Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj has withdrawn from the Belgrade Biennial after organisers failed to agree on how to list his country of origin on the list of participating artists.
The now Berlin-based artist said that those involved in organising the exhibition could not agree amongst themselves or with him, on how to present his nationality. As the event is organised and hosted by the Cultural Centre of Belgrade in Serbia and the country does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state, he decided to pull out of the show completely.
Halilaj wrote an open letter to the exhibition, detailing his experience and thoughts.
During the Kosovo War of 1998-1998, Halilaj was displaced and spent some two years living in refugee camps. In the letter, he writes how his and his family’s passports were destroyed and he referred to the war as “genocide”.
“When I received the invitation to the Belgrade Biennial I was internally conflicted, but I also saw it as an opportunity to create a bridge, to open up a dialogue and to explore new paths of reconciliation through art.”
The artists had planned to show a video entitled ‘Shkrepetima’ which showed a theatre performance he staged in Runik, Kosovo- his hometown. The setting for the performance was inside the ruins of the House of Culture which was destroyed during the war.
After he submitted his work to the Biennial, he then noted that his country of origin had been omitted from a document that was published in May. He requested that Kosovo be included on the document and organisers responded by adding it but with an asterisk. Halilaj said that this was an example of “the refusal of Serbia to recognise Kosovo as an independent country.”
Eventually, the organisers removed information relating to all participants’ countries of origin but it was too late for Halilaj. He decided to withdraw out of fear his work would be “miscommunicated and misinterpreted, or even politically instrumentalized.”
When contacted by Artnet, organizers said that as a public institution, they are bound to follow the policy of the government which does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country. They said they were aware it was an “unpleasant situation” and they were prepared to engage in dialogue with the artist.