THE RITUAL

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I have the impression that during my student years, “the Albanian proletarian dictatorship” shone on our planet along with “the sin.” The masses led by the party-state and the dictator sinned every day, from morning to evening, against religion, property, citizenship and human rights. Sin became even more diverse, because another group sinned in the meantime against the dictator himself, against the party-state and “the revolutionary people.” This group was regarded as a “minority” and these persons were severely punished, anytime the sin was committed overtly and constituted a risk to the state. The third group comprised “the privileged sinners,” members of families in power, towards whom the state turned a blind eye for as long as the sin was regarded as tolerable and did not endanger the system. Favored by the temporary tolerance, I was part of the third group, thus sinning easily by attending forbidden art, books, music or any other banned phenomenon… Amidst the impressive events of that time, I can single out the words of my father, as his tolerance and power were coming to the end. A short while before his punishment by “the Close Friends of the Dictatorship,” he visited the atelier of my “infamous” art and gave me his last paternal advice: “Make your own judgment as you wish, but your rituals do not fit with the environment you live in.” I had heard and read about the role of arts as “sinful rituals” in specific historical situations, but that was about it. For the first time on that remarkable day, the concerned parental look awoke in me the sinful pleasure of the artist who can have an impact…

Ritual develops and co-exists with the fight for survival, and therefore it is older than the mankind. Humans transform ritual fundamentally through symbolic values generated by their world of Ideas, Forms and Art. “The rite of passage,” “the rite of adoration” and “the rite of personal devotion” are the main categories in which human rituals have been articulated throughout history. By including the religious rituals that are based on the epochal traditions of faith, the first two categories serve spiritual needs in group performance. Religious obligation, acceptance into social structures, display of respect, conviction or mass subjugation are all spiritual needs, inseparable from the performance of the group.

The community factor is essential in human history, but the soul is not a collective entity and if the latter has essential links to the Divine Principle, then the link between the spiritual world and art relies in essence on the Divine Principle. Freedom of performance, as an exclusivity of the “personal devotion” rituals, is the common element which brings art and ritual together. If we were to eliminate freedom and individuality of performance, at that moment we would also annihilate art. Many instances of that kind are encountered in the world history, but one thing is sure: even the most monstrous dictatorships cannot completely and rigorously accomplish such annihilation.

Socialist Realism transformed the images of “community,” “the masses” and “popular heroism” into ghosts that would abuse to the extreme the spirit of the artist, his individuality and the freedom of art. Totalitarian management of communist ideology could not operate differently.

***

The distinguished painters of Albanian socialist realism were awarded titles of “Meritorious Painter” and “People’s Painter.” Fatmir Haxhia was one among the best. During my school years, I was advised to visit Haxhia’s atelier to see how the “People’s Painter” worked. As an event that would not be repeated twice, that visit has been preserved intact in my memories. The visit occurred as Haxhia was finishing “Tenda e Qypit”, a painting of large dimensions which paid homage to the heroic partisan war. The partisan figures dominated over the enemy through their heroic attitude, harsh gaze and powerful limbs. The figure of the bugler exceeded any limits of my expectation up to that moment: this powerful fighter was blowing the clarion bugle while pressing tight on the bleeding vein of his wounded neck with the other hand. I wandered through the atelier for a while, looking in astonishment both at the paintings and at the painter, who looked strait back at me with the same astonishment. The creator of “Tenda e Qypit” communicated with his creation, went in and out of it, staring at it, imagining and drawing only heroes. In Haxhia’s studio, at those special moments, I felt like a member of a foreign species who should have left and never come back again… Now that I think of that visit from an adequate space of time, I am convinced that Haxhia’s state was a real “battle trance,” an altered state of consciousness where individual identity includes or disappears in front of the collective one. It was the aphobia (Aphobia – term coined by Joseph Jordania, who suggested that in human evolutionary history, reaching a specific state of “collective identity” or “battle trance” was crucial for the survival of early humans.) of sublime performance, which can overcome every artist at particular moments. I call it “aphobia that can overcome every artist” because in particular situations, through the personal ritual of devotion, each of us can generate a “battle trance,” a sublime force that annihilates the borders between the real and what is simulated, between the Earth and the Sky. In other words, That is Art.

Inter-subjectivity, inter-fantasy and the emotional representations that involve implicit memory, inevitably arise between artists and the ideological environment of every historical period. However, precisely because they are not conscious processes, the esthetic assimilations that form the artist cannot be the hostage of what is transitory. Buza, Madhi, Haxhia, as well as all the other soc-realist painters, never managed to be exclusively soc-realists. When it comes to creation, art is the most sublime ritual, and there is no Socratic cave (The term, which is also known as the “Allegory of the Cave”, “Plato’s Cave” or the “Parable of the Cave”, is an allegory used by Plato in his work “The Republic”.) or dictator’s cell that can isolate it completely from the human immanence, from itself, from the Universe.

Albanian socialist realism lavished praise on the dictator and the “revolutionary people” over the 45 years of the sickest dictatorship in the Ballkans. World experience has shown that the soc-realist art was the distorted mask of communities that were ill. The Albanian community would recover from the wounds of half a century of dictatorship through the installation of democracy, a very complicated process for the imagination of initial enthusiasm. The recovery of a community goes through the recovery of the individuals that constitute it.

The interest of the western art-lover in the distorted works of soc-realism is by no means an accidental caprice. The question arises: what hides in the essence of this work that would interest the western art-lover so much and the Albanian one even more? The destruction of art, freedom and the individuality of performance in the original Albanian version and the sadistic-dictatorial element that conquers the human soul in particular historic situations – this is what is special and what is general about this work. Unfortunately and fortunately at the same time, the autobiographical memories are decisive for the mental health of human beings. The stains of despotism hide ineradicable memories through the 5000 years of the history of world civilization: If today’s art-loving citizen is seriously interested in the memories of our human history, then there is hope, there is hope for a true modern “Axis Mundi,” for a visionary who continues to search for himself and the Universe with all the energies, forms and rituals of Beauty.

***

No defined limits exist for the forms and means of a ritual. The general image would refer to a long series of component elements: special music or sounds, a mantra, the manipulation of objects, a tattoo, a particular milieu, drinks, clothing, dance, diverse symbolic acts, sacrifices of any form and kind… But what is the truth about the ritual? The majority of researchers converge on the idea of “group identity,” which according to them means that the ritual reinforces the sense of the identity of the group. Among the typical examples that support this idea about ritual, I would select the “concert,” the most ordinary and miraculous mass artistic event. Statistics on the real percentage of applause would be ridiculous in this world of mass tendencies, illusions and falsities. For the most part, the event serves the identity of the group, as the performance is applauded mostly for the sake of the concert. “The suggestive mass ovation” is often frightening, but not to be disregarded, if we respect the invisible investment of the community in shaping individual tastes. If it were possible, each of us would know exactly at which place, at what time and in what way it was invested for his individual taste; but are there sufficient statistics, memories or knowledge to identify this investment, which is created gradually and over a long period of time from the entirety of our space-time dimension, from the History of the World?

In the final analysis, it is the unknown world which comes to our rescue with the realities of the Form, symbol and art, in which individual identity feels especially strong. It is the unknown that incites us to attend mass concerts, to enjoy ourselves in community, to applaud or quietly to meditate on the original image of the mass event, on the suggestive ovation, on Durkheim’s “effervescence” (The French sociologist David Emile Durkheim is considered as “the father of sociology”.) and totemism… Through our image we see the strength of the united clan which works wonders in the fight for survival; we see the member of clan who feels a part of it and who searches within himself for the entirety of this force that is to be adored; we see ourselves continuing on the same path between the possible and the impossible. The “effervescence of the group” in the ritualistic ceremonies continues to remind us of the sacred strength of clan which was conveyed symbolically through the adored “churinga” (“Tjurunga” or “Churinga”: object of religious significance to indigenous people of Central Australia.) or “tjurunga,” a churinga of wood or stone that was rubbed on the injured body of a fighter, to heal him, to work wonders and win battles. The ritual, the concert and the churinga continue to convey art eternally by embodying the forefathers in the unified dimensions of the group and the individual.

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