Praise of Doubt
ONUFRI XX, 2015
National Gallery, Albania
The works of Driton Selmani are characterized by their capacity to create a tension between the “Conflict” and the “marvel” on cultural identity issues. With a sort of romanticism, the artist is conscious of the stakes at play between contemporary artistic creation and possible forms of resistance. In the space of the gallery, a series of black Helium balloons is tied up by some sharp knives and they strive to fly up towards the ceiling.
In My Country On My Back, the artist creates a short-circuit of perception to overturn the meaning we usually attribute to an object (balloons and knives), to reflect on the political situation in times where countries have literally “lots of knives stabbed in their back”. Through My Country On My Back, it is visible how dreams of change are in a stalemate. And in this state of suspension, what prevails is the persistent feeling of doubt. Then Selmani is “halfway” between a desire to create and build for his own countries, and a sense of delusion over former cultural and social promises. In the end, the weight of cultural legacy seems to be hard to bear for the artists; so Selmani lets physically an open glimpse of past and the traditions, the same he draws from and also uses a filter; criticizing, deriding and reproaching it at times.
Selmani’s image is related to an old Albanian quote: “You can’t hold two watermelons in one hand”. The proverb refers to the inability to gain two things at the same time, which is also to say being here and there simultaneously. Moreover, the quote sums up most of the artist’s biography in his nationality identity, since Selmani was born in Former Yugoslavia province of Kosovo as an ethnic Albanian, but the country broke up to several new countries as a result of the war conflict in 1999. And now Kosovo, after supervised by the UN, due to a new framework in 2008 Kosovo declared independence supported and reinforced by the majority of Western Countries.
An important aspect of the political process of transition is that Kosovo Institutions have been encouraged by the international community to work on branding ‘Kosovars-Kosovans’ as a new national identity. And it represents a political conceptual strategy to mitigate possible tensions between Albanians and Serbs. So, an artist like Selmani is torn between a political era that does not seem to take them very far. They seem neither to delve into the past (in terms of nostalgia for yesteryear, traditions, and beliefs), but nor can’t clearly look to the future. The picture They say You can’t hold two watermelons in one hand was shot between the Albanian and Kosovan border, on a bridge that separates the two countries in a sort of no man’s land. The artist is thus portrayed in the attempt to hold the fruits and unstably maintain his balance.