As the propaganda campaign celebrating the Skënderbeg Square receiving an urban architecture award of little importance reaches new levels of absurdity, it seems an important detail has escaped nearly everyone.
The name of Anri Sala has been removed from the authors of the project, even though, as Exit has reported before, the Skënderbeg Square has always been advertised as planned by the Belgian company 51N4E and (or, in collaboration with) Anri Sala.
The Tirana municipality registered to compete for the European Prize for Urban Public Spaces by entering the project for the renovation of the Skënderbeg Square, with the Belgian company as its sole designer. Consequently, the prize went, officially, to 51N4E and the Tirana municipality.
The only ones present to receive the award were a representative from the company and Tirana mayor Erion Veliaj. Anri Sala was not mentioned at any moment, neither by Veliaj, nor 51N4E, nor Prime Minister Edi Rama, who made a special Facebook post regarding the award and has made several public comments.
The only one to congratulate Sala was the Marian Goodman Gallery. The gallery congratulated Sala and 51N4E as project authors on Twitter.
However, Anri Sala hasn’t been mentioned by Rama since 2016, when the former participated in Albania’s project and jury for the Venice Biennale, and in Rama’s exhibition in the Marian Goodman art gallery. Sala is one of the most important European modern artists, a former student of Rama, and, at least until recently, one of his closest collaborators.
Originally, Sala’s career was closely linked to and sponsored by Rama, however the former’s talent quickly made him into an important European contemporary artist in his own right.
Following his recognition, Sala used his fame, connections, and influence in the art world to promote Rama as a great politician-artist, who is making every artist’s dream of changing the world through art, a reality. In doing this, he was attempting to make Rama into a symbol and example of how all artists and intellectuals must strive to be.
More importantly, Sala provided Rama with many connections within European modern art and architecture circles. From the beginning of his career, up until 2 or 3 years ago, in nearly all his exhibitions and publications, Sala always promoted Rama’s art, mainly his sketches, and other achievements.
This artistic partnership seems to have faded recently as Sala and Rama have not collaborated since the Venice Biennale in 2016.
However, the removal of Sala’s name from the projects may have been a more pragmatic decision. The final project for the reconstruction of the Square, carried out by mayor Veliaj during 201-62017, differs from the 2008 project, co-authored by Sala, in key aspects.
Vincent van Gerven Oei has discussed these differences in detail in a previous article, arguing that, following his ascent into power as Prime Minister, Rama turned the project into an ideological tool of his regime.
He has pointed out that the main difference between the original project authored by 51N4E and Anri Sala, and the project that was carried out in 2016–2017 by Veliaj, was an intentionally nationalist component that was missing from the initial plan.
A second difference was the introduction of the Faith Park, that would serve Rama’s rhetoric of “religious harmony” in Albania.
Perhaps these changes were not to Sala’s liking or approval, and he preferred to remove his name from the Skënderbeg Square’s project’s authors.