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Feature 02 Oct 17

Graffiti Artist Changes Face of Albania’s Capital

Graffiti wall art was barely known in Albania before Franko Dine came along – but this groundbreaking artist is now blazing a trail for others. 

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
...

Franko Dine, a 24-year-old from Albania’s southern city of Vlora, never believed that his graffiti would one day cover key buildings in the capital, Tirana, where millions could admire it.

The street artist has worked hard to succeed in a country where wall graffiti is barely understood as an art, and almost no tradition of it exists.

He is now the very first street artist employed by Tirana municipality and officially permitted to paint the city’s walls, opening up a path for the well-known world practice of urban art to flourish in Albania as well.

Franko found his way by instinct. Always good at drawing, he left paper behind and started to paint the walls of his family home when he was 16, and saw some graffiti on the internet for the first time.

“I was not sure what I was doing but painting walls become an obsession. My parents were surprised, but they not only let me draw on the walls but opened up a whole room where I could freely express myself,” he told BIRN.

After he found a name for his passion, he decided to attend the Art Academy in Tirana where could learn more about wall graffiti art.

“But I soon understood that this was impossible… wall graffiti was not even a subject at the academy, so I decided to study design,” he recalled.

In the meantime, he started to ask friends living abroad to buy him books to help him improve his technique and also send him professional markers, sprays paints, safety and protection tools that could not be found in Tirana.

“It was hard because I was practising using construction materials instead of the professional paints used all over the world for graffiti. Those are very dangerous for one’s health since they contain many chemicals,” Franko recalls.

Today, while he believes that his studies at the academy did not help him much in terms of his true passion, moving to Tirana was completely worthwhile.

He got to know the city when most of its inhabitants were fast asleep.

“During the first year, I would leave my student’s room at 1am to roam the city for hours in order to get to know it,” he said.

“I explored the city’s darkest corners, the shabbiest of facades and pointed out those walls that I could paint,” he added.

In Tirana, he also found his special niche, which was working with vulnerable children – the orphans, the poor, the disabled and the left-out.

“I would see many of them begging in the streets of Tirana and I felt that I could use my art to protest on their behalf,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Frako Dine.

One of his important works of graffiti on the city walls was done in March, which is when Albanians celebrate days in honour of mothers and teachers.

“I painted a child with torn clothing, holding in his hand a flower but having no one to give it to,” he recalls.

What he was doing at nights in the city’s streets was still illegal, however.

Franko recalls countless “adventures” when, trying to paint a wall, he ended up being confronted by angry owners of buildings, the police and even packs of stray dogs.

“But I found good allies among the homeless people,” he said.

“I created firm friendships with them and asked them not to destroy my graffiti. In the end, they are the ones who ‘rule’ the city by night,” he noted.

These “night people” not only helped him to work undisturbed but protected his graffiti from others who might want to destroy it.

Chasing Pokemon. Photo courtesy of Franko Dine

But, in order to spread his art on a larger scale, he needed more powerful allies.

“I wanted to get Tirana Municipality on my side and I tried hard to approach to them and introduce them to my art. But I soon realised that they needed me, and the power of urban art, too,” Franko recalled.

Two years ago, the municipality formally recognised him as a street artist and, starting from a year ago, the municipality has employed him in its decorative department.

During this time he has been able to paint some of his most meaningful works as part of the municipality’s own plan to make the once-drab city more attractive.

“I'm really glad to have now Big Brother [the municipality] on my side. I'm looking forward to new projects,” he said.

“My dream is to paint as big graffiti as possible. I would love to do some 10-storey-high designs – or higher,” he told BIRN.

He also aims to become an inspiration for the young in order to push them to follow his path, noting that despite his own success, Albania remains a country where graffiti culture is still in a very early stage.

“We have a lot to do,” he said. “Tirana still has so many empty walls,” he concluded.

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