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Interview 23 Aug 17

Albania's Xhixha Strikes Gold With Steel Sculptures

Durres-born sculptor Helidon Xhixha - who has achieved international acclaim for his abstract steel art - tells BIRN in an interview that while he remains proud to be an Albanian, true art transcends national barriers.

Fatjona Mejdini
Helidon Xhixha. Photo: Giorgia Panzera

The internationally well known sculptor Helidon Xhixha is one of the many Albanians who – to get their art known in the world – migrated to the West in the early 1990s.

However, for the sculptor who is best known for creating abstract forms from stainless steel, "migrant" is a not a word that he likes to be described as.

Over 25 years of his international career, Xhixha has won a reputation of one the most interesting sculptors on the contemporary scene, having been commissioned to fashion different designs in Europe, the US, Latin America and the Middle East.

Neon. Photo: Giorgia Panzera

Born in the seaside city of Durres to a father who was also a well-known sculptor, he compares his journey to Italy and then to the wider world with that of the artists of 19th century who headed for Paris to get experience and create art that speaks to everyone.

"I have never seen myself as a migrant but as someone who made 'diversity' a source of knowledge, a concept that I still apply in my everyday life," he told BIRN in a written interview.

He says art goes beyond cultural barriers, and an artist's origin cannot be an excuse for failure.

"I would never use my roots as an excuse for my own failures but will always be proud to be Albanian," he said.

However, the responsibility often falls on his shoulders to represent Albania as a kind of artistic ambassador to the world.

Bliss presented by Xhixha in London. Photo: London Design Biennale Facebook page

In 2016, he officially represented Albania at the London Design Biennale, winning the Public Medal for his work.

The theme of the show was "Utopia by Design", while Xhixha for his work "Bliss" inspired by Plato’s notion of the "Ideal City" and of Renaissance images of the city, bringing them into a modern era.

"I’ve attempted to explore the value of the modern community, and with the inclusion of the European border in the design, I hoped to comment on the current migration crisis affecting this continent," he told BIRN.

Giving his works a social and political context is important for Xhixha, and he did so with his piece "Iceberg" in the Venice Biennale in 2015. The monumental stainless steel sculpture floated through the canals of Venice as an iceberg.

"This great opportunity gave me the chance to highlight the issue of the city’s decline due to overpopulation and increased human traffic, as well as comment on the impact of global warming," he said.

As an important moment in his career, he also highlights his solo exhibition within the walls of Pietrasanta in Tuscany, where he used famous marble from local quarries for his work, the same once used by Michelangelo.

His connection with the city of Florence is strong, and his exhibition there, "At Random Order", made of 15 pieces, is spread over the city and the Boboli Garden. It will be on show until the end of October.

Chaos and Order. Photo: Giorgia Panzera

In those sculptures, Xhixha explores the ideas of chaos and order and how these concepts have been addressed in philosophy, geometry and the natural world.

Xhixha admits he is a dreamer who constantly struggles to make dreams true, while he hopes that his work and career will also motivate the younger generations of artists.

He believes many young artists in Albania have the talent to make it internationally – but it is up to them to try and break free from the comfort zone.

"It is easy to find excuses not to try your best and be successful. The secret is to travel, to study and understand what is going on in the world and play out the rules of the international art industry," he said.

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