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written by Phil Shoenfelt for the Missing Pictures retrospective exhibition by Vénera Kastrati, at the National Gallery of Kosovo, curated by Marco Bazzini, 09/2016
Born in a country that has seen more than its share of historical disjunctures, Vénera Kastrati spent her early years in the shadow of the most insular communist dictatorship in modern European history. Before Hoxha seized power near the end of World War Two, Albania had already thrown off the shackles of the Ottoman Empire, become an independent principality, then a republic, then a kingdom, before being invaded by Fascist Italy in 1939, and occupied by Nazi Germany four years later. By 1948 Hoxha had broken with Tito’s Yugoslavia, and was under the patronage of Moscow. With the Sino-Soviet split of 1960, Albania veered yet again, this time siding with the People’s Republic of China. Such a fractured history, with its accompanying destruction, shifting borders, political and religious rivalries, displacement of people, could be regarded as a distillation of the ongoing European experience. Kastrati herself is implicated in these seismic shifts – she was born in Tirana to parents of Kosovar origin, who remained in Albania after the closure of the border with Yugoslavia. This political background is important. More than anything, her art is concerned with the search for identity, the attempt to reconnect, to repair connections severed by war and displacement – themes that are encountered in various forms in this retrospective exhibition of her work. Sometimes the art is playful – Appointments In The Dark – sometimes melancholic, as in the video project Renovim/Renewal. Sometimes it is violent and angry, as in I Heard Her Voice On The Telephone. At all times it is concerned with what it means to be human – birth, death, identity, loss, family, home, fear, pain. The fundamentals of the human condition, in other words, shown against a flickering backdrop of silhouettes and shadows. As history moves ever faster, Missing Pictures is a homecoming of sorts, an attempt to agree on memory and structure – whether the structure is of one particular house, a personal history or a national identity.