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.


This is the exhibition of Socialist Realist Art as it is as of September 2019. There may have been other pictures that are in the collection that have been on display before but – for whatever reason – have not been considered for this particular phase. If so they will be added at a later date.

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.

 

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.

 

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