Prishtina Kunst

After the Biennale. First Retrospective

"Lumturi Blloshmi. From Scratch" is the first retrospective exhibition of the artist (1944–2020) in Kosovo. It follows the moving presentation at the 59th Venice Biennale as part of the Albanian pavilion in 2022.
Retrospective view of "Lumturi Blloshmi. From Scratch" at Kosovo National Gallery, 2023. Photo: Enver Bylykbashi
Retrospective view of „Lumturi Blloshmi. From Scratch“ at Kosovo National Gallery, 2023. Photo: Enver Bylykbashi

The National Gallery of Kosovo is honoured to host this extensive retrospective, showcasing a significant part of her half-century-old creative journey. The exhibition aims to present and reposition Lumturi Blloshmi’s work and life within the context of national and international art histories. The selection comprises Blloshmi’s works from the 1960s to the 2000s, including self-portraits, landscapes, portraits, painting compositions, photographs, and installations. These works reveal her aesthetic essence and personal reality and bring insights into the political and social context in which she created.

Like many artists of her generation, Lumturi Blloshmi adhered to the constraints of socialist realism until the late 1980s. However, in the 1990s, she distinguished herself as one of the few who successfully repositioned and transformed her work until passing. Her works in painting, photography, installation, and performance are marked by an ironic reflection and overcoming of the reality in which she lived. Her dynamic and self-aware personality, nourished by philosophy, poetry, sensibility, and spirituality, shaped a distinctive body of work.

Drawing from previously unexhibited works, the exhibition aims to introduce the multidimensional practice and individualized metamorphosis of Blloshmi to the public. The display traces her artistic trajectory chronologically, highlighting the main themes: the individual context through Blloshmi’s personal experiences that have become the main inspiration for the many Self-portraits; the Albanian context which she systematically analyzed, commented, and captured be it through the landscape paintings of the 1980s, the Exodus of the 1990s or the political transition of the 2000s; and ultimately the universal context as a concern with philosophical and spiritual aspects which her latest works deal with. All these expressions that nurtured her artistic practice reveal how Blloshmi continuously recreated the figure through imagination and experimentation in various mediums, achieving what she aptly described as „a distinct, tangible universe.“

Blloshmi’s impressive artistic practice, extraordinary biography, and powerful personality make her a unique and portentous figure in national and international contemporary art. Despite facing various limitations, such as being deaf from the age of five, enduring oppression under the communist regime due to political reasons, and being a woman in a field dominated by men, Lumturi Blloshmi did not receive the recognition she deserved during her lifetime. The exhibition aims to shed light on her work and life, which have yet to be thoroughly researched, displayed, and contextualized.

Chapter I: Self-portraits
Lumturi Blloshmi originated from a persecuted Albanian family and had to deal with what the system defined as a „tainted biography,“ which rendered the pursuit of an artistic career exceedingly challenging. While her creativity can be segmented into two distinct periods – before and after the 90s – the self-portrait remained a genre to which she devoted continuous attention throughout her life. Most of her self-portraits prior to the 1990s were crafted in secrecy, never seeing the light of exhibition. These artworks unequivocally broke away from the constraints of Socialist Realism, which staunchly opposed artistic subjectivity. They served as potent tools for the artist to reimagine and recreate her sense of self. Following the 1990s, Blloshmi depicted herself within diverse scenarios across her paintings, performances, and photographs. In doing so, she openly expressed her perspectives about the art world, its mechanisms, and the society she inhabited. Her viewpoint was that of a strong woman who critiqued and provoked the male-dominated power establishment with humor and satire. Considering the significant role biographies played in shaping individual trajectories within Socialist Albania, Blloshmi’s deliberate acts of inclusion, reinvention, and transformation in her exposés clearly asserted and reinforced her position in the national art history, from a self-defined standpoint.

Her persistent efforts to challenge rules, transcend limitations, and defy conventions earned her the name „The Rebel Artist.”

Chapter II: Landscapes and Women
In 1973, she became a member of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists, but her membership was revoked from 1974 to 1983. Being a part of the union granted individuals access to materials such as paint and canvas, as well as studio space. Moreover, membership provided the opportunity to showcase artworks in official exhibitions, secure funding for travel, participate in competitions for public artworks, and engage in „free, creative activity.“ As a result of this restriction, very few works, mostly drawings and sketches, emerged during those years. Despite the difficulties, the year 1983 marked a restart for Lumturi. Fully energized, she travelled to various Albanian cities and villages, producing numerous landscapes. Throughout these years, she painted a few portraits and still lives, but she preferred working in nature due to her lack of a studio and her residence in a very small apartment with her brother’s family. Before 1974, she primarily focused on compositions depicting epic scenes from history or the construction of the socialist society, as well as portraits.

A few of these works are part of the collection at the National Gallery of Art in Tirana, while unfortunately, many other works have been lost.

This chapter traces the evolution of her painting style throughout the 1980s up to the early 1990s. This period can be categorized into three groups of works: landscapes showcasing various distinct locations across Albania, portraits of women from the artist’s inner circle (mother, niece, friends), and paintings in which landscape and female figure intertwine. As the 1990s approach, the female figure gains prominence and becomes the sole subject of the compositions. All the works are characterized by a strong colour contrast. The interplay of light and dark shades imparts depth to her paintings. The background has always held significance for Blloshmi, and these paintings reveal how it transforms alongside the figures, gaining a transparency and multi-layered quality that would later become distinct hallmarks of Blloshmi’s canvases. She held her first solo exhibition in the city of Berat in 1988, at the age of 44, where many of the works in this section were on display.

Chapter III: The return of God
In 1967, the socialist government declared Albania an „atheist state.“ In December 1990, the ban on religious observance was officially lifted. The symbolic fall of the dictator’s statue [Enver Hoxha] in the center of Tirana marked the end of communism in Albania. For many, including Lumturi, who suffered under that regime, the 20th of February 1991 marked a significant turning point in their lives. Two key historical events influenced Lumturi and her work in the first half of the 1990s: the fall of the communist regime, which also marked the resurgence of religion, and the Albanian exodus to Italy.

In a letter to a Greek artist dated November 25, 1992, Lumturi describes the most powerful day of her life: „The happiest day of my life was the day of the Dictator’s fall and the return to God without distinction of religion. I joined the protest that led to his fall, without thinking that at any moment I could encounter death.“

Several of her paintings from the early 1990s incorporate religious imagery and delve into spiritual themes.
Albania also witnessed mass emigration from the country, epitomized by the August 1991 exodus. Thousands of people boarded ships and forcefully set sail from the harbours of Durrës and Vlora to Italy. Lumturi experienced this exodus in Durrës, and in an excerpt from her correspondence, she recounts the scene: „…rain, endlessly, intense heat, and all at once the furious waves of exodus in great numbers. I noticed all this, there at the harbour. It was an infernal view which I can never forget. The ship was drunk and damaged, as if painted in glue and the impatient mob tried to climb up the ship at a terrible speed, without consideration for anything else, not even death itself, for the better life beyond the sea. The ship started sailing accompanied by shrieks and tears. Amid the sea the ship looked like an object, decorated with shells, scales, until it disappeared into infinity. Every day the sea brought corpses to the shore…“ This experience and those haunting images deeply affected Blloshmi. She stood among the few artists of her generation who extensively addressed the events of the exodus and other pivotal moments in contemporary Albanian history through her art. During this period, her paintings underwent a transformation towards symbolic figuration, best exemplified by the recurring fish/boat symbolism, appearing in various forms across many of her works from the 1990s and 2000s. It was during this period that she began incorporating additional materials such as silver pigment, aluminium foil, fabrics, bones, and everyday objects into her paintings.

Chapter IV: Invasion of space
During the 2000s, Blloshmi embarked on a series of new artistic endeavours. She became one of the first artists to venture into the realm of performances, installations, and the orchestration of events that could be categorized as „happenings.“ Notably, „Menu Kama Sutra“ constitutes a body of work containing 15 photographs of frog legs, captured by the artist while she was cooking them at home. These images, resembling human bodies during intercourse, prompted Lumturi to capture this accidental likeness through her analogue camera. In 2003, she orchestrated a happening/performance at the National Gallery of Art in Tirana, featuring an actual dinner serving fried frog legs.

This event invited journalists and art personalities to engage in discussions about sexuality and sensuality as integral aspects of everyday life and art. The recurrence of this work and performance, staged in various locations, has solidified its position as one of the artist’s most iconic works. Throughout this period, Blloshmi delved into her fascination with the human body and how communication, consumption, and political influence converged with its social and sensual connotations. She generated artworks using discarded materials or items manufactured in substantial quantities, such as cigarette butts, dried orange peels, empty Coca-Cola bottles, phone cards, medication packages, and advertisements. Amid these explorations, she managed to maintain a sharp focus on the human form, a reflection of her training in figurative art. While she explored spatial artworks employing diverse materials, she persisted in creating paintings with oil and mixed media on canvas until 2003. Her later paintings took on a more conceptual and philosophical nature, addressing themes related to human nature and existence.

Chapter V: It’s a Man’s world
In 2005, Blloshmi crafted a series of small, double-sided miniature mixed media works titled „It’s a Man’s World.“ Through this series, she delved into the gender disparities present in Albanian contemporary society and the art field, as well as the dichotomies within Albanian national identity. Infused with humour, the series offered commentary on influential politicians and art figures in Albania, all of whom were men. This exposure highlighted the intricate ties of the contemporary political elite to those who held power during the socialist era. To achieve her desired effect in this series, she freely employed painting, collage, Photoshop editing, and canvas printing.

Orange peels moulded into human figures appeared in her photographic work „Zarabanda“ in 2007. In 2008, she repurposed these photographs from „Zarabanda“ to construct the work „Lume and the Masters.“ Within her photographs, she integrated small fragments from paintings depicting scenes by celebrated Great Masters of art.
She unearthed visual parallels between her photographs featuring orange peels fashioned into human-like forms and pivotal works in art history. She identified fragments from paintings by esteemed male artists that echoed her own photographs. The titles of the Masters‘ works became the titles of Lumturi’s creations. Through this series, she extended her critique beyond the confines of Albanian reality into the realm of art history, effectively constructing a „critique of art history.“ In doing so, her work proposes multi-layered narratives and interpretations, as a contemporary way of existence. In the subsequent years, particularly in 2010s, she continued to engage with images of orange peels, creating works for the stage in collaboration with the Albanian choreographer Gjergj Prevazi.

Curator: Adela Demetja| Filmmaker: Tin Dirdamal| Interactive media artist: Alexander Walmsley Exhibition| Architect: Dea Buza / Apparat Studio | Design: Joreld Dhamo / Parallel Studio

Exhibition: Lumturi Blloshmi. From Scratch
Exhibition duration: 01.09 – 15.10.2023

On view: Kosovo National Gallery, Street. Agim Ramadani, no. 360, 10000 Prishtinë, Kosovë

Lumturi Blloshmi (1944–2020) was born and lived in Tirana. Her father, an officer in the Government of King Zog I, was executed by the communists when Lumturi was only two months old. At age five, she lost her hearing due to a meningitis infection. Blloshmi graduated from the Department of Painting at the Academy of Arts in Tirana in 1968. In 1973, she became a member of the League of Writers and Artists, but her membership was revoked from 1974 to 1984, preventing her from exhibiting and continuing her creative practice. After graduating, Blloshmi worked as an offset worker at the Mihal Duri printing house and later as an editor and illustrator at a textbook publishing house until 1989. Until 2004, she worked at several institutions, including the National Art Gallery and the Institute of Culture Monuments in Tirana. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1988 in Berat. In the 1990s, she stood out as one of Albania’s best contemporary visual artists, showcasing a synthesis of installation, photography, drawing, and painting. Some of her works are included in the collection of the National Art Gallery in Tirana. Her works have been exhibited in various group and solo exhibitions, including those at institutions such as the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, the Municipal Art Gallery in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Alexandria Biennale for Mediterranean Countries in Egypt, National Art Gallery of Albania, and National Art Gallery of Kosovo. She made history as the first woman artist to represent Albania at the Venice Biennale in its 59th edition. Lumturi Blloshmi passed away on November 27, 2020, due to a Covid-19 infection.

Adela Demetja is a curator and author born in Tirana, Albania, currently residing in both Tirana and Frankfurt am Main. She holds a master’s degree in „Curatorial and Critical Studies“ from Städelschule and Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main. In 2010, she founded the Tirana Art Lab – Center for Contemporary Art, where she serves as the director. As an independent curator, she has curated numerous international exhibitions and collaborated with institutions such as the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana, the National Art Gallery of Kosovo, Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in the USA, the Project Biennale D-0 Ark Underground in Konjic, the Action Field Kodra in Thessaloniki, the Lothringer 13 Kunsthalle in Munich, the Villa Romana in Florence, and the Haus am Lützowplatz in Berlin. Notably, she curated the Albanian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, representing Lumturi Blloshmi.