I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Alban Nimani until about a month ago. It was a Friday night, and I was starting to get worried about my upcoming trip to the Balkans. I didn’t have a single person to meet – not one contact, not one email address, not one appointment for a meeting. So I did what any researcher would do at that point – I asked the Internet. In Googling “performance art in Kosovo,” I came across Alban’s webpage, along with some articles about his recent stay in the US, in Arizona, as part of the Junior Faculty Development Program. I wrote to Alban, told him I was interested in performance art in Kosovo, and asked him if he would be willing to meet when I was there. He responded right away, positively, and I immediately began to feel more confident about my upcoming trip to the Balkans.
This anecdote seems to me to describe the way that Alban works. He is full of energy, ideas, and he doesn’t hesitate, taking advantage of each opportunity as it comes. Alban is a multi-media artist. You can see one of his pieces, E Bardhë, on his website. It combines design, music, dance and light sculptures to create a multi-sensory space and experience (the artist himself describes it as “architecture”). Prior to this, Alban had been part of Asgjë Sikur Dielli (Nothing Like the Sun), a well-known Kosovan alternative rock band.
Despite these musical leanings, Alban comes from a very traditional visual arts background; his father was an artist who founded the graphic design department at the University of Prishtina. Later, he was the director of the National Gallery, so young Alban grew up surrounded by art.
In addition to being an artist, Alban is a teacher, and this is perhaps one of the most significant roles he can play in Kosovo these days. If contemporary art and new media are to grow, then the country needs new, young and innovative lecturers who can inspire their students with new ideas. Alban Nimani is just that person.
He told me about some of the projects that he has done with his students in the Graphic Design Department at the University of Prishtina. For example, in one group project, the students organized a concert of local bands and promoted it using radio and TV advertisements. They raised about 1,000 Euros, and used to it renovate a retirement home. The students came up with the idea, and implemented it themselves. They have also worked with children’s theater, handicapped children, and an NGO for women. These types of socially engaged projects reminded me of the work of Pawel Althamer, a contemporary Polish artist who works with various social groups and creates participatory artworks in which the viewer also becomes creator, along with the artist.
Another project that sought to (and succeeded in) engaging the viewer was Alban’s “Last Fridays,” or E Premtja e Fundit, which was based on the First Fridays that he had witnessed in Arizona. Both events were outdoor arts and cultural festivals featuring a carnivalesque atmosphere – outdoor painting, installations, performances, music and food were all on the event list. One of the Last Fridays also featured a tunnel on the main square of Prishtina, and a tree of wishes, where people could write about their hopes and dreams. While people in Prishtina may not be used to having outdoor exhibitions, Alban said that the events they hosted so far were well attended, with visitors really getting into the spirit once they were there.
Alban has recently redesigned the curriculum in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Prishtina, to include more instruction in new media and even contemporary art history. His own artistic projects serve as a model to his students, and represent the creative spirit that is alive and well in this “Newborn” nation of Kosovo.