While in Albania I had the good fortune to meet with three artists/gallerists working in Tirana: Ledia Kostandini, Ëndri Dani and Olson Lamaj. In addition to being trained and working as artists, the three also run their own art spaces. Ëndri and Olson have opened the Miza Gallery (Miza means "Fly" in Albanian) in the center of Tirana, a gallery which focuses on artists from Albania who have studied in Italy (there is a significant cohort!). Ledia and fellow artists Matilda Odobashi share a studio that they sometimes open to the public. They recently organized an open studio over the course of two weekends, where they invited friends and all interested parties to come view their work and discuss it with them. The artists were present for the duration of the event.
Each of these artists is producing very interesting and unique work, which I will discuss individually in the "Albania" section of this site. But what impressed me even more than their work was the lengths that they have gone to to show and promote contemporary art in Tirana. Currently, there are very few galleries that deal with contemporary art that isn't painting. There are even fewer venues devoted to showing or promoting new art in Tirana these days. What venues do exist are mostly mobile, meaning that they organize events but do not have one set venue or building where people can go to get information about or see the work that artists are producing at the moment. The Tirana Institute of Contemporary Art (TICA) runs a residency program and organizes the Tirana International Contemporary Art Biennale, but it doesn't currently have a building to call home. (If I understand correctly, it used to be located in the Hotel Dajti in the center of Tirana, which is currently abandoned, and not functioning as a hotel). Tirana Art Lab is also devoted to promoting contemporary art from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, including Albania. They also organize exhibitions, workshops, and residencies, but also do so remotely, without a central space that is open to the public. One organization that does have a venue is Tirana Ekspres, which organizes concerts and exhibitions, often in collaboration with TICA and Tirana Art Lab. It is located in an abandoned warehouse behind the slightly dis-used train station in Tirana (there are not many trains running), and difficult (although not impossible) to get to. So, the situation for the contemporary artist who wants to exhibit or share their work is, well, challenging.
Ledia, Ëndri and Olson have faced this challenge head on and offered their own solutions. They have spent their own time and money to operate their art spaces, which they run in the evenings or on weekends, after their "day jobs" are done. Many would see such a difficult situation as hopeless and give up, but not them. One thing that is very exciting about this region is that it is constantly changing. Albania is on the verge of an election (June 23, 2013), and from what I understand, a victory for the Socialist Party may be good for the arts. The PS is led by Edi Rama, an artist himself, and the person responsible for many of the transformations in Tirana in previous years, namely the painting of the building facades in bright colors and the cleaning up of the downtown area by improving parks, planting trees, and demolishing illegally constructed buildings. While no one yet knows the outcome of the election, and no one can predict the changes in store for Albania with regard to the results, one thing is for sure: with inspiring and ambitious people like these in the art scene, anything is possible.