PRISHTINA, Kosovo — The bus from Skopje pulled into Prishtina after darkish. Though town middle is lined with eating places that appear like nightclubs, none would serve me meals. Misplaced, alone, and more and more hungry, I discovered a small café wedged between a lingerie store and a bridal parlor. Inside had been 4 tables, two visitors, and one barman. The latter, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke, requested me if I wished a kebab.
A Dua Lipa live performance was taking part in on TV. By the point the barman — who was additionally the prepare dinner — introduced out the kebab, the opposite visitors had left. He sat throughout from me, wiped his brow, and lit one other cigarette. We had been each drenched in sweat, for which he apologized. “It’s damaged,” he stated, gesturing to the vents above our heads, “however I’ve no cash to repair it proper now.”
The vents, it seems, had been the least of his issues. Like many Kosovans, he was placing in hours upon hours of backbreaking work and barely making sufficient to get by. His son, the satisfaction and pleasure of his life, had emigrated to Germany many years in the past, and he hadn’t been in a position to go to as a consequence of strict visa necessities. Between sips of beer and puffs of smoke, he stored repeating the identical query, “What can I do?”
I encountered related emotions — of powerlessness and uncertainty — a day later whereas attending Manifesta 14, the newest iteration of a significant nomadic artwork biennial based within the Netherlands. This occasion, which lasts from July 22 to October 30, consists of dozens of reveals, many by Kosovan artists, that touch upon the fledgling republic’s previous, current, and future.
In her set up “there are crossroads the place ghostly indicators flash from the visitors” (2022), Edona Kryeziu investigates what Arts of the Working Class referred to as the “geopolitical, financial, and emotional circumstances of ready in relation to the unresolved sovereignty of Kosovo.” Towers of unprocessed transport bins trace at a logistical, and bureaucratic, separation between Kosovans and the surface world.
Near Kryeziu’s set up is “Mercedes Matrix” (2022), a brief movie wherein Bosnian artist and activist Selma Selman and her household smash to smithereens a Mercedes Benz — a recognizable and extremely contentious image of luxurious within the post-Soviet Balkans, the place the division between socioeconomic courses is now higher than ever earlier than.
Subsequent to “Mercedes Matrix,” if reminiscence serves me, is a stand the place folks can purchase jars of ajvar, a Balkan condiment constructed from peppers and eggplant. The ajvar is made by an agricultural collective run by ladies from Krushë e Madhe, a city the place — through the Kosovo Struggle of 1998-99 — Serbian forces massacred a complete of 243 males and boys. The collective’s founder, Fahrije Hoti, misplaced her husband.
Many reveals on the biennial appear to be about Kosovans setting issues proper and regaining a way of management over their lives and livelihoods. By acknowledging previous crimes and tragedies that increased powers — i.e., corrupt regimes or international oppressors — have tried to erase, artists can avenge victims, condemn assailants, inform most of the people, and contribute to a extra full, dependable understanding of historical past.
Nowhere in Prishtina is that this course of carried out as successfully as within the so-called Centre for Narrative Apply the place (amongst different installations) guests can study Kosovo by the use of random possessions and paraphernalia from numerous nameless people versus, say, a historical past e-book written from the restricted and infrequently biased perspective of a single individual.
“In Kosovo, the native cultural staff have been conducting reminiscence work for fairly a while,” Donjeta Murati, a programming coordinator working with the middle, defined in an e mail, “particularly as a result of there’s a lot that we have to grapple with, to delineate and interpret. But additionally, to ensure that a multilayered and inclusive historical past is being informed somewhat than a single, official narrative.”
Prishtina fought laborious to host Manifesta 14. The explanations for such enthusiasm had been manifold, not all of them artwork associated. Within the eyes of politicians, the biennial provides an opportunity to strengthen Kosovo’s relationship with Western European international locations — one thing that the republic has been eager on doing ever because it declared independence from Russia-backed Serbia in 2008.
For atypical residents, Manifesta 14 additionally presents a chance to fund the renovation and repurposing of deserted buildings in Prishtina. The Grand Resort, a one-time nexus of artwork and tradition in Kosovo that fell into disrepair following the autumn of Yugoslavia, involves thoughts. Although not accepting visitors, this dilapidated construction now makes for an atmospheric exhibition house.
Manifesta’s broadly publicized quest to reclaim public areas in Prishtina is one in every of sensible in addition to symbolic significance. Within the years main as much as the Kosovo Struggle, Serbia cracked down on Kosovan college students and academics who refused to talk Serbian within the classroom. Barred from attending their very own universities, these dissidents arrange a brand new training system within the streets.
One resident, Mehmet Aliu-Heretica, turned his partially constructed, three-story home right into a makeshift college for everybody who had been kicked out of the neighborhood’s gymnasium. From 1990 till 1998 (the 12 months that the battle broke out), Aliu-Heretica’s residence hosted 30-minute courses from daybreak until nightfall. It’s nonetheless standing at present. What’s extra, Manifesta is organizing excursions to maintain its legacy alive.
“We are likely to overlook the long-term impression that sources like artwork and cultural areas have on our livelihoods,” Murati replied when requested in regards to the significance of those renovations. “Their impression can’t be instantly measured, however reveals itself over time. Public areas have been pivotal to the expertise of Kosovars in all places.”
Whereas the work being executed by Murati and her colleagues is inspiring, it’s unlikely that the scenario in Prishtina will enhance dramatically anytime quickly. At the moment, Kosovo is locked in a standoff with Serbia over the latter’s refusal to simply accept Kosovan license plates for autos — an oblique dismissal of the republic’s sovereignty that European mediators have to this point failed to deal with.
Nonetheless, there’s something to be stated in regards to the perseverance and particularly the ideas of Kosovans. The meal I had on the café got here out to about 4 euros and 90 cents. I provided the barman a ten euro invoice, however he wouldn’t settle for it, not even after I advised he put the cash into fixing the vents. In the long run, we compromised on €7.50, underneath the situation that I might keep in contact.
Manifesta 14 (numerous venues, Prishtina, Kosovo) continues by October 30. The biennial was curated by Catherine Nichols.