskutimet-per-statusin-e-artistit-ministria-e-kultures-ne-fazen-e-hartimit-te-ligjit, consulted on 26 February 2020]
Julia Vrapi, “Artists: the institutions are getting old, our requests have not been examined for 20 years by the Minister of Culture”, Sot, 9 August 2019 [DOI: www.sot.com.al/ kultura/artistet-institucionet-po-plaken-kerkesat-tona-nuk-merren-parasysh-prej-20-vitesh-nga, consulted on 26 February 2020]
“Niada Saliasi: Hard to live on an actor’s salary in Albania, the status of artist should be demanded”, Shqiptarja, 22 February 2019 [DOI: www.shqiptarja.com/ lajm/niada-saliasi-e-veshtire-te-jetosh-me-rroge-aktori-ne-shqiperi-duhet-patjeter-statusi-i-artistit, consulted on 26 February 2020]