1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts – Tirana

'Mother' - Mumtas Dhrami - 1971

‘Mother’ – Mumtas Dhrami – 1971

The article below was first published in New Albania, No 6, 1971. It discusses the general idea of art in a socialist society, how the Albanians saw ‘Socialist Realism’ with mention of a handful of works (out of 180) that were displayed at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts in Tirana in the autumn of 1971.

Emphasis, so far, in the pages on this blog related to Albanian art, has been placed on the Albanian lapidars – public monuments. There have been a few reasons for this: they are often large and out in the open, and therefore accessible to all at all times; some of them all under threat of decay from either neglect and/or vandalism – a number of important ones have already been destroyed by reactionary forces within Albanian society; they embody a uniquely Albanian approach to such monuments: and, even if in the public domain are often ignored – strangely people walk past works of art everyday (and not just in Albania) without taking notice of what they are passing or the significance they might have in the country’s history.

But ‘Socialist Realism’ in Albania was not restricted to the public sculptures and a great deal of material in all forms was produced from after Liberation in November 1944 until the capitalist supported reaction was able to re-take the land of the people for the benefit of exploiters and oppressors in 1990. However, these numerous works of art, that used to be part of the people’s heritage, are now under the control of the enemies of such political statements in oil paint and water-colours (as well as stone, bronze and wood). Many museums and art galleries have been closed and (no doubt) many works of art destroyed by the ignorant reactionaries or stolen by the opportunistic and avaricious. An obvious example is the looted museum in the town of Bajam Curri, in the north of the country.

However, there are still a few museums that still display examples of Socialist realist Art. Apart from the National Art Gallery in the centre of Tirana (which always has a permanent exhibition of art from the revolutionary, socialist period) a visitor to the country could investigate the modern art gallery close to the Bashkia (Town Hall) in Durres; the museum and art gallery in the centre of Fier; and the small gallery in the town of Peshkopia.

(Unfortunately I’ve never seen the statue of ‘Mother’ by Mumtaz Dhrami, that heads this post. He was, and still is, one of the most renown Albanian sculptors and such a piece of work demonstrates a very Albanian approach to sculpture, chunky and solid. I hope it still survives intact (but fear not). At the same time I have no knowledge either way. Other creations of Dhrami are: the magnificent Arch of DrashoviceEducation Monument in Gjirokastra; Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery; the (now virtually destroyed) Monument to the Artillery in Sauk; the large monument to Heroic Peza, at the junction to the town on the Tirana-Durres road; and the War Memorial in Peza town itself.)

Living colours

by Andon Kuqali

The feelings, emotions and thoughts of the working man, the master of the country, the new man of socialist Albania is the content of this year’s National Exhibition of Figurative Arts. The paintings, sculptures, drawings, and designs exhibited, aim at expressing this content through an art characterized by the truth, the reality of life.

Since the 1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts was to be opened before the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of our Party and on the eve of its 6th Congress, the artists chose themes for their works from the history of the Party and the Albanian people during these 30 years, as well as from our revolutionary traditions, themes from the struggle and work to build our new socialist society. As a matter of fact, today even the most modest landscape or still life embodies this new content, because it exists in the very life of present-day Albania.

What strikes the eye in this Exhibition is that the paintings, sculptures and drawings have more light, more vigorous colours, more varied expressions of artistic individuality than those of the previous national exhibitions. This is important because national exhibitions in Albania are a sort of summing up of the best creative activity of our artists during two or three years, thus they show the course of development of our art at a given stage.

But those colours and variegation of form remain within a realist imagery. Turning away from superficial, manifestative compositions, our artists have tried to enter deep into the life of the people to portray it more truthfully, with greater conviction and artistry. The figures of workers and peasants, of partisans or of outstanding people are true to life, simple and this in no way hinders them from being full of virtue, human and heroic at the same time. Even the industrial landscape is presented in its intimate aspect as an integral part of the life of the working man with the richness of original forms and characteristic realistic colours.

The dawn of November 1941 - Sali Shijaku - 1971

The dawn of November 1941 – Sali Shijaku – 1971

[The house where the Albanian Communist Party (later to become the Party of Labour of Albania) was founded in 1941 is the one with a tree to the right of the stair to the first floor. It became a Museum of the Party after Liberation – it might be in private hands now (it definitely isn’t readily accessible.) The letters VFLP written in black on the white wall on the side of the building in the foreground (as well as along a wall at the very top of the painting) stands for ‘Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!’ (‘Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!’), the revolutionary slogan of the Communist Partisans. I don’t know where this painting might be at the moment. I hope it’s in the storeroom of the National Art Gallery. What goes against its public display are the four letters VPLP – modern-day fascists don’t like that!]

Alongside the tableaux in grand proportions which portray notable events from the history of the Party and Albania, or outstanding figures of communists and revolutionaries, the landscape ‘The Dawn of November 1941’ by the gifted painter Sali Shijaku is no less significant and profound. In reality, this is a composition in small proportions in which the great idea that the Party emerged from the bosom of the common people is expressed. It depicts a poor quarter of Tirana as it was, in the midst of which stands the house where the Communist Party of Albania was founded: an ordinary house like the others, except that from the two windows of the ground floor flows a cheerful light which spreads far and wide driving away the gloomy night of the occupation and reaction.

Albanian Dancers - Abdurrahim Buza - 1971

Albanian Dancers – Abdurrahim Buza – 1971

[I don’t know where the original of this painting by Abdurrahim Buza might be at the moment.]

Dancing is the motif of a number of works of this exhibition. ‘The celebration of liberation’ by N. Lukaci, is a composition in sculpture developed with rounded figures, powerful like the beats of a drum and representing a typical folk dance. ‘Albanian Dances’, by the veteran and very original painter, Abdurrahim Buza, is the tableau of a circular dance in which the lively silhouettes of men and women from all the districts of the countryside with all their warmth and colour move freely, expressing the happy unity of all our people.

Planting Trees - Edi Hila - 1971

Planting Trees – Edi Hila – 1971

[This could well still be on display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana.]

A soft breeze stirs the fragrance of the fresh-dug soil, where girls and boys are planting trees under a blue sky. This is the tableau ‘Planting Trees’ by the young painter Edi Hila, inspired by the actions of the youth, a song of spring for the younger generation of Albania who are growing up happy with a fine feeling for work, a fresh tableau with a dream-like quality, from the vitality of our reality.

The dynamism of the daily life of the workers, their enthusiasm at work in the factory, before the smelting furnace, their chance encounters in the streets, the clash of opinions in which the new man is tempered, are expressed in the strong lines in the series of drawings under the title ‘Comrades’ by Pandi Mele.

Comrades - Pandi Mele - 1971

Comrades – Pandi Mele – 1971

Like saplings in the bush, the children frolic and romp in Spiro Kristo’s delicately portrayed tableau ‘Springtime’.

The Children - Spiro Kristo - 1966

The Children – Spiro Kristo – 1966

[Unfortunately I haven’t been able to come a copy of the painting ‘Springtime’ to add here. Until I come across an image I’ll include an earlier painting by Kristo, the charming ‘The Children’. This is on (normally) permanent display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana. In 2016 I took some friends to the gallery and one of them was (literally) shocked to see such a depiction of children on the walls of a national gallery. I didn’t understand his reaction then (or even to this day). he is of an age to have played with guns (and probably destroying the indigenous population of north America on many occasions and children are killing children in school killings in the USA on an almost weekly basis. This painting encourages an idea of national defence, of preparedness against external threat and invasion, and not of aggression which dominates the armed forces of imperialist countries – just consider the wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and the consequences for the population of those countries.]

In his monumental decorative tableau ‘Our land’, painter Zef Shoshi elevates the figure of the peasant woman, the untiring, hard-working cooperative member, who has won her own rights as a person with tender feelings and priceless virtues, the woman brought up amidst the collective work, in the years of the Party, as the people say. The drafting is connected and dynamic and is permeated by the colour tones of the wheat the soil, and the timber.

The manual lathe operator - Zef Shoshi - 1969

The manual lathe operator – Zef Shoshi – 1969

[‘Our land’ is another painting I have yet to see, either in actuality or in a photograph. However, this picture of a female skilled worker seems to capture the idea that Shoshi would have represented (confident, aware of her part in the construction of Socialism and a more than equal participant in the new society – a crucial and important aspect of Socialist Realist Art) in his entry for the 1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Art in Tirana.]

These are a few remarks about the 180 works exhibited.

Each painter and sculptor is represented here with works which reflect the world as he imagines it, that aspect of life, past or present closest to his heart, the essence of which he tries to communicate his emotions and thoughts to the viewers as directly and clearly as possible, through the emotions and thoughts of the artist who belongs to the people, an active participant in our socialist society in its revolutionary development. This is the source of the variety of methods of expression of each artist, the special individual features of each and, at the same time, of their common stand towards life. These are the features of socialist realism in Albania, an art, which serves the people and socialism, which aims at being an integral part of the spiritual life of the working class and of all the working people.

[Another painting which was part of the exhibition was one by the painter Lec Shkreli entitled ‘The Communists’. It depicts those Communists who were arrested by the regime of the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog just before the invasion of the country by the Italians in April 1939. The person in the foreground wearing glasses is Qemal Stafa – one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party.]

The Communists - Lec Shkreli

The Communists – Lec Shkreli

Albanian traditional musical instruments

Albanian traditional musical instruments

Albanian traditional musical instruments

(The article below, written by R Sokoli, first appeared in issue No 5, 1971 of the magazine New Albania. It is reproduced here (slightly edited) to aid a greater understanding of some of the works of art that were produced during the Socialist period (1944-1990) of Albania’s past. Although folklore hasn’t been totally abandoned in the present-day capitalist Albania traditional dress and culture don’t hold the same important role in Albanian society as in the past.)

Musical instruments of our People

From the past our people have inherited various musical instruments which are of interest for their craftsmanship, their originality, the way they are used and the tones they express. The knowledge and study of these instruments are of special significance to our national art and culture for, through them, we delve deeper into the quality of our folk music and the peculiarities of the musical talent of our people. Now and then we hear the tones emitted by these instruments in every village or town quarter. Without them no social entertainment takes place.

Taking them in the order of the four main scientifically established genres, we have in the first place those of the idiophonic genre like (1) the two pebbles hit together in order to lure the swarm of bees which have abandoned their original hive, (2) ‘rrakataket’ which children make out of corn blades cut lengthwise, (3) ‘rrekezat’ made of twigs plaited together in a spherical shape with round pieces of wood or pebbles inside used to entertain small children when the device is shaken, (4) ‘gergerat’ made of a tapered wooden axis ending with an elastic square which bounces making a noise when turned around (5) the metallic tray which is used in northern and north-eastern parts of Albania to accompany songs and dances, (6) three dish spoons which are used to keep time, (7) ‘çaparet’ in the form of metallic discs tied to the fingers of dancers used in Central Albania to keep time by jingling them when dancing, (8) bells or gongs of various shapes, sizes and names used for ritual, practical or aesthetic purposes, (9) ‘trokeza’ or ‘çanga’ made of a board or metallic plate hanging down on a rope and used as a means of signalling, (10) ‘cungrana’ of the Albanian settlers in Italy pierced by a metallic rod in the form of a horseshoe which vibrates and emits sound when touched by the fingers.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - drum

Albanian traditional musical instruments – drum

From the membraphonic genre we have: (a) the tambourine, a shallow drum with loose metallic discs at the sides, (b) the drum or tympanic membrane, consisting of a hollow cylinder with a skin head stretched over each end, (c) the ‘kadum’ or ‘tullumbas’ in the shape of a half-cylindrical cup with a skin stretched over its ends, (d) ‘tarabuku’ in the shape of a jar with a skin stretched over its head. All four of the above instruments serve to stress the rhythm.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - tambourine

Albanian traditional musical instruments – tambourine

Of the aerophonic genre we have, first of all, some made from plants like the ‘picanga’, which children make out of grass blades, corn stalks, of apricot seeds (‘frysa’) or of the bark of young twigs (‘gezhoja’ or ‘bilbil’). These plant based instruments such as ‘lugefyllka’,’shtambushka’, ‘tuza’ and ‘kallami me leter’ are temporary entertainments producing some tune or other. But real tunes of good musical taste our popular masters can extract from the leaf of certain trees – blowing at its edge. A ‘pre-musical’ instrument of the aerophonic genre, so to speak, is the ‘bobla’ which is made of the horn of cattle or of the shell of a sea-snail. It is used in the southwestern part of Albania by farmers, shepherds, guardians of vineyards, millers, fishermen and others as a signalling device. Whereas the Albanian settlers in Calabria (Italy) use the ‘vronja’, made of a dried pumpkin, as a means of sounding an alarm. This category includes also the ‘kapza’ or ‘buria’ which children make in spring from the bark of trees in long strips which they wind into the shape of a funnel.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - flute

Albanian traditional musical instruments – flute

The most popular and the dearest aerophonic instrument of our peasants is the ‘fyelli’ (the flute) which is made in shapes, sizes and names different for each district. The key of this instrument depends on the number of holes and is blown either inclined at the lips or fixed on the tooth.

In various shapes, sizes and names appear also the ‘pipza’ which are usually made at harvest time from various stalks.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - pipza

Albanian traditional musical instruments – pipza

‘Surleja’ or ‘zunaia’ is another aerophonic instrument with a wooden cylindro-conical neck, some holes on the surface and a double tip at the end.

In Laberia we have the ‘bicule’ or ‘cylediare’ made of two tapered nozzles carved on a wooden block, one of the nozzles has only three holes while the other has four on the top and one hole on the opposite side.

In southeastern Albania we have the ‘gajda’ which is made of a sheepskin with two vents (‘pipka’ and ‘buçalla’) one (the shorter) for the melody and the other (the longer) for the refrain.

The genre of string instruments begins also with some children’s musical entertainments as, for instance, ‘lodergramthi’, ‘tingerringe’ ‘ugari’ and others.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - strings

Albanian traditional musical instruments – strings

The most widespread string instruments are the ‘çiftelia’, a stringed ‘bakllamaja’ (3 strings), ‘sharkija’ (4, 6, 8, strings) ‘sazeja’ (10 strings) ‘çyri’ and ‘jongari’ which have been almost abandoned now. This category of instruments possess some common characteristics in shapes, use, etc. but at the same time they are distinct from one another.

In addition to the above from this genre we have the ‘udi’ with four pairs of strings and in the shape of a pear cut lengthwise. Related to this instrument are the ‘bozuku’ (with from 6 to 8 strings) and ‘kalushun’ (with from 2 to 3 strings) which the Albanian settlers in Italy use.

Finally, from this genre we have the ‘lahute’ (with one string) used in Northern Albania and ‘laurina’ (with 3 strings) used in the Mati District.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - flute and tambourine

Albanian traditional musical instruments – flute and tambourine

In addition to these musical instruments made by our peasants, our folklore has been enriched by certain instruments manufactured abroad like the violin, clarinet, accordion which are being broadly used by our instrumentalists.

In short, these are the musical instruments used by our people.

Some of them are used only in certain districts while others are in use all over the country. Some of them are native and of old origin while others have been introduced under various historical circumstances but as years roll on have been adapted to the taste and musical peculiarity of our people.

Albanian traditional musical instruments - group

Albanian traditional musical instruments – group

Of the above instruments some are used solo while others are used in groups. The way they are grouped depends more or less on the occasion, districts and availability for their use. As a rule, our people prefer groups of few instruments. Many melodies have been created, preserved and developed by these instruments.

St George’s Hall – Minton Tile Floor – Liverpool

St George Window - Concert Hall - St George's Hall - Liverpool

St George Window

St George’s Hall is one of the most impressive buildings in Liverpool (in a city which has many) and gives an indication of the wealth that once passed through what was once claimed to be ‘the second city of the Empire’ – after London (although other cities claim this ‘accolade’, Glasgow and Bristol being two of them). The Minton Tile floor is an expression of this wealth.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the building itself (I’ll do that in other posts) as here I want to concentrate upon the Minton tiled floor of the main concert room, which has recently been on public view for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t long after the building opened in 1854 that a decision was made to cover the sunken part of the floor to protect the tiles for posterity. In some ways a strange decision as the covering of the more than 30,000 tiles takes away much of the splendour of the hall itself. Don’t get me wrong, the concert hall is still very impressive, but it’s a bit like a book with part of the story missing.

However, that decision made so long ago does mean that on the occasions when the floor is uncovered visitors get an unparalleled idea of what was it was possible to achieve during the heyday of Britain’s industrial greatness. Comparing the protected tiles with the surrounds you are able to appreciate the way that the lack of protection has taken its toll in some places but also to realise that these tiles are incredibly hardy as many areas have survived quite well.

So a few facts and figures. St George’s Hall, built in the middle of the 19th century, is classified as a neoclassical building. That means it takes its architectural influence from the buildings that remain from ancient Greece and Rome – and the Hall mixes the two. Not strictly so, but more or less Greek on the outside and Roman on the inside, especially in the main concert hall where the inspiration for the architect, Harvey Londsdale Elmes, came from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

At the time when it was unveiled the floor was the largest pavement of its kind in existence being some 140 feet long and 72 wide and was constructed using more than 30,000 tiles. The part of the floor that is normally covered is sunken and is a couple or feet or so below the walk way that goes around the edge of the hall. When uncovered it’s possible to see the grills that were all part of the central heating (and cooling) system that was all part of the original design and one of the first of its kind in the modern world – we have forgotten much of what the Romans had learnt. However, the covering of the floor meant that the imaginative innovation came to nought, at least in the main hall.

In the centre there’s the Royal Coat of Arms, measuring 5 feet in diameter. On both sides of that design the rest of the floor is basically symmetrical, along the length of the hall. Within those two areas are found: the Liverpool Coat of Arms; the Star of St George; the Rose; the Thistle; and the Shamrock. I’m afraid for the Welsh there is nothing, even though the Welsh had a huge influence on the early development of Liverpool and it’s more than likely that many of the men working on the site would have been Welsh, the building trades being where they tended to gravitate. Between these picture designs there are large swirling arcs which are made up of flower designs and filling the gaps geometric designs following a regular patter. At both ends of the hall there are semi-circles that have the face of Neptune at the apex and on both sides are sea satires and nymphs in amorous embrace, together with dolphins and other sea creatures. The dominant colours are buff, brown and blue.

To give an idea of how the tiles were made I can do no better than reproduce a description from one of the local Liverpool newspapers which carried a long story about the Hall at the time of its opening in 1854:

The antique practise of tile making, as appears from the existing remains of ancient works, confined the manufacture of the use of few colours or tints. The method commonly used seems to have been this: – A piece of well tampered clay having been prepared, of a proper size (usually about six inches square and one inch in thickness), a die, having some ornament in relievo was pressed upon it, the indented pattern thus produced was then filled in with clay of some other colour, generally white, the tile was then covered with a metallic glaze, which imparted to the ground (usually red) a deeper and richer colour, and gave the white ornament a yellowish hue. These tiles were often arranged in sets of 4, 16, or more, and sometimes intersected with bands of plain tiles, of a self colour, such as black, red and white, and frequently displayed great geometrical skill and beauty of effect. Good examples may be seen in the churches of St Denis and St Omer, in France, and specimens from the abbeys of Juvaulux, Westminster, and other buildings in England. The modern process of encaustic tile making, as adopted by Messers MINTON, HOLLINS and Co, enables them to produce not only a far greater variety and brilliance of colour in the general effect of a pavement, but admits of several colours being placed upon a single tile, thus producing a soft effect of fine mosaic work, in a much more durable and less expensive material.

From The Liverpool Mercury, September 19th, 1854

In the more distant past the floor was only uncovered at very long intervals, 10 years or more, but it looks like this event has set to become an annual affair. In 2012 it was ‘revealed’ for two weeks in January but in 2013 for two weeks in August. Next year, who knows.

There have been suggestions to try and construct a glass floor over at least a part of the sunken area but so far they have come to nought. And anyway that might allow an understanding of the skill of the craftsmen and the beauty of the design but not of its scale, which can only be appreciated when fully uncovered. To keep the floor on permanent display would bring into conflict the preservation of a unique architectural attribute with the desire to use a major City Centre public indoor space.

I hope the slide show below will provide an idea of what is hidden from view 51 weeks of the year.

Minton Tile Floor Reveal 2018

This year the floor will be uncovered between Friday 3rd and Sunday 12th August. Entrance is via the Heritage Centre on St John’s Lane from 10.00 – 17.00 everyday. Entrance to the Great Hall is £3.00 (under 16s normally get in free – but no information on webpage this year). This allows the visitor to get an overall view of the floor from the balcony.

There are opportunities to walk on the floor, obviously providing a closer view of the art work, as part of a guided tour. These will take place at 10.00 and 16.00 each day the floor is uncovered. In the past the demand has been so great that an extra slot has been created – so check back of the ticket site for an update, especially after the 3rd August. Each group is limited to a maximum of 30 people. Only bookable online by visiting the TicketQuarter website. Tickets cost £12.00 per person, this year there’s no administration fee. 

There’s another option to get a closer look at the floor if you book for the event known as ‘A Night on the Tiles’ which takes place daily at 18.00, 18.45, 19.30 and 20.15 each day the floor is uncovered. This allows you to walk on the floor, you get a class of something fizzy and costs £14.00 per person. Get tickets in advance, online, at the TicketQuarter page. 

Neptune and The Liver Bird - Concert Hall - St George's Hall - Liverpool

Neptune and The Liver Bird