Abi Shehu: Saharaja / Voloshyn Gallery at Liste Art Fair Basel 2024

At Liste Art Fair Basel 2024, Voloshyn Gallery (Kyiv/Miami) presents works by the Albanian artist Abi Shehu. One of the works on display is a video installation that is titled “Saharaja”, after the poem of Vilson Blloshmi, a former prisoner of Spaç political prison in Albania. “Saharaja” was the cause of his arrest and later his execution. It shows fifteen animations on fifteen 15” tube old televisions sets, based on graffiti found within the prison’s ruins.

Abi Shehu: Saharaja / Voloshyn Gallery at Liste Art Fair Basel 2024. Basel (Switzerland), June 10, 2024.

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Official description (excerpt):

In another series, titled “Saharaja,” Shehu delves into the theme of collective amnesia, drawing inspiration from the forgotten history of the Spaç political prison in Albania. Through a video installation comprising stacked vintage television sets, each flickering with repetitive animations based on graffiti found within the prison’s ruins, Shehu sheds light on the enduring legacy of oppression and resistance. The animation is based on photographic images of graffiti (drawings, inscriptions, and signs) found on the walls of the ruins of the notorious former prison and labor camp Spaç (1968–1990). In poor physical condition due to insufficient conservation, the graffiti of the Spaç camp is presented as an almost archaeological object documented by photographs. They are indeed a valuable testament to the history of the buildings and the existence of the people who suffered in them. Although the graffiti seems to belong to the last years of the prison’s existence (1987–1990) and their origin cannot be formally confirmed, they manage to convey a kind of existential aura and introduce us to the psyche and imagination of the prisoners of this prison, known for its harsh conditions and extreme cruelty.

The aesthetics of this graffiti, in addition to the historical and anthropological value that the building of the former Spaç prison carries, do not stand apart from the aesthetics of public graffiti, which were common in the 1980s and 1990s in schools, dormitories, barracks, and factories, described by Foucault as corresponding to the regime of closed and organized environments (where prison is the most extreme environment) in the function of production. This environment evokes rejection, resistance, and avoidance. It is no coincidence that these images are mostly banal television stereotypes and revolve around sex, advertising, sports, foreign films, dangerous enemies of discipline, and the official ideology of the political regime. It is no coincidence that among the graffiti, one can see TV sets as the only windows from which Albanians of those years could reach them. That’s why Abi Shehu uses old TV sets — objects that Albanians cherished in the years we are talking about. These poignant visuals serve as a poignant reminder of the individuals who suffered within Spaç’s walls, their voices echoing through time via the medium of graffiti—a poignant blend of historical documentation and artistic expression.

About Abi Shehu

Abi Shehu (b. 1993, Lezha, Albania) is a multi-disciplinary visual artist whose artistic research can be described as an archeology of unconsciousness. Through a combination of visual and media art, from installation to sound art, she creates landscapes that embody the unrepresentable and unknowable dimensions of people, societies, places, and historical events. Shehu’s work has been exhibited at Voloshyn Gallery, Hauser and Wirth Menorca; Manifesta 14, Pristina; Zeta Gallery, Tirana; ‘In Waves,’ with Women in Covid, various locations; Bazament Art Space, Tirana; Galeria e Bregdetit, Vlora; EMOP, Berlin; Kino Rinia, Pristina; CLB, Berlin; and ArtHouse & Marubi Museum, Shkodra.

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