Artist Petrit Halilaj will open a modern art installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in April next year. Voice of America journalist Garentina Kraja talked with the artist Halilaj about his experiences after being invited by the prestigious world art institution, as the first Albanian artist who will have a work of art in it.
Petri Halilaj’s work will open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in April next year. According to the museum, artist Halilaj, who lives between his native Kosovo and Berlin, has been invited to transform the museum’s terrace into a contemporary art installation.
In an interview for the Voice of America, the artist Halilaj said that the invitation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains one of the largest art collections in the world and which, according to him, has very few artifacts exhibited from Kosovo and the Balkans, is an honor special, which he will use to reflect on Kosovo’s connections with the region in the cultural and political plane, as well as the connections of his hometown with the United States.
“It’s a great thrill, because just visiting the Metropolitan Museum is a great thrill, the collection that travels in time up to 5,000 years before us and where fragments from all over the world are shown, either through artifacts or through architecture. On the terrace of the Museum once a year orders are made with a contemporary art artist. In this case, when I accepted the invitation, I couldn’t believe it. I’m very, very happy.”
Born in the village of Runik in Kosovo, the 37-year-old artist brings to his works fragments of his personal experiences of the war in Kosovo, the connections with his life in the village, which in his land has preserved the traces of a Neolithic civilization, often located confronting, or in conversation with, the universal experiences of human experience – a journey into the real and imagined boundaries of created and imposed identity, man’s ties to the land and the past, the freedom – or lack thereof – to be and to moved.
The work in the New York museum, says the artist Halilaj, since it is done on the terrace of this institution, will be in harmony with the urban reality of the metropolis, with the sky and the museum building itself.
“It’s a project I’ve been working on intensively for a year and a half. Unlike other projects, this is probably the moment when I had the need and desire to start a search between New York and Kosovo. In the last two years I have been to the countries around us – Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, and I was very interested in understanding the relationship between us and the region and starting a conversation. We know that historically and culturally there are gaps in the presence of our voice, both as a culture and as a reality, and I am interested in how we can work, how we can re-acquaint ourselves in the region, starting with an exchange of knowledge pertaining to culture.”
Petri Halilaj’s works, which come in various forms, have already been exhibited in the most popular galleries in Europe. In 2013, Halilaj represented Kosovo for the first time in the new country’s debut at the prestigious Venice Biennale. At Tate St. Ives, in Great Britain, his solo exhibition in 2021 was based on drawings of various birds and scenes of the war and destruction it had brought to Kosovo, which he made while staying in the refugee camp in Kukës, in the spring in 1999. In this photo, when he was 13 years old, he is seen waiting for bread in long lines along with other refugees expelled from their homes.
At the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, he has recreated his mother’s jeweled pendant, which she hid in a pit in the backyard to save it from the war. The hanger was the only memento that survived from the house. In the recreated work, the jewels were not shiny; Halilaj had filled them with the fragments of the house burned in the war.
In Mexico, at the Tamayo museum, where last week Halilaj opened the first personal exhibition in Latin America, entitled “Runic”, he recreates the structure of his family’s house in Kosovo today. Mexico, like most Latin American countries, does not recognize Kosovo’s citizenship and does not allow Kosovar citizens to travel to this country.
“These barriers, when we talked about personal freedom, the collective ones, are a part and are dealt with in the exhibition. This exhibition brings together for the first time more than 12 projects that I have worked on in recent years. In the architecture and the building of the Tamayo museum itself, I have decided to bring another building, which in this case comes from Kosovo, which is the structure of the house we built with my family after the war, the house we built in Pristina, but which is a structure and same plan of the house in Runik. Since the family members cannot come to Mexico, because Mexico does not recognize Kosovo, I have decided that the creatures and sculptures from all other projects will come to the museum. Most of them see each other for the first time. It was a very interesting experience for me.”
Among them, according to Halilaj, is a sculpture in the shape of a butterfly, the colors of which were made from the childhood home in Runik, which was burned during the war. The black dust of the butterfly installation is made from wood dust burned from the roof of the house, while the white dust is made from the stones of the walls.
But, alongside these traces of the painful past, Halilaj has created a parallel reality that challenges the often harsh reality of political developments and divisions that characterize the human experience today. In cooperation with the main airline company of Mexico, Aeromexico, he has transformed one of its Boeings into a chicken, which with the inscription “From Runiku with love” is walking freely, without political barriers or geographical borders, over the skies of the American continent.
Halilaj juxtaposes the experiences of different stages of his personal search in this extraordinary journey of recovery born from a deep personal and collective trauma, often forcing others and himself to try to enjoy the art of to lift his head up, to see the stars, to see the sky.
“From the beginning, my work has been connected with personal experiences and when I see these photographs from 1999, photographs that connect us all, because it is a collective memory of the war we went through, the difficulties we went through. I think that the war itself is part of a dream for a better life and that’s why I get excited every time I see it, every time I recall these moments. But there are also moments that created us and we are the ones who are thanking this joint journey. As an artist, they are part of the stories I want to tell. The exhibition at MET is another journey, which I am hoping and I am very happy that this project will come to America because I know that the Albanian community in America is also very large, but the United States itself is a very important actor in our historical journey.”
Petri Halilaj’s work will open to the public at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on April 29, 2024 and will remain open until October 27.