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“Art creates the image of a nation”, interview with the Director of National Art Gallery

Fioralba Duma 
November 18, 2013

Artan Shabani, one of the most prominent Albanian names in the International world of Art, can be considered a friend of AlbaniaNews, since many times he has inspired us with his interviews and often represented us with art exhibits, individual or collective ones, as an artist or as a curator, in the whole wide world.

Today, however, he is presented with a new mission, in a new outfit, with an even greater responsibility: the Director of National Art Gallery.

After the selection by Mirela Kumbaro the Albanian Minister of Culture and the announcement by Prime Minister Edi Rama, our versatile artist, is among the first ones to respond to the appeal of Rilindja (eng. Reborn) for the return of our successful people living abroad, because as the Prime Minister stated, ‘Albania needs talent, ability, experience, passion, profession and true love for this country’.

The new Director, who just this week started his work in this field, tells us about his journey, about migration, responsibilities and his long-term goals of ‘his full time return’ in Albania as well as his dedication to the Albanian art.

Firstly, congratulation to your return to Albania, for running the Institution of the National Art Gallery and for the new age. Prime Minister Rama during your nomination renewed the appeal for the return of successful Albanians living abroad. As a migrant your goal was to return in such prideful way, right?

Many thanks for the invitation and congratulations. My return to Albania was not an unexpected one to me and my family because, for a long time I lived down firmly supported on both shores of the Adriatic. And, it is a special feeling to live parallel lives. However, there was a moment where I stopped and reviewed the journey I made. I came to a conclusion that I had to make important decisions for the future. I always thought and still do, that we have such a beautiful and special country, thus, by working hard we will give our home the place that it always deserved. To this regard, I am young, lucky and I have the right passion and desire to give my help.

You see my return as glorious, I see it as a great fortune since all of my accumulated experience during the years of migration I can apply to the National Gallery, as the most important part our country.

Being part of a visionary as well as a highly ambitious project by the Prime Minister, Mr. Rama makes it a unique case. Many friends, curators and Albanian artists, who live abroad and are successful around the world, would like to be in my place, not at all because of jealousy, but for the development of visual arts, for the cultural development and for the sustainability and protection of our national heritage.

You only have a few days working as the director of National Art Gallery. How “will you shake off the dust”? Which exhibitions we will see next?

This is one of the responsibility questions, since for me this is not just a building where you store and expose works of visual arts, but it is a new reality that should turn into a living reality and that should be accessible to the public of all ages, especially to the newer generation that is in their educational period of their lives.

Therefore, this reality requires a lot of hard work, to bring the vision we have planned and which needs to be applied specifically to the Gallery. I believe that one of the key steps will be board establishment that will establish the basis of a high professionalism required. Board directory will have solid commitment and decision making since together we will plan future exhibitions and activities.

We will pay special and significant attention to the public relations of this institution, which priority will take educational and family programs, which will be realized through the work of visual arts, as a lack of language in the National Gallery. The board of directors will seek to achieve twinning with important museums and galleries of Europe and the world.

In the mean time, the priority will also be given to the reevaluation on the preservation and restoration of existing funds of the artworks in the Gallery, as there are kept our national heritage values. Furthermore, an importance will be given to the restoration and lightning of the building, in the interior and exterior parts of it. I am, of course, not excluding other works, which affect the performance of the activities in the Gallery.

We shall not forget that the gallery lacks relations with counterpart institutions abroad, where curators play an important part of it. I am in touch with world famous curators for the organizing of important exhibitions, which I believe should be opened in the Gallery, but also for exhibitions that the gallery itself could open abroad. I would not want to give out “empty words” information, but I can assure you that very soon we will have a concrete plan for future exhibitions, as well as a plan for other managerial aspects, that of course are just as important for the progress of work of this institution that is entrusted to be lead by me.

Beside work as an artist and curator, you are also the founder Promenade Gallery, in Vlora. What were the goals and what are the results you are achieving? How will you reconcile your personal creative activity by directing Promenade Gallery and now the National Art Gallery?

Promenade Gallery has emerged as a search for a new alternative in the Albanian artistic panorama. It first came as an incentive lab for young Albanian artists and beyond. I can say that within a short time we managed to make it a very important center and I am confident that the future promises even more about its operation. The artist and the curator are two parallel lines which I have been trying not to merge, since this type of reality prevents you from seeing its distinction.

I am speaking of Promenade that for me and its artists is very special. Whereas, transparency will help me keep even more clearly the specific differences, between what we call it personal activities as an artist and a curator of Promenade Gallery and on the other hand, as an artistic administrator, by directing the National Gallery of Arts, the most important institution of visual arts exposure. Both of these activities will take important parts within and will never come to join one-another. I see the first one as an experience that helped me grow and the second one as a journey, which awaits me through challenges.

What kind of a journey did you go through to get here? How did you experience migration at the age of 22? Whose nationality your artistic soul belongs to?

My journey has been similar to the one of many young Albanians of the 90’s. It was full of great passion and utopian dreams that often were unable to get realized.

Departure from our homeland was considered as a necessity but also as a temporary move at that time. I left when I was young, with very little information about the world that was waiting up on me. I think that just like myself, many other passionate Albanians, over the years, began to step in, through extremely persistent work, through new contacts and through lives of our Western peers. Obviously, it has not been an easy road. However, this is the journey that writes immigrants history through centuries. Isn’t that right?

Times have now changed. An awesome new flow of energy is taking over in our country. This situation was taking over us who never left our country, be that in our thoughts at that time and even today in reality. Wherever I was, I carried the essence of our existence on my shoulders, since my artistic soul belongs to my origin, Albanism. Essentially, we remained those kids who were growing up by the sea of Vlora and the steep land of Laberia but, at the same time, since we live in modern times, it is necessary to have a global way of thinking.

You stated that “Art creates the image of a nationality”. Which Albanian artists give image to Albania? How would a painter Prime Minister raise the image of our nation?

Over the history Albania was heard thanks to the pursuit of our remarkable people. During the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, Albania’s name has been quite significant thanks to the fully valued creativity of our young artists, with international fame and consolidation such as: Anri Sala, Adrian Paci, Sisley Xhafa and the latest one Driant Zeneli, Helidon Gjergji and Fani Zguro, who have created a very high quality image for worldwide elites. Our duty within the country is to get them to echo more and at the same time, to increase the level of presentation of other Albanian artists, inside and outside of the country. We are very lucky to have a prime minister that is deeply connected to art. He confirmed infinitely, his and the new governments support, for arts and culture as he rightly considers them as very important aspects of spiritual culture and the core materials for a nation.

Our Centenary numbered numerous activities around the world that featured Albanian art and culture. Since the 101 Anniversary is approaching, what are your thoughts and advices for these kinds of activities?

State anniversaries are historical phenomena brought with high enthusiasm, where all of us try to contribute to the maximum. It leads to improvement of the quality of these activities. This requires coherent, continuous, not intermittent, not fabricated at the last moment work, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, where are respected all of our fields and contributors of our history.

Thus, starting over this critical and constructive understanding, I think that we have all the possibilities to refresh our way of organizing the annual cultural activities. Albania has a rare creativity. Let’s all work so that this creativity is distributed properly, so that it produces unimaginable and desirable results by all.