A new look, and a new resident, to the National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’, Tirana

The new group

A new look, and a new resident, to the National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’, Tirana

The ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, has a new resident. Well, not so much a new resident but one who has been there for a few years but it is only recently that the authorities at the Art Gallery have decided to, literally, take off the wraps and reveal his presence to the world. The new resident is none other than Enver Hoxha, up to his death in 1985, First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania, Chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

A vandalised Enver Hoxha

A vandalised Enver Hoxha

However, the years since the neo-Fascist Counter-Revolution of 1990 have not been kind to the large sandstone bust of Comrade Enver. The fascist thugs who attacked this particular statue were not particularly efficient and all they succeeded in achieving is a somewhat radical nose job, with some scarring around the eyes and mouth. Unfortunately (to date) I have no idea of the provenance of this statue – not from where it originally was placed nor who the sculptor might have been.

Enver Hoxha - the nose always get attacked

Enver Hoxha – the nose always get attacked

The last time I was able to visit the ‘Sculpture Park’ was in the autumn of 2016 and at that time the bust was covered in a heavy, white tarpaulin. Local people I knew said that it was rumoured to be that of Enver Hoxha but as an outsider there was no way I was able to confirm or deny this.

Why the statue was even brought to this location in the first place is a bit of a mystery. If the thugs who attacked it (presumably in the early days of the counter-revolution, now almost 30 years ago) were not able to destroy it then such vandalism is well within the bounds of a modern state – which marches further and further, at each passing day, away from anything which Comrade Enver and the Party he led hoped for the people of their country. I think it’s quite amazing that it even exists at all. This is especially so in the present cultural environment where lapidars are being destroyed if they stand in the way of ‘modernisation’.

Independence comes at a price and eventually enough of the population of the country didn’t want to pay that price. Because the road was long, tortuous and hard they handed their country, their collective wealth and their fate into the hands of those who were quite happy to sell all of that to the highest bidder.

Having long been a thorn in the side of capitalism, especially the likes of Britain in Europe (who in the immediate post-WWII years considered Albania as tantamount to a British colony) those who were prepared to tear the country apart, regardless of the consequences for the people of the county, were not slow in coming forward.

Albanian Symbol and Leader

Albanian Symbol and Leader

Reactionary forces, both within the country and those who had been in effective exile since 1944, were promoted and through a series of social, political and economic manoeuvres, shenanigans and disasters virtually all those gains of Socialism were swept away. Industry and agriculture were effectively wiped out and even the savings of ordinary Albanians were stolen by mafia criminals through the likes of pyramid and ponzi schemes.

Enver would have be furious at the way the people were robbed of all they had achieved in 40 long, hard years of the construction of Socialism so perhaps it was best he had died before it all fell apart. As such the destruction of the country would not have happened if Enver had still been alive. What happened in Albania after the death of such a clear thinking leader is that which unites him to the two other great Marxist-Leninist thinkers and leaders with whom he now shares the not really salubrious location of the back entrance of the National Art Gallery.

The people of the nascent Soviet Union were fortunate that with the premature death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1924 ( precipitated by an attempted assassin’s bullet in 1918) there was another strong willed, determined and fearless champion of the working class (and peasantry) waiting to take the country into an uncertain and dangerous future. That leader was Joseph Vassarionovich Stalin.

The 'Albanian' Uncle Joe and Comrade Enver

The ‘Albanian’ Uncle Joe and Comrade Enver

Now those three leaders are united in art in a way they never were in real life. And it is sad to say that although Enver has gone through the wars it is Vladimir Ilyich who has suffered the most since being removed from his plinth just a few metres from where he is now. With Lenin the reason for his shortage of limbs is more due to greed than political antagonism, which is the reason for Enver’s lack of nose. Many of the monuments throughout Albania have had those parts that are easy to saw off removed for the simple reason of being weighed in as scrap metal. On the other side of the coin it is Uncle Joe who has survived the best.

The 'Russian' Stalin

The ‘Russian’ Stalin

Both the black, distinctively Russian, Stalin, presented to the people of Albania by the Soviet Union just after the death of the great leader in 1953, and the equally distinctive Albanian Stalin (that almost certainly used to stand on a plinth outside the textile factory that bore his name in the town of Kombinat, to the west of Tirana along the ‘old’ road to Durres) are in an almost perfect condition. (This is also the town in which Comrade Enver is now buried after his removal from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery.)

Of the group Enver is also the only statue that is made of stone. This is a slight move away from the traditional lapidars throughout Albania and perhaps was a move that took place after Enver’s death in 1985. The overwhelming number of Albanian public statues are of bronze.

It is true that many of the early manifestations of the early lapidars were originally made of plaster but that was more to do with cost than anything else and many, like the Five Heroes of Vig, were replaced with bronze versions when the resources became available. A number of the really large lapidars, such as the Arch at Drashovich and the Berzhite monument were made of concrete. Carved stone is a rarity when it comes to such public sculpture.

As well as the addition of a new visitor the whole area now looks a lot less neglected than it did a few years ago. Considering it is the National Gallery, and therefore a supposed show case for the country, the back of the building looked more like what you would expect from a building due for demolition.

Firing from the mountains

Firing from the mountains

But the cleaning up of this area might also have something to do with the growing ‘regeneration’ of the central Tirana area. The central market is nothing like you would normally see in a Balkan country and has the sterile feeling of some of the markets in London – as well as higher prices and consequently fewer people.

The tragically neglected Dajt Hotel – which, by all accounts, was a masterpiece of Socialist Realist decoration which was just left to rot – is now under renovation. This means the general area is being cleaned up and that has spread over to the ‘Sculpture Park’.

Another change is that there’s no security guard always around to prevent the casual visitor from getting up close to these statues. It was one of my games in the past to get behind the guard without him realising – and then feigning ignorance when he eventually caught sight of me.

There’s also advantage of these statues being in their new location. You can actually get up really close and touch them, fell the texture of the metal, and now the stone, of the art works. You can see them from all sides and also appreciate how big these statues are. They were all originally designed to be standing atop a tall plinth. If the actual statues in that location were not much bigger than life size they would have seemed out of proportion. (Refer to debates about the proportions of the ‘David’ of Michaelangelo in Florence.) In the ‘Sculpture Park’ you truly look up to these giants of Communism.

Also, on this visit, I was able to see that the ‘Russian’ Stalin actually has been ‘signed’. This ‘discovery’ was not too pleasant. On many of the posts I have made in the recent past about Albanian lapidars I have made a point of stating that I like the idea the works of Socialist Realist sculpture weren’t signed. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that this started to change, as in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnje and the bas relief in Bajram Curri. I will have to look in to the way public statues were presented in the Soviet Union to see how this different approach developed – when I get the time.

The signature on the 'Russian' Stalin

The signature on the ‘Russian’ Stalin

But before leaving the ‘Sculpture Park’ I should not omit to make mention of the wonderful Liri Gero – the courageous Communist Partisan murdered by the German Fascists whilst she was still in her teens.

Liri Gero on her own

Liri Gero on her own

The Communist Heroine Liri Gero

The Communist Heroine Liri Gero

She still stands in the location she has held for a number of years – facing the group on the other side of the courtyard, alone, yet with a dignity and steadfastness that truly represents the young People’s Heroine. A young woman prepared to take up arms for her own liberation and for that of her country. Instead of being a ‘role model’ (the current ‘in’ term that’s used for shallow so-called ‘celebrities’) to young Albanian women I would doubt if many of them in their teens now would even know who she was. As a consequence their lives are likely to be as shallow as those of the celebrities they so admire.

If there were enough reasons to visit this ‘Sculpture Park’ in the past, the presence of Enver (the only public statue of him I’ve seen in the country) is yet another.

 

Political Vandalism and ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic in Tirana

'The Albanians' Mosiac at the National Historical Museum, Tirana

‘The Albanians’ Mosiac at the National Historical Museum, Tirana

Political Vandalism and ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic in Tirana

The wonderful and impressive ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic, which has looked down on Skenderbeu Square, in the centre of Tirana, from above the entrance of the National Historical Museum since 1982, is starting to show it’s age. Less it’s age, in fact, but really the signs of intentional neglect which is tantamount to an act of political vandalism.

The last time it was really ‘cared for’ was when one of the original artists involved in the construction of the mosaic (Agim Nebiu) used his skills and ‘expertise’ to attempt to depoliticise the work of Socialist Realist Art. At that time (which I still can’t say exactly when) the large, gold rimmed, five pointed red star which used to exist behind the head of the principal female character, at the centre of the mosaic, was removed. Also taken out was the smaller, gold-outlined star that sat above the heads of the double-headed eagle, the only difference between the flag of the present, capitalist state of Albania and the flag of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania.

Also removed – for me inexplicably – was the book that the male, to her right, clutches closely to his chest with his right arm. Although it would have been impossible to have seen so from street level, this would probably have been one of the books of Enver Hoxha, leader of the government and the Albanian Party of Labour from the first days after liberation to his death in 1985. (Another mosaic, this time in Bestrove, has an image of a child carrying a book of Enver Hoxha‘s works closely to her chest.)

Nebiu did a ‘good job’ – it’s very difficult to realise the original from what exists now, apart from a few areas where the colours don’t exactly match, and those unaware of the original will notice nothing. For his efforts he got his thirty pieces of silver. And people wonder why intellectuals were sent to the camps in Siberia.

The mosaic was also covered for some time at the end of 2012, just before the centenary of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire. But if any remedial work was carried out then it was very slip shod and almost immediately the mosaic showed increasing signs of decay.

One of the most obviouslt damaged areas

One of the most obviouslt damaged areas

And that decay continues. At an ever increasing pace.

Places were the ceramic tiles have fallen away have been obvious to the naked eye for some time and the iron framework upon which the whole structure rests has also started to poke its rusty face through the imagery. However, the majority of the decay wasn’t really encroaching on the actual figures in the picture. That’s different now as damage can be seen to the figures and their dress, especially in the lower third of the art work.

The iron framework shows through

The iron framework shows through

And that’s not a surprise. It receives no shade whatsoever from the blazing summer sun and for many of the summer months at the heat of the day the tiles would almost certainly be too hot to touch. Come the winter months temperatures below zero would be normal, especially at night, when ice crystals would form behind the tiles and force them away from the framework to which they are attached.

This alternating between extremes of temperature would have existed in the eight years of the mosaic’s existence before the fall of the socialist system in 1990 but efforts would have been made to keep matters of dis-repair under control. Also it would have been relatively new in the 80s and assuming care had been taken in its construction then it would have been able to withstand such variations in climate.

Cracks in Socialism and Albania marching forward

Cracks in Socialism and Albania marching forward

Although in the last couple of years a huge amount of money has been spent on renovating the immediate area – and it must be admitted that (at least at present) the new look, pedestrianised and car free Skenderbeu Square is a joy to walk through. But not a lek has been spent on the mosaic.

Damage appearing the length of the monument

Damage appearing the length of the monument

This must be intentional. The cowardly aim of the politicians, of whatever hue, to let the mosaic fall down – so as to avoid the accusation of artistic and cultural vandalism. If a sizeable chunk of stone was to fall and kill a foreign tourist as s/he was entering or leaving the museum all the better. Blame could then be apportioned on those who came up with the project in the first place – both the actual artists involved and the system of Socialism itself.

Unless there’s a radical change in attitude – which is highly unlikely – I doubt whether tourists to Albania will be able to enjoy and appreciate this unique example of Socialist Realist art on a visit to Tirana for many more years into the future.

Resistance – Monument to the struggle against Fascist invasion in Durres

Resistance - Durres

Resistance – Durres

Being the main port of invasion by the Italian Fascists on 7th April 1939 it’s not a surprise that in commemoration of that event, and especially the resistance that was shown by a significant proportion of the population (but not the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog who ran away as soon as the Italian ships came into sight) that there are a few monuments to this, constructed in the Socialist period. One is to the individual sacrifice of Mujo Ulqinaku (that used to stand close by the Venetian tower at the bottom end of town) and the other is to the general principle of ‘Resistance’ in Durrës, which is located right next to the waterfront and very likely one of the places the Italian fascists would have landed.

But in 2017 the population of Durrës doesn’t have much respect for Resistance to any foreign invasion. In fact the more foreign goods, foreign fast food and foreign culture they can access the better. In some senses more of a necessity than a wish as they have overseen the wholesale destruction of any industry which might provide them with the basic necessities of life. And, of course, how can anyone possibly survive without the internationally recognised destroyer of teeth and promoter of obesity, the obnoxious fluid sold under the name of Coca Cola?

But back to a time when Albanians had dignity, knew what true independence was and embodied the principles of resistance in their daily lives.

When a monument ceases to have relevance then it no longer gets treated with respect and that has been the fate of this lapidar – as well as with many others throughout the country. Apart from physical damage to some of the elements of the structure it is a constant victim of graffiti attack, the mindless, illiterate scribblings of those with nothing meaningful to say but say it anyway. At least political graffiti would demonstrate some form of human thought.

‘Resistance’ has architectural elements as well as sculptural.

You approach the monument via a few very low, but very wide steps. You are then in a circular space with a series of eleven columns on your right which rise to a height of about 3 metres and on that highest column stands the personification of ‘Resistance’ in the form of a Partisan fighter. Radiating out at 90 degrees to these columns, gradually coming down to ground level even as each of the columns gets higher is a feathering effect. This effect is also produced on the left hand side as you look at the statue but here the feathering is much lower to start with and much wider as well.

If you can imagine the furled wing of a bird you might understand the impression the architect is attempting to re-create. For this is a symbolic reference to the eagle, the double-headed version of which is, and has been for a few centuries now, the national emblem of Albania. This device has been used in the most recent development of the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Borove, just to the south of Ersekë, and for the construction of (the now derelict) mausoleum and museum to Enver Hoxha in Tirana.

The problem with this idea is that it is very difficult to appreciate the idea from ground level. It might well be more evident from an aerial view but that is not possible for the vast majority of onlookers. So in Durrës (as in Borove and Tirana) you have to use a little bit of imagination.

On the facade of four of theses columns, facing the inner circle, are images which tell a little bit of the history of Durrës and Albanian Resistance.

Resistance to the Romans

Resistance to the Romans

On the 7th from the right we have the ancient, Greco-Romano history of the town. Carved into the stone is a circular, Roman shield and surrounding it the weapons that would have been used at the time: a short sword, an axe and a number of different types of spears, together with a helmet with a crest.

Resistance to the Ottomans

Resistance to the Ottomans

On the 8th one in we are brought a little closer up to date. This is the time of the nationalist ‘hero’ Skenderbeu. We know that as the large shield towards the right has a double-headed eagle design (it was from the time of Skenderbeu that this symbol was adopted as a sign of Resistance to any foreign invader). This was in the 15th century. Here we have the weapons in use in warfare from that period: a long, broadsword, possibly arrows, spears and the curved blade, long poled axe that was used to hack away at the enemy. Examples of these can be seen in the National Historical Museum in Tirana.

The third lesson in history is on the next column, the ninth and this brings us up to the 20th century. At the bottom there’s a symbolic reference to the waves on the sea. This references Durrës as this image is part of the town’s coat of arms. Curving from the top left to the centre is an ammunition belt – eight clips with five bullets apiece. On the right hand side, taking up the whole height of the panel, is a rifle.

Resistance to Italian Fascism

Resistance to Italian Fascism

The top end of the barrels of a couple of rifles peek out from behind the ammunition belt on the left hand side. This modern weaponry frames an axe, a pickaxe and a couple of pitchforks. This, to me covers a couple of inter-related periods. It makes reference to the war for National Liberation (which took place between 1939 and 1944) and also to the construction of Socialism where the use of arms would be necessary to defend the revolution from attack, both from within and without.

The final symbol, which is on the facade of the column upon which the Partisan statue stands, is a large, black metal plaque of a double-headed eagle. Unlike the one on the shield of the Skenderbeu era this one has a star above the two heads. This is the star of Communism which was added to the national symbol from 1944 to 1990. This star, whether it was red originally or not I don’t know, is missing, whether as a result of political vandalism, opportunist souvenir hunting or by someone to care for it so that it can be returned in a future Socialist Albania.

The statue itself embodies many of the attributes seen on a number of lapidars throughout the country. The figure itself is rushing forward, weapon at the ready, but he is also looking backwards calling upon others, out of sight to come and join the fight. This is depicted elsewhere on Albanian lapidars such as the monumental Arch of Drashovicë and the statue of Mujo Ulqinaku in Durrës itself – but exact location unknown at this moment.

But there’s much more dynamism, more urgency here. He cannot stretch his legs any further, he gives the impression of needing to rush to the front, to engage the enemy. When there’s an invasion there’s no time to consider the options. Only those who are prepared to live under a foreign yoke, the future collaborators, the sycophants and cowards, will hesitate, ‘weigh up the options’ and then capitulate. This fighter, this Communist, this patriot does not hesitate.

He doesn’t wear a uniform as such as at the time of the Italian invasion in 1939 the so-called Royal Albanian Army was so much in a collaborative role with the Italians that official resistance melted away. It was up to a few individual soldiers, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, or armed civilians to resist the invasion. Although they were far too outnumbered in 1939 to succeed in preventing the country from being occupied the action of workers such as those at the tobacco factory and the growing number of those who joined the Partisans in the subsequent five years meant that the country was finally liberated at the end of November 1944.

He’s bare-chested and it looks like his shirt has been torn off his body and it hangs in shreds, flowing behind him as he rushes forwards. In general there’s nothing to distinguish him from any other national hero, racing to take on the enemy but there’s one little, unique indication that this is an Albanian patriot.

'Opinga' bag

‘Opinga’ bag

Hanging from a thin leather strap, that goes around his neck and rests against his left thigh, is a small bag. It looks very much like an opinga (the traditional leather shoe) with decoration on its facing and edges. I’ve not seen this elsewhere and can only think that when modern dress became more common, especially in a city like Durrës where more people would have been involved in manufacturing industry or dock related activities, these reminders and remainders of the past would have taken on a secondary role.

The official name of the monument is:

“Monumenti i Rezistencës.”

Which translates as:

‘Resistance Monument.’

Which was ‘dedicated to the armed struggle of the Albanian people against the fascist occupation of Italy on April 7, 1939.’

This lapidar is the combined work of Hektor Dule and Fuat Dushku (1930-2002) but I don’t know which of them (if either) was the originator of the architectural aspect of the monument. Dule also created the Mushqete Monument at Berzhite and the bas-relief to Skenderbeu in Gjirokaster. Dushku was one of the sculptors who worked on the ‘Four Heroines of Mirdita’ that was created in 1971 and used to stand in Rrëshen. That was criminally destroyed by the local reactionary so-called ‘democrats’.

Signatures

Signatures

This is quite a late lapidar as, according to the inscription under the right foot of the fighter, the statue was created in 1989. This inscription is also quite unusual. It has the names of the two sculptors, H[ector] Dule and F[uat] Dushku and then the letters QRVA followed by the number 89 (for the year 1989). QVRA stands for Qendra e Realizimit te Veprave te Artit, translating to Art Work Realization Centre. This is the name of the (State) foundry in Tirana where virtually all the lapidars in the country, from the late 60s to the end of the 80s, were forged. It’s also the place where many of those that were torn down in the 90s were melted down to construct some of the monstrosities that is contemporary, capitalist Albanian sculpture. This foundry at one time employed 40 people, more or less, full time. That went down to just 5 a few years ago and then was torn down to make way for expensive, luxury flats.

This is the first time I’ve seen these initials on a lapidar (but not the last, the large statue of the Partisan and child in Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery and the bas relief outside the vandalised museum in Bajram Curri being two other, late Socialist period examples). In the post on Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier I made a bit of a digression discussing the idea of the artists NOT putting their names on their work. This did not mean that their work was not appreciated or respected but the artist was only one cog in the machine. The finished work of art was the culmination of the work of many and if one name should be on it why not all the others?

It was only when that principle was being challenged, especially after the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, that the sculptors’ names started to appear on the finished work. And here, in addition, we have the place it was made. This no more or less than branding. If they had been able to continue making such statues they would have been stamping the © (copyright) sign on the base.

They didn’t realise that the more they adopted capitalist methods the shorter would be their future. Such foundries, workshops only exist in the capitalist countries with the patronage of the rich – just as it was in the Renaissance. There aren’t many of those in Albania and so the foundry died. I don’t have much sympathy for those with such myopia – whether they be foundry workers or sculptors.

Condition:

As can be seen from the pictures the plinth and the surrounds are uncared for and there’s various graffiti on the columns. The columns provide steps for children to climb and they often do. However, the statue itself seems to be untouched by the vandalism and is in a good condition.

Location:

In the park beside the water, in the older part of town, beside Rruga Taulantia, and a hundred metres or so west of the Venetian Tower (and the original location of the monument to Mujo Qlqinaku).

GPS:

N41.30936204

E19.44467501

DMS:

N41º 18′ 33.70”

E19º 26′ 40.83”

Altitude:

1.7m