The National Gallery of Arts hosted the exhibition “Kolë Idromeno in retrospective” on 27th of June – 8th of September 2019, curated by Erzen Shkololli in collaboration with the exhibition’s advisors: Eleni Laperi, Zef Paci and Afërdita Onuzi. Bringing an artist of Kolë Idromeno’s scale was a great opportunity to see, review and closely observe the splendor of the first realist Albanian painter. He was an artist of many genres (a part of his photographic creations are included in the exhibition), but it was his flair and passion for painting that gave him the name of the founder of the 19th-20th century Albanian realist painting school.
The strong connection to folk heritage constitutes one of the main pillars of his creativity. It is especially reflected in the artist’s representative work, “Motra Tone”. Defined as the first secular work and as the first portrait in traditional costume, it primarily contains ethnographic values. Unlike other portraits, Antonia does not interact directly with the viewer. It seems as though she deserves and only expects to be admired, in all her youthful and feminine charm; artistic, obviously!
The whole character portrayal, the temptation for self-reflection even Idromeno could not escape from; in essence, as an attempt to know and accept oneself. The self-portrait at the entrance of the exhibition, although stately, although on the verge of death (or even more so for that matter), seems to be in possession of everything, but its gaze investigates with some kind of fear, is it not so? It seems like some kind of opposition emanates from this self-portrait: the fear of “darkness” and the superiority over it. Despite the deep scars on the face – traces of time – other features show that protection is always needed, unto the end. His portrait, not hasty at all, emerges from the darkness with the human fear that he may sink there again from moment to moment. After all the life’s battles, this picture seems to reveal the final confrontation, that of oneself before God. The burden of time weighs every brushstroke and sharp features, any lines around the eyes, wrinkling between them or raising an eyebrow proves, if not a tendency to inquire, a suspicion somewhere deep. However, there is still life because there is still fear; there is still strength, but no more illusions.
The portrait of his spouse comes with more light, more colors, but the pain that comes across is the same, a pain which, unlike the self-portrait, is not philosophical and harsh, but human and sad. If this is the first and last portrait of her by the author – her spouse, then this portrait, under the cloak of the folk dress as well, most of all reflects gratitude towards her.
“Dasma shkodrane” and “Kur hyn dreqi në shtëpi” are two paintings standing in front of each other within the gallery space, and also as far as their content is concerned. On the one hand there is the reflection of the joy of life, the vividness and gaiety of colors and shapes, the vivid evidence of the exquisite aesthetic and artistic taste of ethnographic heritage, so elaborately crafted over the centuries, to arrive at such a magical subject matter. On the other hand, opposite its joy, standing are people, angels and devils. All have gathered and the “final trial” is under way. There are the terrified family members, the sinner in chains, the devils with their many shapes, death with its scythe, and God’s representatives in Heaven and Earth. If in “Dasma shkodrane” human happiness seeks the natural space as its background, in the painting “Kur hyn dreqi në shtëpi” the space is situated indoors, crowded with figures and extremely overwhelming for the anxiety it causes.
The sinner is portrayed terrified, but not surprised. Surrounded by his mother’s despair (perhaps), the amazement of his wife and child, the besmirched cheerfulness of devils, the priest’s prayer, and the peaceful angelic goodness, whose wings also hang over the scythe of death. All the devils are mentioning a debt, while death is faithfully following the clock. This tableau has everything: the past, present and future. There is very little light in it. A little piece of heaven appears through the open door … Thus, the biblical retribution of human sin and family experience intertwine, including us in the mystical vortex and pushing us to become part of psycho-moral self-examination.
The end of the closed journey: “self – interaction – sin or not – return to self” is defined in the tableau “Dy rrugët”, in which the good and the bad, the heavenly and the underground, the exaltation and the hardship walk together. All this ethnographic biblical experience speaks Albanian. Nature and folk costumes, the constant movement in the tableau breathes Albanian, but as for the human essence, the tableau is so timeless, inclusive and unrepeatable (unique) at the same time. On a closer look, the tableau invites us to rethink temptations, traps, seductions, moral contempt, but also resistance, courage towards self-cleansing for the ultimate reward. Everything earthly, tangible or eternal after this contemplation is but a bridge of passage; the end of our destination depends only on us. The exhibition draws a wide variety of social strata, human ages, youth experiences, loss of morals and exaltation’s too. An ensemble of portraits, a diverse human gallery with penetrating insights (through paintings and photographs), invites the viewer into the psychological and sensory labyrinths. This dominates the first part of the exhibition, to slowly leave the place for the common journey towards the end of earthly life and beyond.
* Nikollë (Kolë) Idromeno was born on 15th of August 1860 in Shkodra and passed away on 12th of December 1939. He is one of the founders of realistic architecture, painting and sculpture, as well as Albanian photography, leaving us a valuable heritage. His works have been exhibited at the first national exhibition in Tirana in 1931, an exhibition organized by the Friends of Art Association, as well as at international exhibitions in Budapest (1898), Rome (1925, 1936), and Bari (1925). 1931) and in New York (1939)
* Erzen Shkololli, born in Peja in 1976, is an Albanian artist and curator, co-founder of the EXIT Institute of Contemporary Art in Peja. He is one of the most prominent Kosovan names in the international visual arts arena. He has been the director of the National Gallery of Kosovo from 2011 to 2015. Erzen Shkololli was appointed director of the National Gallery of Arts in Albania in January 2018.