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Edi Rama: Lauded artist and "the next Balkan autocrat"

Edi Rama’s wallpaper at the Venice Biennial 2017. Via Exit.

One of the most unusual artists participating in this year’s Venice Biennale is painter Edi Rama, who also happens to be the prime minister of Albania. Government documents occasionally feature in his work, as in the drawing reproduced on the cover of an Italian newspaper below. But as Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei writes at the Albania-based news and culture website Exit, Rama’s enthusiastic supporters in the art world conveniently overlook his repressive policies in Albania. Here’s an excerpt:

It would seem to me that Albanian politics has already learned more than enough from art – that is, a very specific form of art: an art that, in the spirit of the recent Mediterranea Biennale openly claims to be apolitical, to be innocent display of frivolity and color, while at the same playing the role of the “avant-garde.” The avant-garde not of “democracy,” but of the wholesale evacuation of democratic values from the public sphere. As Rama stated in his recent promo video for the Venice Biennial: “In politics too, I am trying to paint a canvas. I visualize how I want our country to be, to feel, how I want it to change.” How Rama wants it, not his voters.

We are still waiting for the moment the international art press will shift its attention from Rama’s wallpaper and doodles to the actual “political canvas” this man has been painting in Albania, which has included landscapes of weed plantations, concrete-covered archeological treasures, natural reserves exploited by oligarchs for enormous profits, and a stunning portrait of a collapsing political system.

We are still waiting for the moment the international art press actually starts reading the documents that Rama purloins and pilfers to serve his egomania, and starts to ask some fundamental questions about how art and politics are actually related in the oeuvre of a man who is about to become the next Balkan autocrat.