„Consciousness - past and present“
The artist Shqipe Kamberi in her exhibition “Consciousness – Past and Present” displays portraits of brides wearing traditional bridal outfits and in a symbolic way. Also displays brides covered in a light fabric.
While female torsos appear lightly dressed and allows the emphasis of the beauty of the female body, it’s sensuality and sexuality, or even the pride and glory of being a woman, the brides are presented with their eyes covered, leaving them looking emotionless and drowned in a fatal world of no return.
The customs and the rituals according to "The Code" of Leke Dugagjini, respectively the treatment of females in a married life according to the code, is put in context against the awareness of women today. The fact that even today we come across marriages in accordance with the code, stands against the contemporary emancipated women who decide on her own fate and make decision on their own free will.
The Bride in Albanian Tradition
In mountain lands in the northern Albania, residents were isolated from the rest of the world. It was precisely in these local geographic conditions, during the middle ages, that a customs law was born ("The Code"). However it is believed that it was used since the early Roman times. There are assumptions that the most known version of this law is "The Code of Lekë Dugagjini” compiled during the years of Leke Dukagjini’s life (1410-1481). Father Shtjefen Gjecovi compressed them into a written form during the years 1910-1925. Besides Albania, the usage of this code was distributed throughout all Albanian speaking lands, including Kosovo.
The works of Shqipe Kamberi, which are exhibited in the National Museum of Kosovo, expose a feminist character which shows a critical view of the treatment of Albanian women in the past, with a firm focus on male control and dominance within their marriages. The brides, in most cases, were dominated by the husband.
The presentation of the women with closed and covered eyes, lying on a white canvas background, covered with parts of traditional cloth, gives an impression of feelings of betrayal and loneliness, of being offended and unprotected, scared and submissive. The woman simply feels a person without identity (1).
This precise perception is felt when looking at the half sculptures under lighting which also increases their dramatic sense. The positioning in the middle of the canvas, with the symmetry being quite dominant, presents the brides as icons. The collection is substantial with fourteen art works from her collection "Bride" and one from the collection "Torso”.
The torso shown in this exhibition appears like the one the artist exhibited in Vienna in 2016, in the art gallery Lukas Feichtner, of which, the well known journalist Austrians Claudia Aigner
of the prestigious newspaper “Wiener Zeitung”, stated that it was an object “which has had enough with her role as a sexual object” (2). It is for this exact reason that it is considered that even though her bottom is shown very provocatively, almost near the viewers face, it appears that the message of the female is in contradiction saying: “There is nothing you can do to me.”
Besides the brides and torsos, in the exhibiting space, another work of art is displayed, which shows the bride’s dowry- a custom in the Albanian traditions of that time. The making of the dowry from the bride’s side, it is viewed as a very important specialty from the artist due to the intense time spend making it, and the time the bride spend with her mother that “educated” her while finishing this process. On the other hand, according to the artist, the mother advised her daughter to submit to “The Code” and her fate as a bride.
On top of the dowry, the artist places a cartridge (bullet), to symbolize what was written in “The Code” for the bride, if she didn’t submit to the rules. Therefore, article 20 of “The Code” is even spoken about the murder of the bride, if she doesn’t submit to her fate (3). If she didn’t do so, she could be murdered from her husband or his family, with the bullet placed on her dowry. In this case the bride’s blood is lost; there would be no blood revenge. This was a tradition that people used during those times, when murders would happen.
It should also be added that the artist Shqipe Kamberi sees marriage according to “The Code” as a very important stage in life. A woman from a position in her initial family custom, experiences a transformation - she becomes a bride, gets married, while being submissive to her husband and his family. This change in a female’s life becomes more difficult because her rights will be discriminated even more in the husband’s family. That’s why weddings were accompanied by the families cries for their daughter and the daughter’s cries for her family (a very common thing on today’s weddings as well). Back then, nothing would be the same once the girl became a bride.
The artist Shqipe Kamberi through her exhibition „Consciousness - past and present“, achieves to describe with compassion the fate of the brides, or the female’s back then, through a very symbolic language. With this exhibition she raises awareness to notice the places that still remain the same. Additionally, with her art she gives the public a choice to think how a woman aware of herself, should be in the present times.
Dr. Penesta Dika , Curator, Austria 2017
(1) Comparison Penesta Dika, “KosovArt”, Galerie Lukas Feichtner, 2016, page. 23.
(2) Claudia Aigner, “Wir sind dann mal da“, in: Wiener Zeitung, 23.02.2016.
(3) Comparison Code of Lekë Dukagjini, summarized by Father Shtjefën Gjecovi during 1910-1925, published in 1989.