Interview with Edi Muka August (2001 interview)

Tirana, Summer 2001. An Ungoing Exchange with Edi Muka

[Maybe some of you remember. Last year Marina Grizinic sent out a call for support to protest against the forced resignation of Edi Muka as the Director of Pyramid Cultural Centre in Tirana, Albania (nettime, November 30, 2000). Geneva Anderson wrote an extensive article about the case (Syndicate, January 8, 2001). She also posted a few support letter to Syndicate on January 9. As a part of an ongoing series of e-mail exchanges I corresponded with Edi Muka again to see what he’s up to and how the Tirana Bienale, which opens soon, is going. My last interview with him ran on nettime August 6, 2000. /geert]

GL: It’s been a while now that you were fired as a director of the Tirana cultural center, the Pyramid. How do look back at that episode? At the time, in December 2000, it was not clear who exactly was behind your dismissal. Why would a person like you with so many ideas and motivation be sacked? What happened to the Pyramid ever since?

EM: Well, it’s history by now, and it seems far back in time to me. Maybe because life in Albania still has its ups and downs which can quickly make you forget things. Furthermore, I feel sorry in a way for the entire project that I reject to think of it any more. And what’s more ridiculous is that the reasons for my dismissal were so banal, even though it included several interests. I was actually removed by the Prime Minister, not only because he’s the one to take such a decision but also because he wanted to do a favor to this guy that replaced me, who had done some mass celebrations on the occasion of some feasts just before the elections. Then the new minister of culture obviously regarded me as the black sheep in the crowd. I am not sure why because she had met me only once, on the day of her presentation, together with many others. State jobs in Albania are still a good possibility to make quick money through bribe and abuse, so such a position is very envied by people with clear intentions in that direction. Third, there were some people that used to rent spaces in the Pyramid (that was a common practice, because it helped to generate money and maintain the entire thing), that apparently wanted more, but whose requests I had rejected, protecting the space in order to be used by the ICC. Last but not least, there was no attempt whatsoever on the side of Edi Rama, at the time elected mayor of Tirana, to protect or even ask for the reason of my dismissal, not as a friend, but as someone he himself had appointed, and for the dismissal of whom there was not a single motivation even in the official paper. All this was a pain, but the huge support I got through the Syndicate mailinglist and through the local artists, published also in the Albanian press, was a great moral boost for me. At the moment the Pyramid is dead, the exhibition space inside was used only for about 5 shows I was able to curate while I was there. After that it was turned into a store room. the Mediatheque project, started with Soros Foundation money stopped, even though Soros people contacted me again afterwards asking to continue on that project, but not necessarily connected to the Pyramid.

GL: After you lost your job you immediately were appointed at the National Gallery. What have you been doing there and how’s the general climate in terms of cultural policy now, after the national elections which took place in June 2001?

EM: Actually I am in charge of curating at the National Gallery. by the time I was fired, I had already started to curate the annual show we do in the National Gallery, and that was funny too, because it’s being financed by the Ministry of Culture, but the minister won’t receive me for the presentation of the project and discussion over the budget. So the Director of the National Gallery, Mr. Gezim Qendro had to do this job. The show was quite good actually, and like every year we had a great time with the artists, and there was also a small catalogue published by Giancarlo Politi Editore. After this show, together with Giancarlo Politi and Edi Rama we took the decision to start working on the first edition of the Tirana Biennial. That’s my main occupation since then, till the opening scheduled for September 15th 2001.   Regarding cultural policy in Albania things (policies) depend a lot upon individuals. If there’s a charismatic one, with the good will to change things (such as was Edi Rama’s case), than things start moving. The problem with Edi Rama was that he wasn’t able, or stayed too short to built a continuation of what he started, and the very next day he was replaced by the new minister of culture, everything went back to where he had started it, if not worse. At the moment the situation is still like that, there’s literally no policy or at least no vision at all regarding Albanian culture. We’ll have still to wait and see, because the new government is not formed yet, so we don’t know who the next minister of culture shall be, but don’t believe there’ll be someone exiting. that’s what happens when one political side takes the upper wind, they usually don’t care anymore whom do they appoint, especially in culture.

GL: After having faced a few problems the Tirana Bienale is coming up. What are your ideas and expectations?

EM: Well, the Tirana Biennale is a serious problem (in good terms). I think that it is going to definitely be different, for many reasons. In Albania there is no infrastructure to handle such an event, so on one side it is going to be completely informal. We’re trying to bring in almost everybody from the participants. This shall produce a mess, but I hope a productive and energetic one. I also think that the biennial is coming in a very important moment for the Albanian contemporary art, some of our guys are really doing great internationally, being present and participating in some of the most prestigious and important events world wide, such as the case of Anri Sala, Sislej Xhafa, Adrian Paci, Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari, but also of younger ones, like Alban Hajdinaj, Erzen Shkololli, etc. It is also very important PR for the city and for Albania itself. Can you imagine that still some of the participants ask “how dangerous it is in Tirana” because someone had read a quotation ranking Tirana as the 8th worst city in the world (in terms of danger). That’s beyond the ridiculous. I think it shall be great to have so many people here for a few days. It’s going to be great for everybody, for the participant artists, for the young students of the academy, for the public and for us as organizers as well (even though it’s unimaginably stressful).

GL: Are you afraid that KLA forces, having ‘visited’ Macedonia might flood Albania with weapons and trouble? There is little less to go for these self-made rebels. Is this a problem which is being discussed? If they can no longer ‘liberate’ Macedonia or Kosova, they might perhaps turn against Albania?

EM: No I don’t think so and I don’t believe such thing would happen. I believe that there are always bigger interests involved when stirring up a country. Our turn was in 1997, now we’re out of it for some time. Obviously there has to be a reason, and the existing reasons either in Kosova or in Macedonia are quite serious problems to be tackled with. I personally don’t agree with the use of the guns, but the problem in my view has always two sides. therefore it must not be looked for only on the side of the KLA, but also on the side of those KLA is fighting for (not against). As I said, I don’t believe Albania shall be affected by this situation, because the problems at the moment are elsewhere. I think that the Albanian issue has become an issue at stake, that as long as it shall not have a solution, it shall constitute a good reason to use for different purposes.

Edi Muka’s e-mail: