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PRINT / Maks Velo: A collection of my works and a series of icons were given to a boiler to burn
This article is part of the new section "PRINT" opened by Politiko.al with materials taken from the funds of the Periodical and the Book of the National Library. Published in the newspaper "RD", dt. July 10, 1991, no. 51, p. 3.
A week after my arrest, the guard tied my hands and led me to the investigator's room, the door opened and what to see: the room was full: Hundreds of paintings, pastels, watercolors, and drawings were there. The indictment lists 246. There was an entire collection of woodwork by folk craftsmen, 13 icons, and all the books of modern art thrown on the floor, on the table, and on the bed.
They stayed there for several months in sadistic hearings during investigator interrogations. Cast one on top of the other I could not touch them. I had worked for hours and days on each of the paintings, I had dreamed and hoped, I loved them thinking that I would see them hanging in a showroom. Most of them were abstract drawings and pastels (the first made in Albania). It was also a wonderful Renaissance drawing. It was given to me by Viktor Puzanova before he died. It depicted a child with his head held high, working with cuttlefish.
They had received all the books: an excellent edition for Henry Murray, 2 albums for Van Gogh, African masks, 2 books for Picasso, 2 for Impressionism, and so on. Cast I saw the small family icons and some of the bigger ones that I adored as centuries-old art messages, that had been painted by the great hands of the ancestors, (there was also an icon painter in the Vela family) who had wiped the women with a lighted candle by Dardha. There in the studio, they looked to me like pieces of popular Byzantine art taken from the centuries and hung there. I was horrified when I saw that unique collection of folk art, the woodwork of masters from all over the country. I had barely collected them, at a cost, one by one like those divers who collect pearls, so I rejoiced when I found a small sculpture of value.
I had gone and met shepherds in Kolonjë, Saranda, Rrogozhinë, Mirditë, Shkodër, Dibër, and Voskopojë. It was a collection collected for 20 years and was the richest for pastoral sculpture. The best works were by a skraparlliu, Iliaz Turhani. The wise old man Skraparlli had done about 30 works. I was arrested. I did not meet him again. When I came out he was dead. On the court table they had also placed a work of his, a man about 50 cm tall, worked with a naive primitivism.
The Tirana district prosecutor shouted. - Look, this is like Picasso.
-No, - I said, he has become a popular master.
-Yes, but you are to blame. You taught him to work like that.
-No, you can not teach them, they do as they know. They do not hear any.
How to explain to this chief prosecutor, who did not even know Van Gogh's name. If Ilias was as capable as Picasso this would have been the greatest praise for Ilias. But with his ignorance, he was telling the truth.
Great art is always one. Be it popular or cultured. My mother had hidden when the investigator grabbed everything like a thug and put everything in the bags, for example, a magnificent bust of Skanderbeg, 14 cm. in bush wood.
That collection of 70 works had invaluable national value.
Experts in the trial were a group of 3 people: Kujtim Buza, Foto Stamo, and Skënder Milori. I wanted their multifaceted expertise to be published one day to be recognized by the artistic public as being valued and judged at the time. It said that "all this creativity" contradicts the messages of the Albanian Labor Party and openly opposes socialist realism in art. "
The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison and the seizure of all materials as evidence.
What all that work was done always bothered me. When I was released in '86 I could not ask, the atmosphere was heavy. In November 1990 I sent a letter to the President of the Supreme Court, to which I received no reply. I kept asking. I finally learned the fate of my treasure.
On June 13, I met with District Court employee Ruko Sako. - I know you, - he told me, - they brought them here with bags from the investigation with a decision for destruction. I kept them here for 3 years in '81 I gave them to the boiler, it burned them all.
-Everything? - I asked and icons and woodwork?
-Yes, all. Even since they were close I went to the Institute of Popular Culture, I told them to see that woodwork. They did not come. They were burned too.
Apparently, they were afraid, that we were like those people in the Middle Ages when they got cholera; no one came near to see them, nor to touch their things.
They were all burned. This is the story of the most painful part of my life. I did not only do 8 years in prison, but I also had a loss that could not pay off anything. And neither did the Inquisition's trials do so. I do not believe that an analogous case can be found in the world practice of the judiciary.
Much of the blame falls on the investigator, and especially on the commission of experts. Why did the icons have to be burned, in Korça and Berat there were museums holding thousands of icons?
Let then for the collection of folk art.
Who "denied the great and glorious art of our people", us who sacrificed, gathered, preserved, or those who kidnapped, judged, burned?