Kosovo’s rising contemporary art scene, challenging norms and building a future

Cityscapes transformed, graffiti turning the mundane into works of art. Photo: Georgia Macleod

Freelance artists and small contemporary art organisations in Prishtina are carving out their own space despite lack of recognition and funding from Kosovo’s ministry of culture.

The wall runs 300 meters along the road, covered from top to bottom in vibrant colours, words and shapes. The graffiti that covers this wall is far from vandalism, it is art that has changed the landscape of the community that surrounds it. Last year Meeting of Styles (MOS) in Kosovo brought artists from all around the world together for a festival to paint the wall. This year the 2018 festival is centred on a new section of wall, with MOS Kosovo aiming to involve even more local than last year.

Graffiti in Prishtina is one contemporary art form that is creating the opportunity for economic growth, as the city begins to embrace using street art to beautify its’ cityscape. With Prishtina’s art scene still in its early stages of growth, artists battle a lack of support from government institutions.

Despite a lack of recognition from the Ministry of Culture for last year’s festival, this year MOS Kosovo will try again, applying for recognition and funding as a credible art festival. This is not the only barrier they face, as often a clash with traditional perspectives gets in the way of producing such things as graffiti art.

“If the police catch you doing political pieces you’re really f***ked” says Agon Xhelili, director of MOS Kosovo. Activists in their own right, but doing so in a way that doesn’t incur the wrath of local municipalities, MOS Kosovo mostly tries to stay neutral. Their aim is to build up the art community in Prishtina, believing particularly in the importance of engaging Kosovo’s youth.

“We believe that public art will serve to inspire, educate and engage young communities in Prishtina to discuss important cultural and social issues that they deal with through art.  In this way, public art becomes a message platform through which youth communicate with each other, express their views on various issues, and showcase their creativity and talents.

“We also believe that this form of art could place Prishtina as an important center for public art in the region and Europe, and also develop its modern tourism, through international visitors who would visit Prishtina to enjoy and engage in public art.” says Ariel Shaban from MOS Kosovo.

Speaking the unspoken: A young artist challenging the status quo

MOS Kosovo believes the artists are out there, they just need the inspiration and the opportunity to contribute and build the art community.

Roksi Makolli is one such artist already contributing to this budding community. Currently studying her masters in contemporary art, she will open her first solo exhibition on the 13th of May. The exhibition addresses mental health issues, inspired from her own battle with depression.

“I want my art to be a platform where people can find themselves, with things that are not so much talked about in Prishtina or Kosovo, things that are still just ignored,” Makolli says.

“I usually use these kinds of subjects, people who are oppressed, people who are not allowed to express themselves. I try to make people understand an issue from a more personal perspective.”

Makolli faces the issue of backlash to her work, due to the fact that it challenges social norms and is centred on lesser spoken topics.

“Kosovo is still in a transition where they have traditional culture mixed with very modern culture and they clash. It’s both extremes, you’re either too liberal or too conservative, there’s no in between,” says Makolli.

“I think women have it harder, a lot harder because you are not only being judged as an artist and your artwork but also being judged as a person. So, it becomes an ethical and moral judgment. People tend to think the worst if you make it as an artist, they’re not going to think that you made it because of your work, they’re going to relate other things to your success… if you know what I mean.”

Makolli fears her lack of opportunity for employment once she finishes her masters, “I worry a lot, I think everybody who studies in my university does. There is high percentage of youth who are studying but there are no jobs for anything, not just for artists, there aren’t a lot of jobs for anyone who graduates from anything. But especially for Kosovo with art-related jobs, in Prishtina there is not a lot of opportunity.

“Alongside this lack of opportunity students like Makolli, face similar issues to Meeting of Styles Kosovo, which is a lack of government support.

“We have this saying amongst students when somebody says, ‘You should go and ask for money at the ministry of culture! And they’re like, yeaaah right!’ It’s a big joke, you know it’s not going to happen.

“Usually, those who get the grants from the Ministry are big corporations or NGOs that already have funds but just have a name attached to it. I also applied for a grant for my exhibition but I did not get a response.”

This goes even further than solo exhibitions, with university faculties also suffering from lack of funding.

“We do not get a lot of support, even if you come to the faculty of arts, you should see the conditions under which we study, they are horrible. There is not enough space, it’s just disgusting to be honest, it’s shameful.

“Not only does the ministry not help or support freelance artists, they don’t help their own university faculties. I don’t know what they do with the funds, we just don’t talk about the Ministry of Culture.”


Photo gallery

Artistic and political expression in Kosovo – Prishtina’s graffiti artists take to the streets

All photos have been taken by the author, Georgia Macleod