Edi Hila’s pictures of the past thirty years bear witness to the wrenching changes that societies in post-communist Europe have been going through. More particularly, they explore the history of Albania.
The artist’s career has taken a highly unusual course shaped by political upheavals and ideologies. His painting Planting Trees (1972), an optimistic depiction of workers in a forestation program, was found in violation of the prescribed aesthetic of socialist realism for its expressionistic style. The young artist was barred from painting and sentenced to reeducation through forced labor. With his creative development brought to a sudden halt, he focused on drawing for many years, secretly capturing his immediate surroundings and the toil of the working class.
Unlike his many compatriots who left the country after the collapse of the communist regime—numerous pictures illuminate their hasty departure and the life of Albanians in the diaspora—Hila did not emigrate, choosing to stay as an acute observer of everyday life and its changes. Pictures of squares and boulevards devoid of people often offer indirect clues to Albania’s development by tracing its impact on architecture and urban planning. The Penthouses cycle shows the grotesque loft conversions that are fashionable among the newly wealthy winners of the abrupt switch from one economic system to another. In a new series titled 1944, Hila recalls the early days of the communist dictatorship: interiors of abandoned homes refer to the forced displacement of entire families and the deportation of victims of political persecution to labor camps. The works exemplify Hila’s gift for translating humanity’s fateful entanglements, as in political systems, into a visual idiom that is both symbolic and movingly poetic.