Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures on display at the National Art Gallery, Tirana

Skender Kamberi - The Bread Strike 1942 - 1971

Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971

Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures on display at the National Art Gallery, Tirana

This post will consist of images of the paintings (and a few sculptures) from the Socialist period of Albania’s past. The first floor of the National Art Gallery is almost now solely (with one notable exception, which I’ll come to later) devoted to the period before 1990 when things fell apart.

Some of the paintings have been on display for many years and, in a sense, have become the core of the exhibition. There must be many more in storage but as politics gets into everything there may be some which are not even allowed to be on public display for specific reasons. There are a couple that show images of Enver Hoxha but there must be many more – in fact I’ve seen reproductions which are in the national collection but which never see the light of day. I hope, and don’t think, they have been destroyed.

Other political and economic reasons might prevent certain works from being seen. One subject which comes to mind are those paintings which celebrated the developments of the Collective and State Farms. In the selection below the co-operatives are mentioned but only when they are showing people, There are no images of mass industrialisation of the countryside – with tractors and combine harvesters – as those would, perhaps, make the viewer wonder why such images cannot be seen in the countryside of the 21st century as land ownership has gone back to that of the feudal period with virtual strip farming.

The images that are presented are all those that are on display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana at the moment. They are presented here in an effort to encourage anyone who visits Tirana to make an effort to go to the art gallery. It is a unique collection and one that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately you don’t have to push and shove to get a good view of the works.

As to the structure of the presentation they are presented in the alphabetical order of the artists’ first name – only because that’s how Windows organises files in folders. This is followed by the title of the work in English. Sometimes the title seems inappropriate but that is probably down to a poor translation from the Albanian. I have given the title as printed on the card beside each exhibit. Next comes the year in which the work was painted. Two were not dated and have ‘nd’ in place of a year.

There are advantages of placing works by the same artist together. The individual style becomes more obvious and if the work cover a long period of time it’s possible to see a development of that style.

The dates are also important as with some of the early works it’s not really possible to describe the works as ‘Socialist Realist’ – the artists’ training and development taking place under a completely different social system. Comparing the dates with events that were taking place both nationally and internationally can also help in the understanding of the various elements in many of the pictures.

I would hope (at some time in the not too distant future) to look at some of these works in a more forensic manner. As it is with time constraints I will only make a few comments on some of the works if I think such snippets helpful in understanding the whys and wherefores of the image and also how such images fitted into the society that the Party of Labour and its leader, Enver Hoxha, were hoping to achieve.

Hey, I might get it wrong but if I do I would appreciate being put along the true path of enlightenment.

Abdulla Cangonji - The fishermen - 1965

Abdulla Cangonji – The fishermen – 1965

Abdurrahmin Buza - The refugees - 1957

Abdurrahmin Buza – The refugees – 1957

Buza was one of those painters who established his reputation before Liberation but did develop his work to deal with events and circumstances in the young Albanian Socialist State.

Abdurrahmin Buza - Voluntary work at the 'Stalin' textile factory - 1948

Abdurrahmin Buza – Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory – 1948

The factory, which was established in the town of Kombinat, to the west of Tirana along the ‘old road’ to Durres, is now (and has long been) an abandoned ruin. The statue of Stalin that dominates the scene is the one that is now at the back of the National Art Gallery.

Alush Shima - Portrait of a worker - 1971

Alush Shima – Portrait of a worker – 1971

You’d have to look hard to find a miner in Albania today. Even so there’s an interesting bas relief in the ex-mining village of Krrabe, on the way to Elbasan from Tirana.

Andon Lakuriqi - Testing - 1969

Andon Lakuriqi – Testing – 1969

Heavy industry was crucial for a self-sufficient Socialist society. This created problems as resources were not able to be directed to the production of consumer goods that people craved – especially when these were becoming ever more plentiful in the capitalist countries – whatever the consequences for the general well-being of the population. That is why images of heavy industry were so common in paintings of the period. This matter became even more extreme when first the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China pulled the economic plug due to ideological reasons i.e., the fight against Modern Revisionism.

Arben Basha - I will write - 1971

Arben Basha – I will write – 1971

Aristotel Papa - From constructions - 1969

Aristotel Papa – From constructions – 1969

Bajram Mata - Portrait of a volunteer - 1969

Bajram Mata – Portrait of a volunteer – 1969

It will become noticeable the number of women – especially the young – who are depicted as playing a full role in the construction of Socialism. And not just as the manual labour but in positions of responsibility, reflecting how (between 1944 and 1990) Albania was succeeding to turn the world upside-down when it came to women’s liberation. Why women reverted to the ‘traditional’ role – which is the case when you look around 21st century Albania – is a question I’ve not been able to answer.

Bajram Mata - The Co-operative work - 1972

Bajram Mata – The Co-operative work – 1972

Some of the work on the Collective and State Farms would have been done by hand but the areas covered in some of these enterprises would have been impossible to have farmed without serious mechanisation. Albania wasn’t totally self-sufficient in the production of such items as tractors and combine-harvesters but it was aiming to be so.

Bajram Mata - The dance of Dibra - nd

Bajram Mata – The dance of Dibra – nd

Throughout the period of Socialist Construction a great deal of effort was put into maintaining traditional folk culture. What was represented in the paintings was not something of the past but of the present where tradition and the the goals of the future were working in tandem.

Bajram Mata - The volunteers 1969

Bajram Mata – The volunteers 1969

Bardhyl Dule - The construction woman -1971

Bardhyl Dule – The construction woman -1971

Women started to take on skilled manual jobs.

Bardhyl Dule - The Partisan courier - 1973

Bardhyl Dule – The Partisan courier – 1973

A similar theme is explored in the sculpture ‘On the road to war’ which can be found in Tirana Park. In the sculpture a peasant woman is giving water to a thirsty Partisan. This is by the sculptor Hector Dule. I don’t know for certain but I assume there’s a familial relationship and one piece of art nurtured the other.

Bardhyl Dule - The weeding of the olive trees - 1973

Bardhyl Dule – The weeding of the olive trees – 1973

I like the little joke in this painting where whilst all the others are working there’s a man in the bottom right hand corner, who is leaning against a tree reading a newspaper.

Clirim Ceka - July 30, 1978 - 1978-9

Clirim Ceka – July 30, 1978 – 1978-9

I don’t know the significance of the date in the title of this painting.

Dhimeter Mborja - freinds of the factory - 1969

Dhimeter Mborja – freinds of the factory – 1969

One of the principles established with the construction of Socialism was that the workers would live and work in the same place. This is not always possible but when we are talking about Collective and State Farms as well as major industrial complexes this makes sense. Apart from anything else this reduces the working day as people have less of a commute. This is not something ‘invented’ by Communism, it existed in the early days of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and hence you had the creation of ‘mill towns’ and ‘mining towns’. For the capitalists this was a method of control – with the mine/mill owners also being the landlords of any housing. This, the capitalists hoped, would be a barrier to industrial action. Under Socialism it was a way of bringing people closer together with the creation of a true community where amenities could be shared. This also happened in the capitalist situation with the development of mutual societies and clubs. But not everyone in a community would be necessarily working at the enterprise. They would be servicing the population in other ways, such as education, health and culturally. Hence the idea of those people visiting a works to understand exactly what went on behind the factory walls.

(To be continued)

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