EDI RAMA, IMPROVISATIONS
From 21 to 31 March 2023
Weekdays: 15.00 – 20.00
Saturday – Sunday: 10.00 – 20.00
The exhibition IΜPROVISATIONS, which is the first extensive presentation of Edi Rama’s work in Greece, presents a double interest as it illuminates not only the activity of an artist, but also the personality of a politician, for whom art is not only an expression of freedom, but also a tool for social and political cohesion. Edi Rama is an artist turned Prime Minister. He is not merely a politician with an artistic inclination, nor is he a talented amateur or someone who just happened to study painting at some point. He is an active artist who, as a result of his political and activist engagement, was elected to the highest political office. The exhibition IMPROVISATIONS, therefore, comes to shed light on the work of an international personality, who acts simultaneously and in a complementary manner across two seemingly contradictory fields: art and politics, imagination and social practice.
It is a fact that political will can have a positive impact on the arts sector, through measures of support, funding and legislation. For Edi Rama this will is articulated and implemented, and is certainly due, in large part, to his artistic sensibility and education. Art has influenced his politics, and this is particularly evident in the practices he implemented in order to introduce it into the public sphere, but also give it a “platform” from a very early stage, when he was called to deal with many pressing and vital problems.
Yet, how easy is it for him to be able to express himself as an artist alongside his political duties, to serve the public interest, without at the same time “shutting himself off” in the inner isolation that artistic creation demands? Almost impossible a task, yet art will always find a way to express itself. In the case of the Prime Minister of Albania, it intruded in a spontaneous, uncontrolled manner on used documents and all sorts of paper surfaces that were in abundance in his office. Edi Rama “mechanically” creates drawings in bright colours and biomorphic shapes, with watercolours, colour pencils, markers and pastels that gradually came to occupy a large part of the surface of his desk, lending it thus the aura of an artist’s workshop. This creative process is far from distracting him from his political duties. On the contrary, it helps him focus. Art claimed its space and got it. Intellect and expression walk hand in hand, yielding decisions, but also works that are small in size and replete with emotional tension. They constitute palimpsests, where design, colour and text overlap, without cancelling each other out. The coexistence of the two seemingly different worlds brought about a balance between them, which is essential in the demanding and difficult daily schedule of the artist-politician.
The spontaneous, almost automatic drawings were reproduced some years ago on wallpaper, with which he has lined his Office. This is how he created for himself a vital space that is indicative of his identity but is simultaneously also an example of the organic relationship that connects applied art with genuine artistic creation. Part of this wallpaper was transported in Athens and installed on the construction that the artist himself designed for Zappeion, and constitutes an important element of the present exhibition. The wallpapered construction becomes the carrier of original, framed paintings created on documents and diaries, but also of small sculptures that complement and “embody” the printed paintings so fittingly, that the viewer can’t help but wonder whether the third dimension he perceives is real or an illusion. Rounding off the exhibition is a corpus of new works that combine fired porcelain with metal. The artist creates those works during those scarce free hours, when he can isolate himself in his private artist’s studio.
The correlation of the delicate porcelain –which, nevertheless, has been processed to acquire great resilience- with the cast metal, which self-complacently boasts the plasticity and chromatic quality created through coating, is the result of the artist’s most recent work, made within the year, and is presented for the first time in Athens. In a way, this correlation could be perceived as an allegory alluding to the theory of soft and hard power. “Soft” power refers to the ability of accomplishing goals through political, ethical or cultural influence.
Edi Rama initially applied this kind of osmosis of art and politics in an original venture that marked his tenure when he was Mayor of Tirana. At that time, he literally reshaped the city in a drastic way and with minimal expenditures. In order to intervene in the degraded city’s infrastructure, Edi Rama made an elevated gesture by deciding to have the drab and uniform facades of the city’s run-down buildings -themselves leftovers of the communist era- painted in colour. His choice of multi-coloured, intense hues and geometric or organic shapes revitalized the urban environment, contributed to the quick improvement of the city’s image and its sustainability, helped tone up the sense of community and, most importantly, positively affected the mood of the people and gained their trust.
It was in the same city that, two years later, the country organised its first international art exhibition: “the Biennale without money” as Edi Rama himself named it because of its zero budget. The participation of artists, people from the arts and media made a sensation and introduced to the world the, until then, poorest and most isolated European country. At the same time, it put across the message that art, which in most western countries usually concerns the private sector, can acquire a public role when strengthened by central political decisions.