• Curatorial Text

‘Moshe: A story in continuation’ with Orhan Kurtolli

Curatorial Project by Albert Heta

The exhibition ‘Moshe: A story in continuation’, is a curatorial project by Albert Heta constructed on selected works of Orhan Kurtolli, and the personal archival documentation of the artist, exhibited in the historical building of the Boxing Club.

Orhan Kurtolli (1952) was born and lives in Prishtina. During his long observation, he experienced historical events and developments in the visual arts in Kosovo during 1970-ties and the eventful turnovers in Kosovo's social and political context from the early 1980-ties until the present day.

The exhibition as a story in continuation has two parts. The first part showcases events, artworks, archival material, the context of 1970-ties in Kosovo and former Yugoslavia. To contextualize the starting point of this exhibition, are two events that occurred in Prishtina fifty years ago that reveal or show a view of how this artist and our society in Prishtina experienced life during 1970-ties. Robin Wagner-Pacifici describes events as central to the way that individuals and societies experience life. Furthermore, she demonstrates how they transform across time and space en route to taking place at the forefront of historical and social thought (Wagner-Pacifici 2017).

In December 1971, Goran Djordjevic and Vojislav Radulovic organized their first exhibition in Prishtina, titled ‘Pro-humanizam’. The event was organized in the Foyer of Kino APJ/Kino JNA in Prishtina. Goran Djordjevic is nowadays seen as "one of the most radical artists in the Yugoslav and global scene, the person who invented the paradoxical principle of retroavant-garde in art" (Boynik 2018). When meeting with a well-known figure in the Kosovar intellectual scene in 1974, Djordjevic, born in Prizren, Kosovo, would present himself as Didare Dukagjini's son (Boynik 2018). The latter was among others the Chairwoman of the Antifascist Front of Women of Kosovo. Orhan Kurtolli was present in the opening of the ‘Pro-humanizam’, and had relations with Djordjevic and Radulovic since the event and was swayed by what he saw.

Earlier in the same year, the Cultural and Artist's Association – SHKA KUD ‘Bajram Curri’ had opened the II Exhibition of the Association with participating artists and members of the Association Avdush Sylejmani, Avni Toplica, Agim Salihu, Ismail Qosja and Ismet Ismajli. ‘Moshe: A story in continuation’ will make public the bilingual pamphlet of the exhibition. The exhibition was organized in the Foyer of Cinema ‘Kino Rinia 2/Kino Omladina 2’ to commemorate May Day. At the time, Orhan Kurtolli was a member of ‘Bajram Curri’ and was present in the exhibition.

About these times, not referencing these events, Shkelzen Maliqi, a philosopher and an art critic, has said: "these years were a period when we Kosovans began to live in a global village, so Prizren and Prishtina could also become part of the topography of great and small events which began at the time, no matter how central or marginal they were"(Boynik 2018).

The Academy of Arts of the University of Prishtina was founded in 1973. The Art Gallery, presently known as the National Gallery of Kosovo, was established in 1979. The University of Pristina was established in 1969.

Orhan Kurtoli's artwork selected from this period for the exhibition draws an optimistic and utopic picture of the ideological worldview constructed by the artist's interpretation, influenced by events, close social exchange and political relations, and global developments in art and politics.

A number of works from this period were exhibited in undocumented events and publications in the late 1970-ties.

Similarly, the majority of artists' names, events, spaces and institutions mentioned above today are becoming signifiers of undocumented history, erasure and lack of inclusive historicization in art, and turnovers in Kosovo's social and political context. Only a few artists from the exhibition of SHKA/KUD ‘Bajram Curri’ continue to be today. At the same time, SHKA/KUD ‘Bajram Curri’ and ‘Kino Rinia 2/Kino Omladina 2’ are silenced. In Kosovo, we still don't know as much as we should about Goran Djordjevic. Other researchers have failed to historicize Goran Djordjevic's first exhibition in Prishtina, and have displaced his practice. As for Vojislav Radulovic and other Kosovan artists of Serbian ethnicity have become part of the city's past time that no longer exists for the system and the manufactured collective memory, the aftermath of events that ended in 1999 with the Kosovo war.

In contrast, the second part of the exhibition 'Moshe: A story in continuation' captures Orhan Kurtolli's selected paintings (and notebooks) from 1999 - the Kosovo liberation, until today. Paintings from this period in the exhibition are new paintings previously not exhibited and paintings institutionalized in shows, described to usually refer directly to the engaged close observation of Prishtina's environment, its conditions, people and architecture.

A critical decade in Kosovo's history, the 1980-ties, which were instrumental to the worldview and the present collective memory in Kosovo, is missing from the exhibition, symbolically representing the artist's energy focus elsewhere and the social and political demise and the decade ruled by the "state of emergency" in Kosovo. The artist did not paint during this time. You should ask, why?

‘Moshe: A story in continuation’, and the story in continuation on these two events, one documented in the exhibition, and the two parts of the show, separated with 20 years of eventful times in between, re-position foundations of the practice of Orhan Kurtolli, an artist often (mistakenly) described as an "outsider artist" in Kosovo. Instead, ‘Moshe: A story in continuation’ shows an artist as a witness standing in-between time and in-between the schism of attempts for the national systemic institutionalization of modern art in Kosovo and international debates and themes later conceptualized as the end of the modern, or a post-modern movement in art (Boynik 2018).

The exhibition is the first iteration of part of the research project in continuation, and the first collaboration with the artist "observing us and seeing with new eyes his work" exhibited at the Boxing Club.

When the exhibition opens, very few citizens in Prishtina remember the Boxing Club previously known as ‘Sokolana’. Orhan Kurtolli, in his youth, frequently visited ‘Sokolana’. ‘Moshe: A story in continuation’ with Orhan Kurtolli at the Boxing Club adds another layer of signifiers and meanings to the art practice of an artist standing in-between time, the buildings, and the city

The National Gallery of Kosovo, in 2014, has shown Orhan Kurtolli's work in the solo exhibition titled 'The Oneiric Coordinates of the Subconscious' curated by Gëzim Qendro.

Note: The exhibiton is organized in sombre times engulfed with the significant loss of lives of our loved ones, the undeclared loss of the need for art in the undeclared pandemic "state of emergency" in Kosovo. The exercise remembers exhibition spaces as relational spaces, as seen by Nicolas Bourriaud: "in an exhibition, each time there is a possibility of immediate discussion in both meanings, even when the exposed forms are inert: I see, I comment, and I move around in a space-time. Art is the site that produces specific sociability "(2002, 14, 16).