Llambi Blido

Llambi Blido, At the Command Desk, 1971, oil on canvas, Collection National Gallery of Arts, Tirana, installation view, EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

At the beginning of the 1970s, the communist politburo in Albania decided to kick off a new campaign. Its focus was to be Emancipimi I Gruas (the so-called “Emancipation of Women”). The experience of the previous decade—during which female workers contributed unskilled labor at urban and rural work sites—had shown that women could constitute fifty percent of the work force in the country, and the communist government needed all the able bodies they could muster to meet the need for increasingly specialized labor. To reach this goal, they first had to change the status of women—bring them out of the kitchens and obscure corners of society where the hierarchy of traditional Albanian family had relegated them—include them in social life, and educate and train them for the many jobs and positions that the construction of the new society required. As with all other such campaigns, the entire communication and propaganda machinery of the party was put in motion. The campaign also coincided with a short period of a loosening of the party’s hard grip on cultural life, which lasted between 1970–­73. Everything from fashion to hair cuts (otherwise strictly controlled and kept uniform), music, theater, literature, and visual arts experienced a moment of altered states. However by 1974, the nomenklatura clamped down harshly on everyone, executing senior officials and shipping many artists, writers, and musicians off to jail or labor and re-education camps.

Born in 1939 in Strumë, artist Llambi Blido’s painting At the Command Desk, (1971) belongs to a number of works that appeared at this intersection in time. What is immediately striking about the painting is that it is unusually flat and linear, without volumes or lyrical brush strokes (signatures of the art of the time). The artist had spent nearly ten years working as illustrator for children’s and youth magazines, and the influence of figurative graphic design clearly shows. The piece is also reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s works, although no information on modern art after French Impressionism was accessible in Albania. Blido deliberately distorts perspective to convey a message about the raging battle between the new and the old. He foregrounds the text of the slogan on the right and uses fragments of words rather than painting full sentences. Clearly legible are: Partia (the Party); Kanunit (the Kanun, an archaic law of early medieval Albania that defined relations within family and society, in which women are considered mere property of their male spouses) painted in reverse perspective as if in retreat; Emancip(ation); and Gruas (of the Woman).

As the title suggests, the central figure is depicted in total control of the situation, though her self-assurance is highlighted in untypical fashion: her gaze is cast to the side, ignoring the viewer. Indeed, her full focus seems to be fixed on some invisible effect of the action she’s performing. The mechanical levers she’s twisting resemble phallic forms, adding more purpose to her intentionality, directly challenging conventions of masculinity. This is the only time when such innuendos—conscious or unconscious on the part of their makers—appear in several artworks, films, and theater plays of Albanian socialist realism. Although the character takes center stage and, contrary to dogma Blido preserves her femininity, she’s painted in airy and faint tones, almost disappearing. Thus, the hierarchical order of the conditional relation and interdependence between the text, the character’s status, and her gestures is unequivocally established in the composition.

—Edi Muka

Posted in Public Exhibition