Constructing a Dream: Socialist Realism in Albanian Art, The Works (Part 1)

Socialist realist art and literature must belong to the proletariat and be clearly comprehensible, art must depict scenes from the people’s daily lives, it must be representational, and it must support the goals of the state and the party.

The Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934

Curator: Artan Shabani

Socialist realism is represented by various works in the exhibition at Pera Museum. The First Conference of Peza (1942), by Guri Madhi, who was among the founders of the Albanian Fine Arts Academy and an “Artist of the People” (the highest accolade bestowed upon artists of the socialist realist period) depicts one of the turning points in Albanian history by putting Enver Hoxha, the leader of the period, at its center. The leader is surrounded by peasants and Albanian fighters and depicted in an amicable relationship with the other figures.

Guri Madhi, “The first meeting in Peza”, 1972, Oil on canvas, 98 x 130 cm, Collection: Family

Guri Madhi’s other works in the exhibition are entitled When We Did Not Go to the Stadium (1986), about young people watching a football game on a black and white TV set,

and November 8, 1941 (1972), a composition about the protests in Korçë in 1941 clearly illustrating the anti-fascist atmosphere in Albania. The artist masterfully presents two partisan compositions, both powerful and solemn. The dominant color throughout November 8, 1941 is red: Partisans’ clothing blends with the marks of a bloody battle in the background.

Child with a Ball (1972), by Agron Jakupi, aims to study the psychology of the child figure who poses with his ball and wears clothing typical of the era.

The Abyss 1944 (1985), one of the paintings in the exhibition by Robert Përmeti, is about Albanian–American relations during World War II and uses scenes from history and everyday life (p. 59). At the center of the painting is Enver Hoxha, the founding commander-in-chief of the National Liberation Army. Enver Hoxha would later become one of the leaders of the communist state of Albania, ruling for nearly fifty years. The Anglo-American missions joined the Albanian army in the anti-fascist coalition that waged armed resistance against the Nazis. The painting focuses on the choice between the East and the West as a historic moment for Albania: The Anglo-American missions joined the Albanian army in the anti-fascist coalition that waged armed resistance against the Nazis. Western politics was based on presumptions and calculations that the Anglo-American missionaries prepared for their respective governments. Përmeti entitled his painting The Abyss 1944 because the country seemed to be going towards the edge of a precipice, and it was impossible to make an alliance with the West. The painting caught the attention of the top echelons of the state. Necmiye Hoxha, the wife of the dictator, liked the painting but objected to the depiction of Anglo-American representatives, especially of Brigadier Edmund Davies, and wanted them to be removed, but Përmeti refused to remove the figures of the Anglo-American commanders saying that the painting was based on facts of the period. The painting remained controversial for a long time.

Robert Përmeti,The Abyss 1944″, 1985, Oil on canvas 190 x 220 cm, Artist Collection

In another painting by Robert Përmeti, We Must Win (1984), we see a group of young female athletes during a game in the Librazhd city stadium. The painting depicts one of the most important moments in Albanian sports history and emphasizes the women’s volleyball team’s spirit of teamwork and victory.

Albania cared strongly about women’s liberation, and the painting attracted much attention at the time. There was, however, a problem. Up to that point, naked or undressed figures had been deemed unacceptable in Albanian visual arts, any works showing them were condemned by the system and seen as going against social norms.

The painting was widely discussed at the time and was entered into a national art competition organized by Albanian government. This was an attempt to present the Albanian women no longer in military clothing, but in civil attire. This singularity was overlooked at the time, but the painting demonstrates gender equality under socialism.

Zef Shoshi participates in the exhibition with a variety of works depicting everyday life: a factory at the end of the day, a couple working the soil with a shovel and hoe – people working for the socialist motherland, toiling for its welfare and feeling joy, power, and love for doing so.

Such themes had symbolic value in socialist realism and were also among the directives of the Workers’ Party, constituting one of the strongest attempts at agricultural reform. These paintings unequivocally, energetically, and passionately expressed the peoples’ desire to build socialism and protect their independence against any external attack.

Fatbardha Shkupi’s diptych presents a typical socialist realist landscape. On one side of the painting, we see a group of young volunteers constructing the happiness of Albanian socialism.

Volunteer work was one of the projects of the Workers’ Party addressing youth, who would participate in work organized to open new fronts and socialize in their free time according to the ways and rules dictated by communist morals. Young people had a rich social and cultural life filled with a variety of shows, plays, concerts, and exhibitions.

On the other side of the painting, Shkupi depicts a group of young girls taking part in military training. The motto “All people are soldiers” was true for all generations during that period. Girls received regular military training, a practice which lasted until the late 1980s.

The First Partisan Song from Radio Tirana” (1989), painted by Pëllumb Bylyku, is dedicated to the first partisan song played on Tirana Radio, which not only set the foundation of the history of radio in Albania in 1938 but also created that very history, first broadcasting on November 28, 1938, five months before Italy’s occupation of Albania. A new radio station dedicated to the discussion and broadcast of Albanian music was met with great enthusiasm. The idea of a radio station was one of the greatest opportunities for a liberal spirit to spread throughout Albanian society. Launched by the king and queen of Albania, the station initially broadcast patriotic and popular Albanian music. When the country was invaded by forces of fascist Italy (April 7, 1939), the radio was used to call Albanians to resist this invasion. The repercussions of this call were widespread. On November 17, 1943, under German occupation, all radio personnel were called to a meeting organized by the Gestapo – the meeting was actually a trap, and the Germans took over the radio building – and the people had to wait for the night of liberation (November 17, 1944) to save Tirana and take back their radio station. Inspired by that night, Bylyku’s work captures the atmosphere of the time precisely, showing the loudspeakers located at important points throughout the capital and the crowds listening to them. Tirana Radio continued its tradition after November 27, 1944.

Continues …