Culture

The art of Petri Halilaj flies for freedom in the sky of two continents

Descriptive Text

A "Boing 737" of "AeroMéxico" of Mexico is already dressed with the work of Petri Halilaj and flies in the sky of two continents. "Nga Runiku me dashni", is the message left by the world-renowned artist. "It is a work that transcends cultural, political and border difficulties and flies to all these free countries and deals with the topics that I deal with in the personal exhibition at the Museum", he told KOĖN, referring to the "Runic" exhibition opened in Mexico City. The Metropolitan Museum of New York is the next destination for Halilaj's works

Petri Halilaj's chickens from Runiku have long been on their way to the world. They have also gone across the ocean. They have revealed stories and conveyed messages. But now, one of them will not stop flying in American skies.

It is a chicken whose illustration is wearing a Boeing 737 of AeroMéxico, the Mexican airline company. He carries with him the message: "You love me from Runiku!" If Halilaj's connection with the illustrations like the one on the plane is broken down a little, a village of Skenderaj, its burning in 1999, the war in Kosovo and even the dreams of freedom of a teenager who was a refugee immediately come to light. The story unfolds even more in the space that the contemporary art museum "Tamayo" in Mexico City has reserved for Halilaj for his personal exhibition, "Runiku", which opened last week.

The institution - one of the most important of contemporary art in Latin America - under the curation of José Esparza Chong Cuy, until April of the coming year has opened a nest for Halilaj's birds along with his other works. The space has been transformed into an exhibition hall where visitors become part of a journey that originates from the youngest country in Europe.

For the Museum, the works elaborate challenging notions of nationality, place and belonging. "Runik" - which is also Halilaj's first personal exhibition in Latin America, touches on different topics.

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If Petri Halilaj's connection with the illustrations like the one on the plane is broken down a little, a village of Skenderaj, its burning in 1999, the war in Kosovo and even the dreams of freedom of a teenager who was a refugee immediately come to light (Photo: David Cruz Puebla and José Enrique González)

An active voice of Kosovo in the world

"For Halilaj, art was not only the means through which he traveled and learned about the world, but also a medium through which he could express and explore complicated emotions about the history of his homeland", is the description given by the Museum to the works of the Kosovar artist. According to this institution, over the years Halilaj's work has turned into a strong political agency in the new state of Kosovo, "where he has become an active spokesperson for culture".

"While he now lives in Berlin, the artist maintains strong roots in Kosovo and close ties with Italy. Like his imagined creatures, Halilaj has learned to make a home wherever he feels a connection", is the description given by the Museum to Halilaj's profile.

The teenage refugee of 1999, some 10 years ago, when he was quite a name in contemporary art, had mercy on Mexico.

"My request was rejected by the Embassy of Mexico on the grounds that Kosovo is not recognized as a state", he confessed to TIME. Now Halilaj - an indisputable name in the world of contemporary art - has not only gone to Mexico. He has published works not only for those who teach the museum "Tamayo" founded here 42 years ago. "You love me from Runiku!" there will be audiences in the airports of both continents. Just as the name of the author and the Museum will fly with it. Halilaj has shown with great excitement that the opportunity he has been given to transform the plane is something amazing.

The work that comes from the sketch as a refugee in 1999

"The work that flies is a chicken whose wings join the plane and it is a work that beyond cultural, political difficulties and borders flies to all these free places and deals with the themes that I deal with in the personal exhibition at the Museum". he showed. He said that this work comes from a drawing on a small sheet of paper and is related to the birds and the drawings of the places he dreamed of seeing when he was in the refugee camp in Albania in 1999. As now, even then as a 13-year-old was taken with poultry. It would catch the attention of the BBC and the works would be the reason for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to stop by his family's tent. Halilaj's works, at that time in cardboard boxes of aid packages, were a child's achievement in the world of art and at the same time presented scenes of burnt houses in his village.

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"Runic", is the title of Petri Halilaj's exhibition opened at the contemporary art museum "Tamayo" in Mexico City (Photo: David Cruz Puebla)

Spring at the Metropolitan Museum of New York

The birds of that time have already taken over the world. From Mexico in April next year, when the exhibition closes, some of them will stop at the prestigious institution of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Halilaj will transform the roof terrace of the Museum founded in 1870. The MET has revealed that Halilaj has been commissioned to create a specific installation for the roof terrace garden. According to the Museum, it is a large sculptural installation.

"Halilaj's work is deeply connected with the recent history of his native country - Kosovo - and with the consequences of cultural and political tensions in the region. After a formative period in Italy, where he studied art at the 'Accademia di Brera' in Milan, he moved to Berlin in 2008, where he still lives and works. His projects include a variety of media, such as sculpture, drawing, poetry and performance," reads the MET announcement. Halilaj has described this as a big news, which he cannot talk about in detail.

"In April next year I will have my first presentation at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, which will be on the roof terrace of the Museum. This is very important as we know the importance of this institution and this city for us", he said.

All these projects are something expected for Halilaj. In March of this year, the Academy of Arts in Berlin, which is a point of reference in terms of artistic institutes in Europe with a 327-year tradition, awarded the Prize for Visual Arts to Halilaj. Based on his creativity, the jury has assessed that this year he should be the laureate of this prestigious award as an artist who constantly researches the personal and collective past, raising politically based questions that explore the interrelationship between reality and fiction.

And in August, another academy honored the artist born in 1986 in Runik of Skenderaj. The Academy of World Art in Köln, Germany had chosen Halilaj to be its member.

According to the Academy, whose members include global figures of art and culture, Halilaj's projects are rooted in his biography and span a variety of media, touching on sculpture, drawing, text and performance. "Often incorporating materials from Kosovo and appearing as ambitious spatial installations, his work transforms personal relationships, places and people into sculptural forms", it is written in the presentation given to Halilaj by the Academy. His sculptures always have roots in his homeland.

The works of this artist, who represented Kosovo in its debut at the Venice International Biennale in 2013, are always connected to the birthplace. Experiences of war and the need for another reality - that of freedom - take the world to the other side.