Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in the National Art Gallery, Tirana

Skender Kamberi - The Bread Strike 1942 - 1971

Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971

Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in 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

It might be just chance but although Albania has a long coastline, in relation to the size of the country in general, and that the fishing industry would have been quite important during the period of the construction of Socialism there aren’t many paintings which celebrate that fact.

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

The title causes confusion – but that might simply be down to a problem with the translation from Albanian to English. In Albania working men and women were encouraged to write about their experiences and thoughts there being many outlets at a local and national level where amateur writers were encouraged to send in their work.

Aristotel Papa - From constructions - 1969

Aristotel Papa – From constructions – 1969

The construction of new houses was crucial in the early years of the republic and these 5/6 storey buildings are common throughout Albania. There not exactly pretty to look at from the outside but the few I’ve had the opportunity to visit were more than comfortable on the inside. What also went hand in hand with the construction of the flats were the communal heating plants, especially important in the mountainous regions and those towns and cities situated over a few hundreds of metres above sea level.

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

One of the aims of Socialist Realist Art is to maintain the dignity of manual labour, in both the town and the countryside, and to challenge the idea that certain jobs were more prestigious than others. As all Socialist societies have developed the fight against the development of an ‘intelligentsia’ that saw itself better than the majority of workers became one of the on-running battles. Efforts to challenge this, by sending intellectuals, Party functionaries and those in comfortable occupations, were tried in all the four Socialist countries (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Albania) but not continued for long enough to put the intellectuals into their place. The Cultural Revolution in China between 1966 and 1976 was the highest point in this struggle but even that eventually failed.

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.

Edison Gjergo - The epic of the morning stars - 1971

Edison Gjergo – The epic of the morning stars – 1971

When I was in the National Art Gallery a few years ago this painting had an additional card beside it indicating that this painting, and the artist, had been criticised for its formalist style. However, presently there’s nothing to bring such a criticism to the viewer’s attention.

Edison Gjergo - The Founder - 1971

Edison Gjergo – The Founder – 1971

If Gjergo had been criticised for the previous painting on matters of style this one should have been criticised for its content. Here we have the worker as some Christ/John the Baptist like character. There’s something cold and dead about the expression which I don’t like, either.

Fatmir Haxhiu - Skroskie 1944 - 1966

Fatmir Haxhiu – Skroskie 1944 – 1966

This documents an event during the War of Liberation. This was another painting that previously indicated that it had been the subject of political criticism during the period of Socialism. This time due to the fact that the figure in the centre is that of Mehmet Shehu when he was a commander in the Partisan army. The painting was removed from display when he fell from grace in 1981.

Fatmir Haxhui - The Victor - 1979

Fatmir Haxhui – The Victor – 1979

A portrait of one of the victorious Partisans who liberated Tirana from the Nazi occupiers on the 17th November 1944. We know it’s Tirana with the image of the Et’hem Bey Mosque (Xhamia e Et’hem Beut). It wasn’t used much during the Socialist period and is now undergoing an extensive renovation.

Franc Ashiku - At the hydropower plant - 1971

Franc Ashiku – At the hydropower plant – 1971

The Albanians were always proud of the way they were able to electrify the country and the opening of a new hydro-powered plant was always celebrated. Immediately after the liberation of the country in 1944 one of the first aims was to electrify the country, just as Lenin had declared for the young Soviet Union after victory in the War of Intervention.

Fuat Dushka - The metallurgist - 1979

Fuat Dushka – The metallurgist – 1979

One of the few sculptures that are displayed inside the Art Gallery. There are, of course, the fine sculptures of Marxist leaders and other examples of Socialist realist art behind the Gallery building.

Harrilla Dhimo - The work of our hands - Fierze - 1979

Harrilla Dhimo – The work of our hands – Fierze – 1979

This is another painting that celebrates the production of electricity, this time the power plant at Fierze. The construction of the dam for this plant created the magnificent Lake Koman.

Hasan Capari - Portrait of a girl - 1972

Hasan Capari – Portrait of a girl – 1972

Not all the art created by painters during the period of Socialism concerned either the world of labour or the events of the War of Liberation.

Hasan Nallbani - Lifting up a garden hoe - 1966

Hasan Nallbani – Lifting up a garden hoe – 1966

Women were well represented in Albanian Socialist Art.

Ismail Lulmi - Landscape - 1974

Ismail Lulmi – Landscape – 1974

A landscape painting which depicts a State or Collective farm – which made Albania almost self-sufficient in food production during the period of Socialism. Following the counter-revolution of 1990 the land was distributed amongst the population and now Albanian agriculture resembles more what you would seen in Britain during feudal times with ‘strip’ farming being the norm.

Isuf Sulovari - Partisans resting - 1971

Isuf Sulovari – Partisans resting – 1971

Notice the young female Partisan teaching her older comrade to read during a respite from the fighting. Illiteracy was rife in pre-Liberation Albania and education was one of the early priorities of the Socialist state. That can be seen by the number of books that are printed in the Albanian language still to this day, totally out of proportion to the level of the population.

Isuf Sulovari - The giant of metellurgy - 1974

Isuf Sulovari – The giant of metellurgy – 1974

This painting depicts the construction of one of the factories in Elbasan – the centre of Albania’s metallurgy production during Socialism. This huge area is now almost totally abandoned for its initial purpose. Notice also the central character is a woman. Women were not reduced to manual jobs but also took on responsible roles.

Isuf Sulovari - The milkwoman - 1971

Isuf Sulovari – The milkwoman – 1971

A female dairy farm worker. From the size of the herd and the structures in the background this is another depiction of a State or Collective Farm.

Jorgji Gjikopulli - Flowers of life - 1970

Jorgji Gjikopulli – Flowers of life – 1970

Sunflowers used for the production of cooking oils. There were also extensive areas of olive oil plantations, especially in the south of the country close to Saranda.

Kristaq Rama - A contemporary of the Republic - 1964

Kristaq Rama – A contemporary of the Republic – 1964

A celebration of the working class – those who had the potential to make a new and glorious future. A task, eventually, the Albanian working class were unable to fulfil. Rama was involved in the creation of a number of some of the most important of Albanian lapidars such as Mother Albania in the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the monument to the artillery in Sauk; the monument to the year 1920 outside Vlora; the bust of Shota Galicia in Kukes. Rama is the father of the present Prime Minister, Edi Rama – who was also trained as an artist. Whether the father would be proud of the fact is not recorded.

Llambi Blido - At the commanding unit - 1971

Llambi Blido – At the commanding unit – 1971

The poster on the right argues that it is only the work of the Party and the system of Communism that will ensure the true emancipation of women.

Llambi Blido - Portrait of a girl - Alma - 1994

Llambi Blido – Portrait of a girl – Alma – 1994

This is the only painting in the present exhibition on the first floor of the Art Gallery that was created after the counter-revolution of the early 1990s. And it sticks out like a sore thumb. Although painted by the same artists as the painting that goes before it above if lacks any meaning. It’s the sort of kitsch that gets re-produced in thousands and gets a pride of place in the homes of some people who refuse to look at art with a critical eye. All that can be said of it is that it is ‘pretty’ but conveys nothing. It’s a chocolate box image. There’s no character in the face, we can deduce nothing about the sitter. Compare this image with the other portraits of young girls and women in the rest of the exhibition. Blido in his dotage.

Lumturi Blloshmi - At the industrial plant - 1974

Lumturi Blloshmi – At the industrial plant – 1974

Environmentalists might look on this picture in horror but in the early 1970s the building of these industrial complexes was seen as a great achievement of the Albanian people. And indeed it was. Under attack from the very first days of the revolution, especially by the British, it was crucial that the Albanian people were able to be as self sufficient as possible.

Muntaz Dhrami - Invigorate the Revolutionary Spirit - 1984

Muntaz Dhrami – Invigorate the Revolutionary Spirit – 1984

An allegorical sculpture from one of the finest sculptors produced by Albanian Socialism and he was involved in the creation of some of the best examples of Albanian lapidars. His work includes: Mother Albania, at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the Monument to Heroic Peze; the monument to the Peze Conference; monument to the battle of Mushqete in Berzhite; the amazing arch at Drashovice; the monument to the year 1920 outside of Vlora; the Priske lapidar; and the obelisk to education in Gjirokaster.

Musa Qavri - Paving the road - 1972

Musa Qavri – Paving the road – 1972

Before Liberation there were few paved roads in the country, even in the towns and cities. It would take time to improve communication throughout the country. What Socialism didn’t achieve capitalism has not ‘rectified’ as there are still many parts of the countryside without metalled roads.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - Partisan ambush - 1956

Nexhmedin Zajmi – Partisan ambush – 1956

The success of the Partisans in the fight against both the Italian and German Fascists was their control of the mountains of Albania – which were as much as an antagonist in the war as the combatants.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - Still life with chicken - 1955

Nexhmedin Zajmi – Still life with chicken – 1955

Like landscapes still lifes were not really the fare of Socialist Realist art but, obviously, artists turned their hand to various subjects.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - The cascade of the Drin - 1969

Nexhmedin Zajmi – The cascade of the Drin – 1969

These I understand to be a trio who would have been working on the construction of one of the hydro-electric projects, the Drin being the river that runs close to the northern city of Shkoder.

Pandeli Lena - The operators - 1981

Pandeli Lena – The operators – 1981

Albania has extensive oil reserves and workers in the industry were often depicted in paintings.

Pandi Mele - Beyond the window - 1972

Pandi Mele – Beyond the window – 1972

This picture borders on abstraction and I’m not sure how this would have been received in certain circles at various times during the Socialist period.

Pandi Mele - The highlander - 1971

Pandi Mele – The highlander – 1971

If he plays with abstraction in his previous painting above here Mele captures the character of a peasant from the mountains.

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 01 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 01 – 1968

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 02 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 02 – 1968

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 03 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 03 – 1968

The three paintings above were painted as a triptych and show soldiers of the Albanian People’s Army showing them involved in various activities, practising shooting skills (note it’s the woman who has the gun), in manual labour helping in civilian activities and in study of Marxist texts.

Petro Kokushta - At the height of light - 1981

Petro Kokushta – At the height of light – 1981

Constructing the dam, referenced by the lake below, is only one part of the electrification of the country. The distribution infrastructure also needed effort and, in this case, a head for heights.

Petro Kokushta - The assembler - 1979

Petro Kokushta – The assembler – 1979

The worker at the top of everything and this one is waving a red flag.

Petro Kokushta - The driver - 1971

Petro Kokushta – The driver – 1971

In place of aristocrats and other hangers on Socialist Realist places the ‘ordinary’ man and woman on the walls of the Art Galleries.

Petro Kokushta - To the Assembly with a cannon - 1979

Petro Kokushta – To the Assembly with a cannon – 1979

Here the attack on the Quisling Assembly, between German Nazis and so-called ‘Nationalists’, on 18th October 1944 is depicted. A section of the 3rd Partisan Brigade dragged a canon up to the hills above Tirana, in the area of Sauk, and fired down on the meeting as it was taking place in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace – which is just across the road from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery on the Elbasan Road from Tirana. The remains of the fascist, Quisling and coward Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King Zog’) were buried in the building’s grounds in 2012. After Liberation in November 1944 the 18th October was declared ‘Day of the Artillery’.

Rafael Dembo - Going to work - nd

Rafael Dembo – Going to work – nd

Here we have a representation of the solidarity that comes with collective labour – directed to a common goal.

Sadik Kaceli - The crossing of the striking division of Brigade No 1 - 1954

Sadik Kaceli – The crossing of the striking division of Brigade No 1 – 1954

Many of the early Socialist Realist paintings concerned themselves with incidents from the National War of Liberation.

Sali Shijaku - Ilic Kici Dashi - 1978

Sali Shijaku – Ilic Kici Dashi – 1978

Dashi was one of the many who were designated ‘People’s Hero/Heroine’ after the War of Liberation from the invading fascists.

Sali Shijaku - The oilman - 1966

Sali Shijaku – The oilman – 1966

Oil workers were distinguished by their distinctive hats and combination cape. In any circumstance not a particularly pleasant job.

Sali Shijaku - The opening of new lands - 1970

Sali Shijaku – The opening of new lands – 1970

To prepare the land for the establishment of the Collective and State Farms, after the Agricultural Reforms of 1969 would have required and enormous amount of hard physical labour. What so few people achieved in such a short time is admirable. It is a tragedy that so much of that labour has gone to waste and the land they made workable now being left fallow – until some big corporation steps in and reaps the fruits of the millions of men and women hours needed to make the land productive.

Sali Shijaku - Vojo Kushi - 1969

Sali Shijaku – Vojo Kushi – 1969

Vojo Kushi was a young Partisan who, when surrounded in a house in Tirana by Italian fascists with two other comrades, rushed the enemy and attempted to throw a grenade into one of the tanks of the occupying forces. This is one of the largest paintings in the exhibition.

Seli Shijaku - At the Enver Hoxha Autotractor Combine - 1979

Seli Shijaku – At the Enver Hoxha Autotractor Combine – 1979

As a predominantly agricultural society it was imperative, in order to make collectivisation of the land a success, that machinery was introduced into the process. This both created an industrial working class in the creation of the tractors, ploughs and combine harvesters that were produced in the industrial centres as well as converting the peasant farmers into agricultural workers with skills commensurate with the workers in the cities. It is only this year that I’ve seen any development in the use of machinery in the countryside – and that on a small scale. What it took Socialism to achieve in 20 years capitalism has barely made any impact in 30 when it had a solid base to start from whereas Albania in the 1940s was starting from scratch.

Shaban Hysa - Beyond - 1969

Shaban Hysa – Beyond – 1969

The ‘Beyond’ here is not just the route of the electricity pylons but what this will mean for the construction of Socialism and the building of a new future for working men and women.

Skender Kamberi - The bread of our hands - 1976

Skender Kamberi – The bread of our hands – 1976

Here the various phases in the development of a wheat crop are conflated into one scene – semi-lyrical, semi-romantic. But the title is important and it stresses that what the workers receive is due to their own efforts. The land and all its fruits belong to them as a whole, as workers in the countryside and in the cities, co-dependent.

Skender Kamberi - The Bread Strike 1942 - 1971

Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971

This is one of the most interesting of the paintings in the present collection – and I’d never seen igt before. This is an action filled canvas. There’s so much going on there’s too much to go into here. And I’m not exactly sure where this strike took place. Even before the Partisan war against the invaders took off in an organised manner there were many actions by unarmed workers against the invading Italian fascists. One other notable example was the strike of tobacco workers in Durres in 1940. There were also many demonstrations on the streets of towns throughout the country.

Skender Lako - Landscape of Pogradec - 1972

Skender Lako – Landscape of Pogradec – 1972

A charming landscape scene of the entrance to the town of Pogradec, on the shores of lake Ochrid, in the south-east of the country. The first painting in the exhibition to include a lapidar – which is way out of scale to the actual monument still in existence.

Skender Milori - A letter to the family - 1970

Skender Milori – A letter to the family – 1970

Two young women outside their tent in the south of the country – the sea and the olive trees on the terraces in the background suggest that this is close to Saranda. Young people were sent to the countryside in an effort to ensure that as city dwellers they didn’t get separated from the hardships of labour in the countryside. This was similar to what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As in China so in Albania some loved it, some hated it. Education given them by the revolution was then used to denigrate the Revolution’s achievements and eventually to undermine it.

Sotir Capo - The wireworker - 1969

Sotir Capo – The wireworker – 1969

A young woman working in a wire factory – where that might have been I’m not sure. What is certain is that there is no wire factory in Albania now. The building might, and probably does, still exist but it will be a mere shell, looted of anything valuable.

Spiro Kristo - Children - 1966

Spiro Kristo – Children – 1966

Albanian children were brought up with the idea that one day they might have to fight to defend their country. Unfortunately when it came to it they ran away and allowed their country, fought for with such bravery and with the loss of so much blood by their parents and grandparents, to disintegrate into chaos and disaster. A friend of mine was horrified when he saw this idea of children being taught about war but he seems to forget how that is entrenched in the culture of the capitalist ‘west’. He is also old enough to remember that many children in Britain, especially boys, had toy guns at a very young age – and ran around attempting to eliminate the entire indigenous population of America.

Spiro Kristo - The Brigade woman - 1976

Spiro Kristo – The Brigade woman – 1976

Another example of where a woman was in a position of responsibility – here a woman is keeping a record of what the Brigade has produced and who would have contributed what.

Spiro Kristo - The days of flying - 1986

Spiro Kristo – The days of flying – 1986

The idea of combat training is represented by the airman on the right playing with toy aircraft as they are involved in a dog-fight. In the background are lined up, probably, Chinese made MIG jets – ageing now as relations between the two countries had been broken just under ten years earlier. Now there’s no such thing as an independent Albanian air force – I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a single trained fighter pilot in the country. Now Albania’s ‘independence’ is protected by NATO.

Stavri Cati - Electrification 02 - 1969

Stavri Cati – Electrification 02 – 1969

The emphasis that was placed upon the electrification of the country in the 1960s is demonstrated by the number of paintings that were created in that time and which would have been exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout the country. Some of these galleries still exist – however many have been closed and quite possibly looted in the early 1990s. There are some, however, where materials from the Socialist period are being ‘stored’, often haphazardly, so there is a chance of the material being available to the public view in the future.

Vasil Talo - The opening of the terraces - 1966

Vasil Talo – The opening of the terraces – 1966

A vast amount of man and women hours were expended on the creation of terraces in order to increase cultivable land in the hilly parts of the country. The sea in this picture would indicate that this is, again, in the south of the country in the area around Saranda. Until the the early 1990s the whole area on this southern part of Albania – opposite the Greek island of Corfu – would have been covered with olive and citrus trees. Many exist but many more have been destroyed to provide the ugly holiday resort of Saranda and further south still, the holiday ‘resort’ of Ksamil.

Vilson Halimi - On the frontline everywhere - 1976

Vilson Halimi – On the frontline everywhere – 1976

The only family scene in the exhibition. Note the red banner with a slogan at the entrance to the village down on the left and the white lapidar in the background on the right – a little to far away to identify exactly which one it is or where.

Vilson Kilica - Declaration of the Republic - 1982-3

Vilson Kilica – Declaration of the Republic – 1982-3

A painting which celebrates the declaration of the People’s Republic of Albania in Tirana in 1946. (The country was declared the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania in 1976.) This is one of only two images in the exhibition of the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania and the country, from 1944 till his death in 1985, Enver Hoxha. He’s the figure to the right of centre, under the flag wearing a long, grey overcoat and saluting the crowd.

Vilson Kilica - In the studio - 1986

Vilson Kilica – In the studio – 1986

This is a strange one. It’s an intimate scene of an artist’s studio where we see both the artist and one of his sitters. That sitter is Enver Hoxha, who was painted a number of times by Kilica. BUT – Kilica has depicted himself as he would have been in 1986 but the image of Comrade Enver is of him as a relatively young man at the time of the Liberation of the country in 1944, or in the few years after. Also the painting was created the year after Enver’s death. Can’t work that one out.

Vilson Kilica - The Brigadiers - 1971

Vilson Kilica – The Brigadiers – 1971

A colourful and joyful picture of a couple of young women going to work on a Collective or State Farm. The various crops are represented by the different colours in the fields in the background.

Zef Shoshi - Establishing a co-operative in Malesia - 1974

Zef Shoshi – Establishing a co-operative in Malesia – 1974

The establishment of a Co-operative would have involved long and detailed negotiations and here we see the success of those discussions with all generations of the population of this mountain village being present at the closing ceremony. The Banner to the right states: ‘Glory to the Party of Labour of Albania’.

Zef Shoshi - The turner - 1969

Zef Shoshi – The turner – 1969

Another picture of a female worker in a skilled occupation, this time as a turner in an engineering works. Again it’s unlikely the place depicted is still working and I would have thought it is very unlikely, also, that a young woman would be following such a profession in today’s capitalist Albania.

Guardians of the country - 1969 - Spiro Kristo

Guardians of the country – 1969 – Spiro Kristo

A painting which seems to be very much influenced by the early Soviet artist Alexander Deineka.

Building the hydroelectric plant - 1971 - Ismail Lulani

Building the hydroelectric plant – 1971 – Ismail Lulani

A character portrait with the construction work as a background.


This is the exhibition of Socialist Realist Art as it is as of September 2019. There are a few pictures which have been in previous displays but – for whatever reason – were not considered for this particular phase. A few of those follow:

In the industrial complex - 1974 - Lumturi Blloshimi

In the industrial complex – 1974 – Lumturi Blloshimi

A picture created before the problems of air pollution were generally accepted as being important even at the time of industrial development in a country which before Liberation had virtually no heavy industry. Albania has little problem with that 30 years after the counter-revolution as the factories and works constructed during the time of Socialism were looted and now, in the main, exist only as ruins.

The Partisan Oath - 1968 - Guri Mahde

The Partisan Oath – 1968 – Guri Mahde

A painting that puts the Party at the centre of everything – the oath is to the liberation of the country from the Fascist invader but also to the cause of Communism.

Tree Planting - 1971 - Edi Hila

Tree Planting – 1971 – Edi Hila

Another painting that celebrates collective endeavour in the countryside.

Partisan School - 1969 - Sotir Cano

Partisan School – 1969 – Sotir Cano

This is an interesting one as Cano painted at least another version. Here we have the important task, even in times of war, of the education of the Partisans – the majority of whom would have been illiterate. This version has been displayed in the National Art Gallery in recent years.

Partisan School 2 - 1969 - Sotir Cano

Partisan School 2 – 1969 – Sotir Cano

This version used to be displayed in VI Lenin Party School in Tirana. Whether it still survives may be in doubt. This has the same general composition but there are changes in the genders of some of the main figures.

Worker with hammer - 1938 - Sofia Papdhimitri

Worker with hammer – 1938 – Sofia Papdhimitri

Not a ‘Socialist Realist’ painting as it predates the Liberation of the country.

I also have the intention of adding to the blog images of other art works I have encountered in other art galleries/museums in the country. Sometimes they are difficult to find but there are still a few places where the art of the Socialist period of Albania’s history can be appreciated.

 

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