The Kosovan painter capturing Yugoslavia’s socialist architecture beyond time and space

13 October 2020
Text: Seda Yıldız

Vigan Nimani began painting at the age of 13, producing copies of photographs from old family albums, entranced by their faded colours. Today, Nimani has turned his gaze on modern Kosovo through his unique method of painting. He takes photographs to transport onto canvas, or uses found imagery to source his paintings. But this time he is fascinated by architecture’s aesthetic beauty. Minimal lines, faded colours, cropped frames, and a dreamy atmosphere all build the aesthetic style of his paintings.

Most of the scenes depicted in Nimani’s paintings come from books published in Yugoslavia during the 70s or 80s, which portray the overwhelming architecture, landscape and nature of Balkans. Nimani first chooses a fragment from these photos and applies it to his canvas, playing with its scale.

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Alternatively, he travels through Kosovo to photograph modern architecture. “When I started photographing these buildings, I didn’t intend to create a documentation or an archive, I simply wanted to find source material to play with,” Nimani says. The artist also works with analogue camera, giving him the freedom to develop films and play with the colours of prints.

Also striking, however, is Nimani’s unusual preference for cropped compositions. The artist never portrays a full narrative; instead choosing a single detail with which to arouse the curiosity on the viewer. “It is important for me to paint architectural elements isolated from their habitat. I want to create timeless feeling through my paintings to offer viewers different flavours and moods. This is why I leave out symbols or time references from the original photos,” explains Nimani. It is this conscious choice which enables him to focus on the aesthetic value of these buildings, rather than historical or political references.

Nimani says his interest in modernist architecture or old photos doesn’t stem from nostalgia. Instead, he says, “I am interested in their aesthetic value the most, particularly fading colours.” This is part of what makes Nimani’s paintings liberating; they are not mere representation of the former Soviet bloc, but have rather timeless and placeless looks. Viewers can find an easiness in relating to them, despite their site-specifity. The artist’s minimal visual language, free of overabundant symbolism, also mediates the experience.

Now, however, Nimani’s work is taking on new meaning. After taking photographs for more than a decade, the artist ended up building an archive of hundreds of images which document Pristina’s rapidly changing appearance. His paintings also mirror the city’s urban transformation. “In the 70s and 80s Pristina was rebuilt, replacing traditional architecture with modernist buildings. Today, something similar is happening. Some of those buildings which I photographed don’t exist anymore. They are slowly disappearing and we are losing a part of our cultural heritage” says Nimani.

It is in this destruction that Nimani’s paintings become a form of artistic resistance. Through repetition of painting figures from the past the artist refuses to allow their disappearance from collective memory.

The shift has added a new dimension to Nimani’s work: after years of striving to place his paintings outside of time or place, they have now become an archive of a very specific era. Yet the artist welcomes these two realities which coexist in his paintings. “Today when I take photographs, I’m very aware of their documentary function. Gradually, it has become the main goal of my photographs. However, I never imagined the same for my paintings. Beyond my intention, this is left open for the viewer. Some get inspired from their technical pictorial aspects, some from apocalyptic, alienating atmosphere. For some, it raises attention toward socialist architecture and aesthetics of that time. And this is exactly what I wanted to achieve through my paintings — to not be explicit in any way.”

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