Artan Shabani, a prominent name in the international art world and director of the National Gallery of Arts in Albania, held a painting exhibition titled, ‘Reflections from Albania’ at the Museum of Modern Art on Gulf Street. The exhibition, which was organized by the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, from 11 to 17 January, as part of the Al-Qurain Festival 2015, was co-sponsored by the Embassy of Albania in Kuwait and Albanian National Gallery of Arts.
A versatile artist with a collection of brilliant, insightful works to his credit, Mr. Shabani, who is also the founder and head of the ‘La Promenade Art Gallery’ in his native Vlora, has had his paintings showcased in art-galleries around the world. When The Times Kuwait met Mr. Shabani, on the sidelines of the exhibition, he was displaying his prowess with the brush before an excited gathering of art-lovers. Following the live-demonstration, Mr. Shabani sat down for an exclusive interview with us, narrating his career as an artist and his short experience of cultural life in Kuwait.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in 1969 in Vlora, Albania, and left my homeland when I was young with very little understanding of the world that was waiting for me. My journey as an artist was full of great passion and dreams, and it was through extremely persistent work and new contacts that I succeeded. Wherever I was aboard, I carried the essence of my country’s existence on my shoulders, since my artistic soul belongs to my original Albanian. Essentially, I remained the kid who grew up by the sea in Vlora and along the steep lands of Laberira but, at the same time, since I lived in modern times, it was necessary for me to have a global way of thinking.
Who or what is the inspiration for your work?
Inspiration is where my energy comes from; I then channel this energy to realize a project. I find inspirations from daily life; I find it in memories of socio-cultural relations that act as a sort of filter to the past. I also find inspiration for my art in every aspect of human nature, from which I extract infinite images, thoughts and impressions. In everyday life, human nature is inspiring and has limitless potential. Another source of inspiration for my work is social tension that can lead to great moments in art. But the most important theme of my work is the relationship that exists between people.
What topics do you usually choose for your paintings?
One of the most important things I look at is human portraits, whether they are photographs or sculptures. I then try to express the internal conflicts in this person through my paintings. The idea of thinking of a topic is like asking yourself what will be the color of the rain when it pours from the sky, something abstract and undecided. You will never know until you receive the inspiration and decide to paint. An artist needs a strong psychological stimulus to express and my work is very much in touch with the psychological aspect of people and their numerous relationships. I involve a lot of semantics and symbols in my creative process that results in the type of artwork that you see in galleries.
Do your paintings reflect the culture and society of Albania?
Albania society it always evolving and changing like all the other societies. What I am doing in my work is documenting all the transformation of Albanian society. As an Albanian artist, I am part of that change and my art attempts to capture that metamorphosis in society. It tries to depict the changing values and is in perpetual transformations. It is an important part of my work to notice change and be an observer – a documenting artist.
I have always loved art in its entire dimension, as a style and a unique language. Today art can be defined as the communication between several different forms and disciplines. Now, with the passing years and more than 170 exhibitions under my belt, I can say that I just want to show my work to a wide audience in all countries across the world.
Tell us about the other exhibitions you were a part of, and of a memorable experience?
I would say that I have participated in numerous events and exhibitions in Athens, New York, Turin, Milan and other places. My career is built on the work I have done internationally and every day there are new things to learn. I am open-minded and believe in simplicity, and I have tried to stay abreast of the different systems of art. A memorable moment would be in 2004, when my painting of the ‘Mother Teresa’ was given to Pope John Paul II during a ceremony in Vatican City.
What technique do you use for your paintings?
I am a multimedia artist, I have created artworks using video, sculptures, photographs, assemblage and live performances. I have taken an idea and used different type of media to express myself and those works were featured in various galleries. For example, for the Paris exhibition is 2010, I utilized photographs and collages. In ‘The General of the Manufacture’, I presented a cycle of collages in which I dealt with both the history of collective memory and of my personal history. I have tried to translate the meaning of the questions that life has prompted me to ask myself through the art medium. However, the technique is not as important as the context from which the art is created and how it reflects my original conceptual idea.
What is your creative process?
I prepare myself by first analyzing the subject, studying the various facets and internalizing the subject. It is only after thoroughly exploring the theme and subject that I create the content.
What message do you aim to convey through your paintings?
The message I want to send through my paintings is that love is more important than hate. Through my work, I express all my emotions to the public and to those people who try to understand me and choose to listen to my words.
What is your outlook on life?
I view life with a positive attitude, especially now, at the highlight in my career, I am very optimistic and I channel that positive energy into my paintings and share it with other people.
Have you visited the artistic scene in Kuwait, and what is your opinion of it?
I like the work of Fatima Al Qadiri; she is a very good artist. I do like Kuwait, I am very happy with the opportunity to see this beautiful country, especially meet the people. I find the citizens to be wonderful, relaxed and friendly people. They have a venerable traditional culture and I hope the new generation will not lose this special facet of the country.