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An exhibition by painter Helidon Haliti, which draws inspiration from his personal narrative, anxieties and qualms, has art lovers flocking to Albania’s National Gallery.
|Autoportrets | Picture courtesy of Helidon Haliti|
August is an unusual month for an art exhibition in Tirana. Its often chaotic streets, filled with unruly drivers, go quiet as the city takes a break from its own mundane restfulness.
Like the city, Tirana’s art scene comes to a standstill as artists and art lovers move to the coast or fly away to resorts for their summer vacations.
However, the exhibition that Helidon Haliti opened in mid-August, called “Black Sheep”, had many people flocking back and filled the media with a buzz.
Haliti’s large canvasses, painted with warm colours and simple figures, which often create complex exchanges, narrate a deeply felt personal and artistic quest, covering his first steps in watercolours at the age of eight to the murder of four opposition protestors during last January’s riots in Tirana.
Hailit says that when he started conceptualizing the exhibition he immediately decided that all of its characters would be strictly connected with his own personal narrative - his fears and anxieties, rancour and sarcasm.
To escape from himself as an individual, Haliti spent months secluded in his studio in order to attach himself more closely to his artistic alter ego.
|The exhibition 'Black Sheep' has seen a record number of visitors in the GKA | Photo courtesy of Helidon Haliti|
“The periods that I could go beyond myself as an individual were few, but they were enough to bring forth this exhibition, which explores my deficiencies and the malformations of a country with imposed boundaries,” he said.
Haliti belongs to a new generation of contemporary Albanian painters that graduated during the Nineties in the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana following the collapse of Albania’s communist regime, which for nearly half-a-century had imposed Social Realist aesthetics with an iron fist.
After graduation, like many artists of his generation, Haliti moved to Athens, where he explored genres and techniques.
The drama of emigration and the spiritual distemper as an emigrant were reflected in several pictorial cycles, such as ‘The Legs”, “The pigeon”, “The cage” and “Adam and Eve”.
“Black Sheep” is the artist’s first exhibition at the National Gallery of Arts, GKA, and represents works produced in the last three years, the period following his return to Albania, which, although often defined by a personal gloom, produced a body of works with cheerful colours.
“Now that I see the exhibition as a spectator I am surprised by the harmony of the opposites, the contradictions in light, shadows and forms, between warm and cold colours,” Haliti said.
“The conversion that happened inside me reaches an almost joyful expression in the canvass, which I cannot explain but pleases me very much,” he added.
|'Black Sheep" is Helidon Haliti's first exhibition in the National Gallery of Arts | Photo courtesy of Helidon Haliti|
Since the exhibition opened on August 16, it has received more than 2,500 visitors, a record for the GKA this year.
The centre piece of the exhibition is a large painting, nearly eight metres long, titled “Sun and Streams”, named after one of the poems by his father, the dissident poet, Faslli Haliti.
The poem, written in 1972, used sharp wit to contrast the propaganda of the Communist regime with the impoverished reality in which many Albanians lived.
Following publication of the poem Haliti was chaffed by the then literary establishment, banished from publishing and sent to work as a labourer for a decade, first in a collective farm and, after four years, digging ditches.
Helidon says that his painting is not a recreation of his father’s poem, but rather explores the impact that this poem had on their family, the qualms and sacrifices of his father, questioning if they were really worth it.
“Sometimes in art you receive a much harder blow than the one you gave,” Haliti said of his father’s poem.
Haliti’s exhibition includes two dozen works, whose simple figures and symbols are depicted in warm colours that make them easily decipherable.
“The world is too tired, has too many wounds… and that is why my symbols are simple,” Helidon says, paraphrasing one of his father’s poems. “Rancor and pain and problems mixed with colours are easier to see,” he added.
The only painting in Haliti’s exhibition that does not draw inspiration directly from his life, “21 J” refers to the deadly opposition protest in Tirana in January 2011, in which four protesters were shot dead by the Republican Guard and several others wounded.
Haliti says he decided to include the painting in the exhibition only at the last moment, while transferring the canvasses from the studio to the National Gallery of Arts.
“While walking with a friend [in the boulevard] I stepped on some tiles and it hit me that blood had been spilled on those tiles,” Haliti recalls. “So I decided to exhibit it and there is no mystery as to what it refers,” he added.
The canvass gives the impression of a river of blood that nearly spills out of the frame with a watchful head of a rooster serving as a counterpoint.
The painter remembers seeing the death of the protestors live on TV while at luncheon in Lake Ohrid at an artists’ colony, and feeling completely shocked at what had happened.
“I was completely horrified but to my shock some of my colleagues there approved of the shootings,” Hailiti recalled.
“This nagged me so much that I could not overcome it without reacting,” he said, adding: “The painting was more imposed than inspired.”
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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