Albania’s “Becoming,” Through Art

Lately, I have been thinking more about the role of art in social progress: how art both exhibits the shifts that take place in a given society, and how it influences the direction a given society will take.

Helidon Haliti is an Albanian artist whose work was featured at the Albanian National Gallery this August. A recent article in Balkan Insight ( black-sheep-disturbs-lethargy-of-albania-art-scene ) describes Haliti as “[belonging] to a new generation of contemporary Albanian painters that graduated during the nineties in the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana following the collapse of Albania’s communist regime, which for nearly half-a-century had imposed Social Realist aesthetics with an iron fist.”

Haliti sees his own work as “[exploring his] deficiencies and the malformations of a country with imposed boundaries.” Because he is operating from within a shift, a transition phase, his art is both bounded and free.

Haliti is depicting a closed space, with the freedom to open it up and transform it.

From a closed space, he has to imagine and create new perspectives.

He’s free to explore the confinements, and through new visions create new avenues.

It sounds like being an artist at this time, with that much freedom, carries a lot of weight: a bottom weight of a past that anchors you to tradition, and a top weight to be lifted off so you have scope of semblance.

Haliti comments in the article that the period during which he created the pieces featured in the recent exhibition was one of post-emigratory gloom (he lived in Athens for a while). As a spectator of his own art, though, he’s amazed to notice how colorful and harmonious his work is, and that there’s a conversion of mood that occurs through and within the art. This is what I’m trying to loosely get at when speaking of art as a literal manifestation of progress: there’s a past, and for him it’s painful, but it can be captured beautifully to fit the present, to influence the future, and to generate awe in the process (for creator as well as perceiver).

In the article, Haliti also makes mention of an anti-Communism poem written by his father in 1972. “Following publication of the poem [Haliti’s father] was chaffed by the then literary establishment, banished from publishing and sent to work as a labourer for a decade, first in a collective farm and, after four years, digging ditches.” Haliti denies that his art is a recreation to his father’s work. Instead, his art is fulfilling its own purpose in its own time. But undeniably, he carries with him a lot of that same past, and undeniably his work is going to be political–even if not intentionally so, it represents the “becoming” of new perspectives in a tiny little country that at one point didn’t know it could have such complexity of vision.

Here’s one of Haliti’s pieces, titled Her House:

The clotheslines, the little houses with red roofs and chimneys–that’s all very nostalgic. It could be the neighborhood of any Albanian living in the nineties. There’s uniformity, but presented in cozy warm colors. There is also the one house that stands out, with the light on, butterflies on the window, representing perhaps the freedom of this one inhabitant, as the neighborhood rests in still darkness. And the (I think kind of weirdly placed) owl notices that there’s life and beauty there. Left to my interpretation: it’s the link between knowledge and beauty as it emerges out of a dark and lethargic history.

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