Constructing a Dream: Socialist Realism in Albanian Art, The Works (Part 2)

Shedding light on some of the fifty-year-old history of a Balkan country, Albania, Constructing a Dream: Socialist Realism in Albanian Art is an exhibition that offers visitors a clear vantage for discovering this heritage.

Curator: Artan Shabani

Enver Hoxha’s cult of personality can be seen in the visual arts, exemplified in the works of such Albanian masters as Guri Madhi, Robert Përmeti, and Zef Shoshi. A share of the Albanian artists’ creativity has been devoted to heroic figures, martyrs, the leaders of socialism, high-ranking characters in politics and history, and especially Enver Hoxha. This figure can be traced in mass media, pictured in schoolbooks as the commander of the anti-fascist war of liberation, as an intellectual, and as a statesman. Hoxha’s figure has been depicted by some of the most respected and well-known artists in other countries of the Communist Bloc, as well, such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and East Germany. Shoshi is also one of the numerous painters to have painted an official portrait of Enver Hoxha. Some of his works have never been exhibited, while some have been included especially in this exhibition.

Zef Shoshi, “Enver Hoxha with people”, 1976, Tempera on cardboard, 21 x 28 cm, Promenade Gallery Collection

The “new person” as a high virtue of socialist realism has been one of the leading themes of the visual arts in Albania. The Workers’ Party made repeated attempts to make this concept accepted. The “new person” was a strong ideology protected by the law, and this ideology had to enter the veins of Albanian society. Created by the system, this “new person” would have benefited from the ideological teachings of the party and its ideology, accepted the party as a parent figure, and prepared to serve and provide information for it.

The dream of the “new person” to construct a new Albania can be seen in the works of such artists as Skënder Kamberi, Isuf Sulovari, Ramazan Memishi, Dhimitër Theodhori, Agim Faja, Pandi Mele, Namik Prizreni, Aziz Karalliu, Bujar Zajmi, and Myrteza Fushekati. The figures they portray in their works are typically strong and muscular and have high brows. They are never sad, tired, or unshaved. Brought up on communist morals, the “new person” was bright-eyed and illuminating; he or she had set out to realize the ideals of the Worker’s Party and the dream to build a new Albania. Enver Hoxha said, “Schools, books, works of art as well as the life we build – production, lifestyle, behaviors, factories, the way we build and arrange our cities and villages, our architecture and our urban planning, the maintenance of roads, the way we serve the people – everything must serve the cultural creation of the new person.” In those years, the concept of the “new person” was legally recognized and accepted by the Albanian state. Article 32 of the law stated the following: “The state carries out wide-ranging ideological and cultural activities for the communist education of workers and the creation of the new person.”

Agim Faja, “In war with the waves”, 1967, Graphic – china ink on paper, 20 x 13 cm, Promenade Gallery Collection

All people are soldiers. Everyone without exception must always be prepared for war, from the youngest to the oldest – men, women, students, and working people. All were soldiers and had to be prepared to give their lives if necessary to protect the socialist motherland. His theme was a great inspiration for the artists of the period, finding its expression in poems, songs, music, literature, sculpture, painting, posters, mosaics, illustrations, postage stamps, and even calendars and magazine covers. All the works that represented this spirit also reflected the pride, victory, patriotism, and love for the motherland.

In Robert Përmeti’s work entitled Denouncement of Warsaw Pact (1978), we feel the pride and victory of Albanian marines attending a parade, carrying the national flag. The background surrounding the painting shows submarines and battleships, the Bay of Karaburun, and the hostile gaze of old Russian allies, indicative of tension and seriousness. All these elements have been rendered in powerful tones. The work shows the historic moment when, following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Albanian government decided to leave the Warsaw Pact. The painting makes evident the resistance shown by the Albanian people at critical times throughout the country’s history. It was also praised at the annual art competition organized by the Albanian government in 1979 on the 35th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation.

August Provocation (1975) was an important work from the same period by Guri Madhi, dealing with the Greek provocation on the southern border of Albania on August 2, 1949.

Zef Shoshi’s painting entitled Moment of Celebration, shows how the army and the people united in celebration and how everyone became a border sentry to defend Albanian soil. In Stamo’s work, Marine Portrait (1984), we see the portrait of a marine deliberately posing for the artist. A typical Albanian marine, this proud young man serves in the coast guard. In Agim Shami’s painting, Sailors’ Oath Before the Flag (1983), marines are gazing at the national flag at an oath-taking ceremony, with the Adriatic Sea in the background. The power of the images in the painting is noteworthy.

Koço Vogli’s painting, I Am a Soldier (1983), is about the dreams of a small child to become a partisan. His small hand is shown in the typical communist oath-taking gesture, and he wears a cap with a pentagram. Myzafer Dika painted the portrait of a girl wearing a typical white school uniform of the period. The character and psychology of the girl is clearly conveyed. It can be seen, that behind the girl’s timid look is a strongly emotional and humane approach. Naslazi is better known for his portraits, but his work in the exhibition involves worker figures. It constitutes a part of his series on miners and workers.

Political posters and album covers were also powerful tools for propaganda. These were designed for national holidays, women’s days, workers’ days, declarations of five-year plans, and military events – the fundamental features of Albanian society. The leading artists in this area are Pandi Mele and Safo Marko.

Safo Marko was one of the most important graphic artists of Albanian visual arts. He made illustrations for book covers and children’s magazines. Like Pandi Mele, he created countless posters for various political, social, and cultural celebrations as well as celebrations for propaganda purposes and important political events. Graphic artists like Ibrahim Çezma, Ibrahim Shehu, Zef Shoshi, Besnik Dizdari, Vlash Prifti, and Franc Ashiku created various posters that served the propaganda of the period after the 1960s.

Another way of reaching people was through film posters. Original posters and drawings made for Albanian films, some hand painted – emphasize many images of Albanian cinema and make visible a rich but forgotten heritage.

Agim Faja’s illustrations reflect the process of educating the people and creating a new spirit during that period. Thousands of books were published annually to educate young generations with the spirit and morals of the principles of the Workers’ Party. Agim Faja devoted his life to making paintings an illustration for children. He has been among the important painters because of his contributions to books, magazines, textbooks and calendars.

The landscapes of the socialist realist period were created and presented using images and symbols, the relationship between nature and the “new person,” romanticism, and propaganda. These were usually industrial buildings with high chimneys, the nature of villages developed with human labor, and cities covered with slogans – banners and posters designed to establish the thoughts of the party and Enver Hoxha in striking colors. Besides the slogans were usually national flags, paintings of important directors, signs and symbols of socialism, and the images of volunteers, military marches, workers, miners, and peasants farming livestock; the human effort and labor in building socialism and industrializing the country were palpable. Landscapes were an integral part of the ideological platform of art, which was now integrated into education and politics.

Guri Madhi, “Landscape from Kamza”, 1988, Oil on canvas, 65 x 121 cm, Family’s collection

In Celebration Symbols in the City of Fier (1976), Sami Roçi painted the festive communist atmosphere of the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party. The landscape depicts the building and expansion of Albanian cities and the excitement of the system – oil wells, hydroelectric power plants, marshlands, orchards. Painters had to celebrate the fervor to construct happiness in every area of life, which is shown in this landscape of the period.

Focusing on an atypical reality, the exhibition offers compositions that glorify the period of socialist realism in a variety of styles. It brings together works of a complexity made up of different subjects and styles, such as the portraits of the leader Enver Hoxha, landscapes of Albania, works of patriotism with ideologies glorifying the authority of the leader, the “new person,” and the building of a new Albania. The artistic styles can be readily distinguished even though artworks of the period may appear to be of a single mold in terms of theme and content. Some of the artists did try to bypass ideological content; this tendency towards individualization found its occasional expression in drawings of film characters, film posters, textbooks, and children’s books, which were all important in terms of individual output and artistic mastery. Nonetheless, these artists could not completely evade the narrow ideological framework created to forever serve the education of the new generation.

Shyqyri Sako, Film: The Last Winter, 1976, Director: Ibrahim Muçaj, Kristaq Mitro,
Print on paper, 67 x 93 cm, Artan Shabani Collection

The socialist realist period in Albania ended in the late 1980s with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the changes in political, economic, and social order. Sanctified and undisputed for a long period of time, socialist realism was then abandoned, vilified, targeted, refused, and ridiculed. Today it is important to carefully analyze and study this period both historically and aesthetically and to understand the path taken by totalitarian art, which lasted for more than four decades.

Shedding light on some of the fifty-year-old history of a Balkan country, Albania, Constructing a Dream: Socialist Realism in Albanian Art is an exhibition that offers visitors a clear vantage for discovering this heritage.