So far the emphasis on this blog has been on those examples of Socialist Realist art that I have encountered on various visits to Albania in the past few years – especially the ‘lapidars’ (public monuments and sculptures). One of the drivers for starting this project was the fear that due to both active political vandalism and simple lack of care many of these unique works of socialist art were likely to disappear in the near future and would be lost to posterity.
The Albanian Lapidar Survey of 2014 meant that, at least, those monuments that still existed and were identified at the time would be recorded in as much detail as possible, including a comprehensive photographic record of their condition in 2014. The fate of those lapidars has varied in the intervening years, some suffering further decay others suffering inappropriate (if at times well meaning) and destructive ‘renovation’.
With many of the lapidars I have visited I have attempted to carry out a deep reading of what they represent and have tried to put them in their historical context. I don’t even try to maintain that I have always got it right but in lieu of any other such record (much information about the more than 650 lapidars covered in the ALS investigation – and many other works of art, such as bas reliefs, mosaics, etc. – having been destroyed or lost in the chaotic years of the 1990s) I hope my efforts can help in reconstructing a comprehensive data base for the future. Although many have already been written about on this blog there are still many to follow.
Travelling quite extensively around the country I have encountered artistic elements of the socialist past that were outside the remit of the ALS. That includes the likes of the mosaics (Bestrove, Tirana Historical Museum and on the Bashkia in Ura Vajgurore – to name a few) and bas reliefs (for example, the Durres Tobacco Factory and Radio Kukesi) already mention as well as paintings (in the National Art Gallery in Tirana), statues (including the ‘Sculpture Park‘ behind the National Art Gallery and the 68 Girls of Fier), stand alone structures (such as the Party Emblem in Peshkopia) and murals (such as the Traditional Wedding Mural in the hotel restaurant also in Peshkopia), exhibits in museums and a number of other works that have (sometimes) miraculously survived the 30 years following the success of the counter-revolution.
By the time the Party of Labour of Albania had achieved victory over the fascist invaders in November 1944 the idea of Socialist Realist Art as something Socialist countries should encourage had become entrenched in the thinking of revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. I presented my interpretation of this when discussing art in Albania but the same arguments would suit the use of art in the other major Socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union and China.
I intend to look at Soviet Socialist Realist Art, initially, by reading the stories being told in the Metro stations, principally of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow.
When it comes to the People’s Republic of China there are already examples of the use of art in the struggle to establish Socialism in the pages of Chinese Literature. Various issues of that magazine are available from 1953 to 1981 (the final 5 years an example of how literature and art can be used to turn back Socialism in a similar way it was used to promote Socialism from 1949 till just after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976).
The Chinese approach to literature and art can also be gleaned from the works of the writer and cultural theorist Lu Hsun.
Here I present a slide show of a collection of posters from the last, full revolutionary year of the People’s Republic of China (1975) to give an idea of how Chinese poster art had developed to that date.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Women started to take on skilled manual jobs.
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
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
I don’t know the significance of the date in the title of this painting.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Albania has extensive oil reserves and workers in the industry were often depicted in paintings.
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
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 02 – 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
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
The worker at the top of everything and this one is waving a red flag.
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
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
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
Many of the early Socialist Realist paintings concerned themselves with incidents from the National War of Liberation.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
A painting which seems to be very much influenced by the early Soviet artist Alexander Deineka.
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
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
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
Another painting that celebrates collective endeavour in the countryside.
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
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
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.
There are very few contemporary reference books on Albanian Socialist Realist Art – although there are albums of work from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China nothing comparable has been produced for Albania – but material was produced during the time of Socialist construction. Here we reproduce two of those albums, any others will be added if they become available.
Figurative Art in the People’s Republic of Albania – 1969
In various posts on this site I have been concentrating on providing descriptions and analyses of some of the many Lapidars in Albania. That is ongoing and there are still more to post in the future. At some time I also want to have a look at Albanian paintings from the Socialist period (1944-1990). Some of these have been introduced as they cross over with the sculptures on the monuments. There is still an opportunity to see some of these paintings in various locations throughout the country – principally the National Art Gallery in Tirana but also in the City Art Gallery in Durres, the Historical Museum in Fier and the Museum in Peshkopia.
But it wasn’t just in the plastic arts that Socialist Realism had a role to play in the construction of Socialism. Putting the role of the working class and peasantry in the forefront of all that happened in society, in the post, present and future, was also a task of writers of short stories and novels. For those interested in this aspect of Albania’s road to Socialism the various foreign language publications (especially the large format, monthly colour magazine, New Albania) provided translations from the Albanian language in English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. The story below appeared in New Albania, 1971, No 6.
This particular story dealt with a fictional incident in the National War of Liberation against the Fascist invaders – assisted by local collaborators who were always a threat to true patriots.
Note on translation. Translations into English were good during the time these magazines were being produced – but not perfect. I have made a few minor, obvious grammatical changes to the original but have not sought to correct all errors due to the fear of losing the meaning that the author was wanting to convey to the reader.
There was a man walking, or rather dragging himself slowly, along the bank of the river, weary and hungry. The pain from the wound in his left shoulder made it agony to breathe. He stopped, bracing himself against a tree or a big rock and drew breath very slowly and carefully as the pain stabbed at him. With great effort he pulled himself together.
Great dry flakes of snow that stuck wherever they touched were falling so thickly that they blotted out the world. Earth and sky were blended into a white gloom. He mustn’t stop. There was no road, no tracks but this didn’t trouble him. In his ears was the roar of the Black Drini. When the sound came clear he carried on; when it died away a little he angled more to the left and went ahead again. The Drini, swollen with the past week’s rain, tore madly down its course. Where it narrowed at the bends the waters hurled themselves upon the rocks and obstacles in their way with a sound like the fury of a distant hurricane.
The man lifted his head and listened.
“Good, I’m on the right track”, he whispered. He pushed on. River and man proceeded side by side, the one loud in its arrogant strength, the other wounded and nearly all in. Despite that they carried on side by side. If it had not been for the Drini who knows where Sulo Arifi, courier of the Dibra partisan unit, might have been lost. He had been travelling all night with the river for his guide and companion. He came from Cermenika where he had picked up some letters from headquarters. He was returning to his unit but did not find it where it had been at Ostreni. Instead he found a letter in the secret communications place. ‘Follow us down the Drini. We shall meet in Dibra. As fast as you can.’ “Trimi”. “Trimi” was the Commissar.
Sula Arifi had never done this trip before but that was not important. He would follow the tracks of his comrades down the course of the Drini. He could rely on the Drini. He would get there, come what may, he would get there.
He started early from Ostreni. Although the sky was dark and threatening neither snow nor rain had begun to fall.
Sula climbed the spur, leaving Cerrieci and Gorice on his right. He passed Zalli of Bulqiza and Majtari and daybreak found him near Devolan. So far the trip was going well. He tried to slip undetected past people and houses because there were enemy bands prowling about but he couldn’t get away without being observed. Shots rang out. Bajraktar’s men took a delight in blazing away at any stranger. If he happened to be a partisan, then so much the better.
Sula Arifi exchanged three short bursts with the two who were firing at him from behind a bank and then slipped away. But he hadn’t gone five hundred paces when a fearful pain caught him in the shoulder. A glance showed his jacket stained with blood. ‘Oh, the devil’, he thought. ‘Those dogs of Bajraktar have managed to get their teeth into me. What rotten luck!’ Painfully he managed to struggle out of his jacket and tried to stem the flow of blood by tying strips from his shirt around the wound. It was deep and bleeding heavily. Sula tested his arm, moving it backwards and forwards. ‘Thank goodness – at least it hasn’t touched the bone’, he comforted himself. ‘But I suppose that bit of metal’s still in me. I must get there and the comrades will pull it out.’
He made to move off, but he was no longer the man he had been the evening before. His makeshift bandage slipped and the bleeding continued. He was obliged to stop and tighten the strip of rag. On he went.
‘Oh! it’s a long way, this Dibra!’
Near Cetushi a fine drizzle began and quickly turned to snow. And what snow! Flakes as big as your hand. The whole world was blotted out. Within an hour six inches, a foot of snow had fallen. Sula struggled forward, lifting his feet high as he plodded along. Unable to see a thing, he strained his ears for the sound of the river. ‘I’m all right’, he whispered, ‘I’m on the right track. Bless you, Black Drini!’ And he hurried his steps as if to keep pace with the river as it rushed northwards. Behind the partisan the snow immediately covered his footprints and the spots of blood.
Sula Arifi came to a halt. His legs would no longer obey him. His whole chest was a fire of agony from his wound, as if his ribs had been riddled with bullets. It was snowing as hard as ever. He couldn’t see ten paces ahead and neither could he hear the Drini. It had fallen silent. ‘Either I’ve lost my way or the river’s wider here and not making much noise’, thought the partisan.
Unexpectedly, a sweet lethargy began to steal over him, spreading over his limbs and warming them, making him drowsy. Hundreds of figures, some new, some familiar, danced before his eyes. He seemed to be back in the old bakery where he had worked so many years as an apprentice. The baker, with his great hairy arms like a bear, quenched the burning paddles from the oven in a tub of water. On the broad counter, trays full of pies, roast meat and pastries, were lined up side by side. Further over, on the shelves, buns fresh from the oven and shining with egg-yolk were steaming. He took one and sank his teeth in it, but he couldn’t get it down his throat. The baker hit him hard in the belly with the butt end of the paddle.
Sula Arifi pulled himself together, scared. It was a near thing. One moment more and he would have been asleep. In the snow, that would have been the end. He took a handful of snow and rubbed his face with it. At first it felt cold, then the sting turned into a scalding heat which flushed his cheeks. Sula Arifi took a proper hold on himself. At that moment he remembered the words of the letter: ‘As fast as you can, comrade’, he whispered mechanically. But his legs would not function. His limbs seemed frozen and numb. The partisan lifted his head. Through that snowy stillness, that fearful stillness, a muffled roar was becoming gradually louder, heading towards the north. ‘Ah! there it is again. Bless you, Black Drini!’ Sula Arifi took one step forward, two steps, then he was on his way again, as though drawn along by the roar of the river.
About midday the snowstorm began to peter out. The flakes thinned out, then they stopped altogether. On his right Sula Arifi could see a village, on his left, the river. He turned from the village, moving towards the river. What would he have given, at that moment, for a crust of bread! It was painful to think that there, five hundred paces away, there was a fire, bread, and people who might gladly give it.But this village ahead – was it Brezhdani? Or Kishavici? March, Sula Arifi, as quickly as you can! But his legs would scarcely move, while the Drini roared furiously on its way. Now, with its banks covered with snow, it seemed like a narrow stream snaking along. ‘This must be Kishavici! But what is the name of this stream?’ He could go no further. He stood, breathing heavily. He was not sleepy now. His limbs were laden, while his feet seemed like two strange, lifeless lumps. He no longer felt his wound. The blood had clotted round the bandage in a heavy crust.
A tall stone house where perhaps he might rest loomed before him in the gathering darkness. The courier stood looking at it, isolated, rising from the snow-covered plain. The other houses were a fair way off, scattered over the ridges and valleys and indistinct now in the deepening twilight. He turned his eyes again to the plain. What was going on behind those cold walls, behind those narrow, loophole windows? There seemed something ominous about the way the angles of the stone stood out in the gloom, clean-cut as with a knife.
Sula Arifi wavered, paused, then moved towards it. It was a partisan base. It was an open fire where wet clothes could be dried and exhausted limbs stretched out. It was a piece of corn bread gladly given, a pleasant corner where one could dream of the morrow.
He approached the house, and pushed open the big door. The wooden stair creaked under his feet, the steps slippery with slushy snow.
‘There’s someone here then’, thought Sula, clinging to the banister. The sight of the open door gave him strength to struggle up the last few steps, but he froze rigid on the threshold. In the room beyond the door lay a dead man. An old woman sat with bowed head beside him. Her face was buried in her hands and partly obscured by her black shawl. Two other women sat in silence, a little to one side.
The old woman looked up. Sula Arifi shrank back against the door. ‘Oh women’, called the old woman, ‘stand up and welcome the guest.’
Sula mumbled with embarrassment, ‘I … I … ‘
‘Oh you women’, repeated the old woman in a deeper tone, ‘stand up and welcome the guest’.
‘No’, said Sula firmly, ‘I am going’.
‘You’ll not cross the threshold alive, my boy!’
She stood up and strode towards him.
Sula took off his cap and approached the body.
‘Your son, Mother?’
‘When did this happen?’
‘Today. Halil Alija. *But relax, boy, don’t get excited!’
Her glance fell on his chest. ‘But you’ve been shot!’ she said. ‘Oh, damn their eyes, you’ve been shot, too.’ Quickly, women, we must get those clothes off him.’
But the women had disappeared. ‘They’ve gone, the fools,’ she whispered. ‘They were afraid. But I’ll dress this wound without them.’
‘There, there, dear boy. My son wouldn’t like his mother to leave you in this state.’
The old woman, with a glance at her son, rose to her feet. The flames from the fire at her back cast a long shadow right across the room. As she moved towards him with her great stride, she seemed to Sula Arifi like a mighty oak with a massive trunk and broad-spreading branches. He tried to remember her eyes when he had first seen her through the doorway. They were cold in the beginning, almost lifeless, but the life blazed up in them immediately she noticed the partisan.
‘Ah, what a brave old woman you are, mother, a brave old woman indeed,’ whispered Sula Arifi.
The old woman came back carrying a roll of cloth prepared precisely for bandages. A shudder passed over the partisan when he saw it. In that roll of bandage, the whole blood-stained history of the banks of the Drini was expressed. There wouldn’t be a house without such bandages, nor a woman who didn’t know how to weave them. The bride brought them in her dowry. The blood feuds ran on from century to century.
Reluctantly the partisan lay down. He felt ashamed at being treated. Ashamed and embarrassed in the presence of the dead. But what a woman this was! A slight groan escaped his lips. Immediately the old woman lifted her hands from the wound.
‘Did I hurt you, son? Did I hurt my dear Abaz?’
Sula Arifi looked at the dead man. A lock of blonde hair had fallen across his forehead. The look of death had not yet touched his face. The old woman was confused. The living partisan seemed like her dead partisan son.
She turned his head towards her and wiped his tears. It was too much. Her hand was roughened and cold, but Sula Arifi seized it and pressed it on his face.
‘There, there, dear boy, mother’s here!’ She rose and filled a cup with coffee.
‘Drink it, son. Now I shall get you some food’
‘What courage,’ murmured Sula Arifi to himself. ‘Even at such a time she thinks about food for me.’
‘My son did not leave me on my own this night, you came, my boy.’ The cup quivered in the partisan’s hand. He no longer felt his wounds. Didn’t this old woman show how to bear pain?
Sula put down the empty cup. A rifle shot rang out from nearby. The partisan reached for his gun.
‘Hand over the partisan, old woman, if you don’t want to follow your son to the grave!’
The voice came clearly from just outside the wall. Sula rose to his knees. The pressure of the old woman’s hand on his shoulder prevented him from standing up. From outside the threats were repeated. The house was surrounded. Sula stood against the wall.
‘I’m going out,’ he said.
‘Do you intend to give yourself up, boy?’ The old woman was looking fierce. ‘I’ll never surrender while there’s breath in my body, mother, I want to go out to face them.’
‘No, not while I live. One I gave them, another never!’
‘They will burn the house down.’
‘One I gave them, another never,’ whispered the woman again. ‘Let the house go up in flames!’
In her agony of indecision she began to pace backwards and forwards across the big room. What to do? How to save Sula Arifi? Until then she had been so brave, faced with her dead son. Now, before her living son she seemed lost.
Sula peered out a loophole. They were shooting from outside. Bullets whistled and smashed against the stone walls. It was pitch dark out there.
The old woman threw a pitcher of water on the fire. Darkness enclosed the room. Who knows how much suffering this woman has seen, how many times she has quickly doused the fire when the rifles started at night. Outside they were keeping up a furious fire. Sula fired the odd shot in reply. There seemed to be no end to the volleys. Tiles flew from the roof and smashed to the ground. Dogs were barking from somewhere near.
Sula turned to see what the old woman was doing. To his astonishment, she was coming towards him, with a gun in her hands.
‘Slip out through the little door at the back. I’ll hold them off, they won’t suspect anything.’
‘Oh mother, mother,’ whispered the partisan, ‘I’m not leaving. You go,’ he said to the old woman.
‘I’m carrying letters from headquarters. They must be delivered to the unit at all costs. You know the way. You go, mother.’
‘I have a brave son here,’ she said.
‘Now go! One son I gave another never!’
‘But I am wounded. I’ll not get there.’
‘The letters must be delivered at all costs. I am wounded.’ His words became almost delirious, beseeching. He could not leave her on her own and go.
‘Away you go! A wounded man can make it, a live man can make it, but not a dead one. I want you to live. Abaz would have listened to me. Now please go!’
And he went. He valued his life that night no more than a hair of his head, but there are bigger things, more important things than that.
As he went, for a long time he could hear a shot with a particular sound distinguishable amongst the others, the sound of a carbine. It continued all through the evening until nearly midnight. Then it was silent. Sula Arifi went on towards Dibra.
*Halil Alia was a collaborator with the fascists and one of chiefs of the traitor forces that fought against the National Liberation Movement.