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A project of the Contemporary Art Institute, EXIT, Peja, in cooperation with the Laboratory for Visual Arts and the Center for Humanistic Studies Gani Bobi, Kosovo
Missing Identity queries the attempts to establish a unified national identity and propagates the protection of difference. The project seeks to create an artistic reality of what is experienced as absent in Kosovo: cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity. Through art projects, educational work and the production of the art supplement ARTA for the weekly newspaper JAVA, the project is realizing an alternative public sphere and actively engaging for an open society.

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The extent to which identity politics is such a formidable force in the contemporary world cannot be overestimated, especially in the Balkan region, where after the collapse of communism and the bloody decline of the former Yugoslav Federation, all the member republics and ethnicities decided to express their identities with violence and destruction instead of negotiating them through discourse. Indeed, in its attempt to overcome particular national identities, the Communist Party of former Yugoslavia did manage to reach a certain level of “brotherhood and unity.” The Party promoted it as a general cohesive principle rather than one based on ethnicity. However, this attempt to forcefully impose a new Yugoslav identity “from above” has failed. This “Yugoslavism” was neither able to replace ethnic identities, nor to create a melting pot of identities, so as to produce the needed balance between ethnic and cultural traditions on the one hand and loyalty to “Yugoslavism” on the other. Misconceptions and misinterpretations of identity and identity politics in fact made it possible for the wars to happen among those republics and ethnicities. A drastic switch from ‘brotherhoodness’ as a principle to a supreme “ethnicity,” ethnocentrism as an overall concept took place. That is to say, it was assumed, or taken for granted that in this part of the world, culture and ethnicity or even culture and nationhood (or statehood) overlapped. Today the situation is different. Since the NATO intervention, Kosovo has been a United Nations protectorate. It must now seize with both hands the opportunity to rethink and re-conceptualize the general notion of identity and the prevailing identity politics in particular. Kosovo must work on distinguishing between culture and ethnicity, and most importantly, preserving this difference. With a joint effort, there is the opportunity to mould a common European identity; that is, to switch from an ethnocentric, monolithic, monolingual society towards a multilingual and multicultural society.
Proposing alternatives to a missing future
What is still “missing” nowadays in Kosovo though is the idea of Europe as a supranational structure that supports and sustains a wide range of different identities and cultures in Europe. There is a popular saying in Kosovo that “what is missing doesn’t hurt.” It is here that a crucial point must be made. The “Missing Identity” project envisions to shape the virtual/artistic reality of that “which hurts” – because it is missing. To put it simply, the goal is to create that missing world of cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity. It is a project that proposes alternatives to a missing future – “to make it hurt”! Our project is essentially based on three modules. First, we stage regular exhibitions and art projects, which are on show mainly in the recently opened gallery “Exit” in Peja. For example, the artists Maja Bajevic and Emanuel Licha curated an exhibition entitled “Honeymoon in Kosova.” With the exhibition “Merry Ramadan,” Erzen Shkololli and Sokol Beqiri provided insight into the current art scene and not just in Kosovo; works by Maja Bajevic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Sener Ozmen (Turkey) and Stefano Romano (Italy) were on view. Most recently, the German curator Inke Arns organized an exhibition entitled “Where Am I (and Who Are All These People)?” where works by Nina Fischer, Maroan el Sani, Christoph Keller, Daniel Pflumm and Heidi Specker were on show. The second, and decisive, module is educational work. Seminars and workshops are continually being held on topics dealing with contemporary culture and visual arts. No fees are charged for taking part and all students may apply. In this way, an intellectually stimulating environment of creativity and innovation is to be created for as many (young) people as possible. During the last two years of the project, courses on contemporary visual arts and culture were organized, each of which lasted for four months. There were four courses per year. The last workshop focused on the alternative art and culture scene in Berlin, with special consideration being given to the historical context since 1989. The workshop was conducted by Inke Arns and Claudia Wahjodi. Every month we produce, under the direction of Shkëlzen Maliqi and together with course students, a supplement to the weekly newspaper “Java.” Titled “Arta”, this supplement follows developments in the visual arts primarily from the Balkans, but also from other parts of Europe. An essay in English by a guest author is presented on the last page of every issue.

Mehmet Behluli