A new exhibition has opened in Tirana, but this is not the kind of exhibition that you will find being pushed by the Municipality of Tirana or being advertised on mainstream social media.
“Anonymous” is as the name suggests, a collection of works by anonymous street artists that have come together to make a bold statement not just against the government control over the local art scene, but against the political and social situation in Albania.
Eight artists from Albania, Italy, and Greece spent a week putting together the one-roomed exhibit at SCISSORS ART GALLERY inside Iron Brush, Tirana.
The concept was to construct a singular room representative of a prison cell inside of which real street art is contained. Diver Santi, one of the anonymous artists behind the exhibition explains his frustration at how the Municipality of Tirana gives vast open spaces to state-approved artists, yet other artists are deprived of a space.
This propaganda, this censorship, goes against the very point of street art, he says- “it is nothing more than fake street art whereas the art that speaks the truth is forced inside and underground.”
But the exhibition is also supposed to represent how Albania is trapped within a prison of its own making. With Europe on the outside, far beyond the bars created by corruption and crime, Albanian’s desperately want to break out but the powers that be seem to have thrown away the key.
As you walk up the stairs into the gallery, you are confronted by a visa checkpoint and a stormtrooper with a “Frontex” logo on his clothing. A banner overhead reads “being young and not revolutionary is biological contradiction.” This quote is from Chilean democratic socialist politician Salvador Allende and it takes on more meaning as two of the artists tell me their frustration over the level of apathy from youngsters in Albania.
“They are shells. Unhappy, empty, unemotional but unprepared to do anything about it” one of them tells me.
All of the art has been created directly onto the walls of the space- pasted images, spray paint, and hand painted work comes together in a visual crescendo of humorous, provocative, dark, but intrinsically clever and intertwined images.
The floor is littered with pages of white A4 paper, now tramped with footprints and creases. I bent down to look at the text printed on them and realised it is the Albanian constitution, representing the way the artists feel their rights and the rights of their countrymen are being trampled on by those in power.
The work displayed here is fascinating- I enjoyed browsing, playing “guess the scandal” or identifying stories I have written about over the last 18 months.
References are made to Ardit Gjoklaj (a 17 year old child who was killed when he was working illegally at a landfill site operated by the Municipality of Tirana), Bild (the German newspaper that published prosecution wiretaps of evidence of the Socialist Party colluding to rig the 2017 general election), the people of Astir (citizens being evicted from their homes without compensation to make way for a new road that was won by a fraudulent tender) and the police woman who lost a finger in Astir clashes (Mayor Erion Veliaj then said she would find it hard to find a husband due to her missing finger).
Mugshots of Edi Rama, Samir Tahiri (ex Interior Minister arrested for drug trafficking), Fatmir Xhafaj (ex Interior Minister who resigned when his brother was prosecuted for drug trafficking), Gramoz Ruci (speaker of Parliament, ex communist who ordered shooting of protestors in Shkodra in 1991), and Taulant Balla (head of the socialist party, long suspected of being linked to organised crime) line the wall, each with the word “NARCOS” underneath.
Shots are also taken at the failing judicial vetting process, child labour in mineral mines, widespread drug trafficking and cultivation, PPPs, over-development, the capture of the media, “fake news”, and the infamous ceramic mushroom that was broken during opposition protests in February.
“We want to make a statement to the government that there needs to be places where street art can be free. It is not fair that only state favoured artists are able to express themselves. Others deserve a place to show their work as well, even if they don’t like what we are saying.”
The artists adds:
“Art should be free, not controlled by the state. One rule for one, one rule for another- that is how it is at the moment”.
The exhibition will remain as is until the middle of September when a new photographic exhibition will be layered on top of it, using these realities of corruption and crime as a backdrop.
The images will be of various parts of Albania and by placing them over the highly political “Anonymous” exhibition it will serve as a reminder of how these ills and injustices impact every person and every part of society.
“People need to wake up”, an artist tells me, “and not just from drinking strong coffee in the morning.”
The artists who collaborated for “Anonymous” are Kilobyte, Diver Santi, Macja Zeze, Grifsha, Silent Alien, Guerrilla Spam, Truman and Sonke.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.