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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NB From the end of 2021 the gallery has been closed. I have no information about exactly why but there had long been signs of the need for structural repairs. When it will reopen I have no idea. There didn’t seem to be much activity when I was in Tirana in the summer of 2022. Neither do I have any idea of what will be exhibited. There is, I’m sure, a possibility that the items that were part of the permanent exhibition, works of Socialist Realist Art, might well be confined to the depths and the gallery will become a centre of decadent capitalist ‘art’.