Notes from Kosovo: Linking Phoenix and Prishtina

April 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm Leave a comment

The relationship between Kosovo and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts owes much to the U.S. State Department’s Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP), which brought multi-media artist and University of Prishtina faculty member Alban Nimani (pictured below) to Arizona State University, where his faculty host was Intermedia Professor Muriel Magenta. Nimani became involved with the ASU Art Museum’s International Artist Residency Program through a chance encounter with visiting artists Matteo Rubbi, Miguel Palma and me, Greg Esser, at one of Intermedia Professor Gregory Sale’s graduate classes. The rest, as they say, is history.

kosovo alban

On March 26, I met United States Ambassador to the Republic of Kosovo Tracey Ann Jacobson, who was at the University of Prishtina, Faculty of the Arts (Fakulteti i Arteve), to dedicate a new multi-media lab, funded as a partnership between the U.S. Embassy and the University of Prishtina. Nimani wrote and received the grant for the multi-media lab from the U.S. Embassy following his semester-long residency at ASU. Among other initiatives, Nimani is in the process of adding intermedia, public art and a volunteer component to the curriculum at his university based on his experiences at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

kosovo ambassador cutting ribbon

“There is no more important investment a country can make than in the education of its young people, its future leaders,” Ambassador Jacobson said during her remarks.

Jacobson spent time speaking with each of the students in Nimani’s class about the work they were developing on the new state-of-the-art Apple iMac computers the grant provided. Projects ranged from calligraphy to animated film to interactive video games. The facilities in the lab now rival the tools available to students in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

kosovo students

These new tools represent a significant advancement in the resources available to these students to pursue careers in design and the arts.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, working with the new iMac computers, Nimani’s fourth-year students continued work on another aspect of Nimani’s grant and another inspiration from Phoenix, Arizona. Nimani and his students are frantically preparing for E premtja e fundit, or Last Fridays, inspired by the First Fridays monthly art events in Phoenix.

kosovo poster promoting first friday

With less than three days to go, students worked to refine projects, social media and a map that locates art projects throughout downtown Prishtina, including Mother Teresa Boulevard, the main public plaza and the pedestrian mall in Prishtina, the capital city. Last Fridays, or E premtja e fundit, is supported in part by the U.S. Embassy, the Municipality of Prishtina and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the ASU Art Museum. The free public event will feature dozens of temporary public art projects, installations, gallery openings, local musicians and local businesses all working together to bring art outside of the gallery and into the community.

We ended the afternoon with a traditional Albanian meal with Nimani’s father, Shriqy, who founded the Graphic Design Department at the University of Prishtina. Once an award-winning singer and former director of the National Gallery, Shriqy is an avid historian and author focused on Albanian culture and influence around the world, with dozens of published books and scholarly awards. I learned that Mother Teresa, who once took me by the hands and blessed me while I was working at the United Nations, is Albanian. The main road through the heart of Prishtina is named in her honor.

kosovo mother teresa boulevard

As both an artist and curator, I’m excited to be in Prishtina to help shape and advise on the first event of its kind here on behalf of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the ASU Art Museum.

Notes from Kosovo II – Plan B

kosovo snow on rooftops

Waking up on Wednesday morning, I discovered the city covered in snowfall. Most installations have been planned for outdoor locations. With less than 72 hours before the launch of the event, we immediately embarked on contingency planning.

Amid a flurry of radio and television appearances promoting the event, Alban and I visited Pallati i Rinisë dhe i Sporteve, or Palace of Youth and Sports, to determine if it might serve as an alternative location for installations.

kosovo Pallati i Rinisë dhe i Sporteve

Built from 1977 to 1981 under Communist leadership as a public project when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, the structure defines the landscape of the city center and contains a massive subterranean shopping complex with restaurants. A large section of the building burned and is currently vacant, providing an ideal canvas for temporary artist interventions. As snow fell on the city, many outdoor projects were relocated to this new venue.

In the afternoon, I provided a lecture for fourth-year students on the impact of the arts in Phoenix, the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program and the Desert Initiative, all of which focus on the power and impact of collaboration and the power of the arts to transform lives.

kosovo students on campus

Posters promoting the event arrived at the Faculty of the Arts following the lecture, and students immediately began distributing them throughout the city. We ended the day at the National Gallery for the opening reception of a retrospective exhibition for deceased artist Engjëll Berisha, also known as Befre. Berisha was one of the early pioneers in building the arts community in Kosovo, a figure similar to artist Philip Curtis in Phoenix, who helped to establish the Phoenix Art Museum.

kosovo gallery opening

*    *     *

The Republic of Kosovo was established in 2008 following protracted ethnic conflict between Serbia and the largely Albanian population. Newly an independent nation with a deep history informed by numerous occupations, including the Roman Empire, 500 years of Ottoman rule (1455 – 1912) and Communist rule as part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo is today focused on a prosperous future and is a warmly hospitable environment for the first-time visitor or long-time friend.

*    *    *

The morning of Friday, March 29 arrived with cold, overcast skies and rain. At around 4 in the afternoon, the clouds broke and sunlight spilled down and began to warm the streets and buildings of Prishtina. As the workday closed, an optimism and energy was percolating throughout the city. With less than three hours to go, students, artists and musicians worked to put the finishing touches on their individual works and the overall event.

kosovo temporary street decorations

*    *    *

As with any group exhibition, the quality, intellectual rigor and execution of the individual artworks varied. Overall, the participants demonstrated exceptional teamwork, collaboration and experimentation. I was tremendously impressed by each of the students who moved outside of the classroom and well beyond their comfort range to create an event that was so much more than the sum of its parts. Works included projected animation, live painting, an interactive Twitter experience, an installation of umbrellas, dance, music, gastronomic work, an installation featuring the preparation and presentation of traditional Albanian foods, murals, a fashion piece made from black plastic bags, an interactive puzzle, a version of Tic Tac Toe with mirrors completing the pieces, transformation of a city bus stop into a representation of the future with sounds from NASA, a light and sound installation in a built environment on Mother Teresa Boulevard and more.

To get the full experience and variety of work, please visit the official webpage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites for the event.

Across the street from the Palace of Youth, nine emerging Kosovo bands performed to a packed house at Punkt. I haven’t witnessed the same level of energy since the early days of the punk movement in the United States, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was a range of young musicians with a palpable vibrancy and the first mosh pit I’ve seen in many years.

Notes from Kosovo III – Looking Forward

The headline in Sunday morning’s newspaper in Prishtina translates to “Last Fridays designs the future.”

The story, profiling the event, describes the energy and work of the students as well as the potential for the event to grow. Again acknowledging the numerous partners that made the event possible, including the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the story captured the impact that the students had, and will have, through their participation.

With the event behind us on Saturday, Nimani and his family graciously shared their insights on more of the region. We spent the weekend visiting the National Gallery of Albania in Tirana, the national enthnographic museum and the museum of Skanderbeg, one of Albania’s national heroes, in the mountain town of Krujë, and the seaside port city of Durres. We ended the weekend with a round of bowling at the Taiwan complex in Tirana in honor of the Phoenix art bowling group that frequently hosts ASU’s international visiting artists.

kosovo The mountains above Krujë, Albania.

Overall, this was a beautiful journey, if too short, hosted perfectly by Alban Nimani and his family and colleagues. I look forward to returning again soon to Prishtina to see how the E premtja e fundit event evolves and watching the progress of the students who were part of this first event. Nimani, in turn, looks forward to continuing his relationship with Arizona State University and seeing the event expand to other cities in Kosovo, Albania and other parts of Europe.

When you plan your travel to Kosovo, be sure to include a Last Friday in Prishtina. It will be rewarding.

Faleminderit (thank you), Kosovo!

Links:

As part of his residency with the Herberger Institute, Nimani composed short soundtracks for YouTube videos on two projects supported by the Herberger Institute, including Valley of the Sunflowers and Desert Initiative:

Valley of the Sunflowers

Desert Initiative

And see more pictures here:

Official Embassy photos

 Photos by Greg Esser

–Greg Esser is director of the Desert Initiative, which is housed at the ASU Art Museum in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

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Entry filed under: Art + Performance, Art Events, Art Trips, Artists at the Museum, ASU Art Museum, ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency, ASU Art Museum Press, ASU Art Museum special events, ASU Art Museum: Behind-the-scenes, Desert Initiative, Exhibition Openings, Gregory Sale, Matthew Moore, People at ASU Art Museum, Random Acts of Art, Social Studies collaborative projects, Socially Engaged Practice, Sustainability. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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