"What I didn't know I knew" by Lala Meredith-Vula On View until June 6th in Prishtina

by Maya Hristova


Albanian art critic and curator, Edi Muka, has curated a solo exhibition featuring the talented artist Lala Meredith-Vula at the Gallery of the Ministry of Culture in Prishtina. Titled What I didn't know I knew, the exhibition showcases a contemporary sculptural installation of a haystack made by Kosova farmers; a large three screen film flow comprised of 150 images that was edited by Jim Boulton; and a special sound piece composed for the exhibition by Professor John Young. This solo exhibition follows Meredith-Vula’s and Muka’s previous collaborations including the 48th Venice Biennale back in 1999, where she presented her work as part of the Albanian Pavilion curated by Muka. The current show opened on the 6th of April, and is extremely popular with international as well as local audiences including prominent visitors such as Kosovan Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Hajrulla Çeku.

Lala Meredith-Vula was born in Sarajevo in 1966 to an Albanian father and English mother. However, she moved to England at an early age. It was in her early twenties, just days after graduating from Goldsmiths University in London and participating in Damien Hirst's famous exhibition Freeze in August of 1988, that she returned to the Balkans. Now, Lala Meredith-Vula is a professor of Art and Photography at De Montfort University and has been an educator for over 30 years. In 1995, she established the first photography department at the University of Tirana, followed by another one at Prishtina University in 2000. 

As you enter the current exhibition in Prishtina, the gallery's first space is dominated by a haystack made by Kosova farmers that appears to have been plucked straight out of one of Meredith-Vula's celebrated Haystacks (1989- ) series. In rural areas, these unsigned sculptures and ingenious structures have stood the test of time despite ethnic conflicts and economic instability. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, as the artist was touring the countryside alongside her Kosovan father, who was an architect with a passion for documenting tower like farmhouses called Kullas, she found herself fascinated by something seemingly mundane yet unexpectedly compelling: haystacks. This curious interest served as a gateway for engaging and thought-provoking conversations with those who tended the land — individuals who not only grappled with the aftermath of war and blood feuds, which Meredith-Vula covered in a separate series, but also battled against the pressures of economic hardship, which had become an increasingly pressing concern in recent times. This long-standing project, which began over 30 years ago and encompasses over 4000 individual images, methodically investigates the sculptural qualities of haystacks erected by farmers in Kosovo, providing a slow-burning commentary on how the landscape and haystack design itself have changed over the years.



From Haystacks (1989-ongoing), courtesy of the artist



Within this fluid narrative, personal accounts and accounts of historical significance coalesce. Projected photographic images seamlessly transition on three of the space's walls, creating the impression of a perpetual circular flow. Whilst embarking on the Haystack series, in 1990-91 Meredith-Vula had the chance of capturing the blood reconciliation movement in Kosovo, which eventually became her Blood Memory series. In traditional Albanian culture, Gjakmarrja or Hakmarrja, meaning "revenge" or "blood feud," was a social mandate to eradicate one's shame by exacting the life of the offender or their family. In the 1990s, former political prisoners and a group of students sparked a comprehensive reconciliation campaign to end the custom of blood feuds in Kosovo. On May 1st 1990, the campaign led by a folklore scholar Anton Çetta and documented by the artist, was attended by more than 100 000 people [1] and resulted in the largest reconciliation gathering up to date. By 1992, the initiative had successfully resolved 1,200 existing blood feuds, and by 1993, there was not a single blood feud-related homicide incident in Kosovo.


In 2017, Meredith-Vula made headlines for her participation in documenta 14. The festival, curated by Polish art critic and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam curator at large Adam Szymczyk, stirred up controversy for being held in two cities: Kassel and Athens [2]. In accordance with the unique setting, the artist showcased two distinct works at the two separate locations. At Kassel's Palais Bellevue, she exhibited thirty-eight pieces from Haystacks. Meanwhile, she crafted an installation of Blood Memory for Athens' National Museum of Contemporary Art, (EMST) featuring 14 metre long, inkjet prints on latex wallpaper from scanned gelatin silver negatives. These experiences, along with her rural upbringing in Kosovo, prompted Meredith-Vula to question the nature of art and its place in different contexts.


“Having studied art for many years and visited many galleries throughout the world, I soon found that the context of a work of art played a major part on where it is placed. For all my research, it was my returning home that helped me discover the real significance of my search. It was in the fields of my former home town that I witnessed a way of life as old as the land itself where farmers went about their business, everything had its place. Within all this, I saw that somehow the farmers were unconsciously creating strange sculptures that had the presence of modern sculptural pieces. Here part of my search was over. I had found the meeting place between my new world of art, being an artist, and my past, in the landscape of Kosovo.”


Additionally, a substantial artist book has been produced to accompany the exhibition, which was created by Studio Permanent in Kosovo and features an essay by Edi Muka. In his essay, Muka draws comparisons between the work of Lala Meredith-Vula and the Aboriginal songlines of Australia, which emphasize the importance of listening to the land. Unlike a traditional exhibition catalog, the artist book showcases blown-up details of small sections from larger photographs, revealing hidden stories reminiscent of the technique used in Antonioni's film Blow-Up.



From Blood Memory (1990-91), courtesy of the artist



Meredith-Vula’s artwork, as currently showcased in the exhibition at the Gallery of the Ministry of Culture, portrays her distinct method of capturing the environment and culture of Kosovo, while also being assimilated into the socio-political context of the region. The incorporation of past and present images, displaying the advancement and fortitude of the local people, conveys a powerful message through collective experiences and memories. Through this exhibition, we gain insight into the emotional and thought-provoking journey of Meredith-Vula's artistic career, as it displays some of her most extraordinary works, providing a comprehensive understanding of her art and its significance, within Kosovo and beyond.



[1] Marsavelski, Aleksandar; Sheremeti, Furtuna; Braithwaite, John (2018). "Did Nonviolent Resistance Fail in Kosovo?" (PDF). The British Journal of Criminology. 58: 218–236. doi:10.1093/bjc/azx002.

[2] Donadio, Rachel. "German Art Exhibition Documenta Expands into Athens." The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/arts/design/documenta-german-exhibition-greek-crisis.html



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