Petrit Halilaj (b. 1986) is an artist whose work is concerned with tracing history and biography. The artist quotes images of his personal recollections and draws on them in his work, translating them into the changed reality of the present day and, with it, into a new context and a new ‘guise’ – which often involves considerable magnification. Halilaj pursues this investigation of the past not just on his own behalf. In many of his installations he reviews and dramatises his own biography, which has been profoundly marked by the Kosovo War (1998– 1999), turning it into a universal example for the quest for identity, for keeping memory alive and for a closer examination of the idea of home – especially in the ever-recurring story of its loss. His installations are carefully conceived, precise narratives that touch the viewer without being nostalgic or mawkishly
The artist tends to use simple materials such as earth, straw, wood, concrete, stones or the rubble of his destroyed family home. But he also draws on archival material from the defunct Natural History Museum in Pristina, Kosovo (1956– 2001), which he has managed to locate and secure. Partly revised and
recontextualised for the exhibition, it gives expression to the artist’s sustained engagement with memory and history and presents the museum as the
repository of the (natural) history of a country, its population and its culture.
Petrit Halilaj has investigated the history of the collection of the Natural History Museum which had to make way for the displays of the Ethnographic Museum of Kosovo. Having tracked down the stuffed animals and other specimens – most of them ruined by years of wilful neglect and damp – in the stores of the Kosovo Museum in Pristina, he has single-mindedly applied himself to the task of ensuring their safety and conservation.
Halilaj’s concerted effort to record and preserve the past for the present deserves great credit, and while the achievement is all his, the Art and Exhibition Hall shares and supports his concern.