Luminous Garden

Flaka Haliti

The strongest sun, the sweetest watermelons, wearing shorts – really short shorts – all day long. Oh my, back then the seasons must have been doing everything right.

Long summers and snowy winters, that’s what I remember growing up in Prishtina: memory intervals from the 1980s to the beginning of the ‘90s, times of social transition – sliding from roughly something into slightly anything. Daily and repeatedly, time – frame by frame – was equally shared between the two: street and school, where leisure, learning and dignity grew into a resistance.

Velania was a newly developed residential area: my hood – not big, but quite famous. Why? Because President Rugova happened to live here and his private house had turned into the “White House”? i Yes, it must have meant something that diplomats from all over visited him in black armored cars while cool and handsome international journalists passed by and gave us kids quirky smiles. But no, that wasn’t exactly it. Like the neighborhoods of Arberia or Kodra e Trimave, Velania peaked in the ‘90s when many private houses – including ours – became part-time schools and faculties within the parallel education system. And, as absurd as it sounds, the partition between street and school dissolved.

Fences were not a “thing” back then. Obviously, the official residency of the president was the exception. But any other part of the neighborhood felt open and free to move through. Okay, some houses had fences, simple ones – modern, considerably low, transparent. They functioned merely to define property lines but allowed for interrelation and communication inside the community. Of course, we climbed over those fences – they were extensions of the playground, not a boundary – while playing in the middle of the street. On the other side, the properties without fences were the FUN. Those were the generous passages, the easy A to B shortcuts, the street-to-street footpaths, the house-to-house connections for neighbors as well as for any strangers passing by.

That is a memory interval before the war, which would soon fragment life in two time spans, “before” and “after the war”. If it was a movie, you could watch how the picture and its colors changed –– from lighter to darker, gloomy to stay.

The exhilarating scenery of the gloomy postwar transition was gradually dressed by the presence of the peace-keepers in Kosovo after 1999. NATO military troops, UN police, UNHCR workers, and all the other humanitarian friends from all sorts of NGOs were quickly welcomed and imbedded in our daily life.

Shortly afterwards, the neoliberal or neo-imperialistic aesthetic politics of the peace-keeping mission started to materialize in daily life, architecture, narration, and other forms of representations. These materializations produced, as Rancière would call it, twofold objects between “the question of their origin (and consequently their truth content) and the question of their end or purpose, the uses they are put to and the effect they result in”. ii

The most visible element of transnational governmental agencies during the peace-keeping mission was the fragmentation of Prishtina’s urban space. Namely, the aesthetic regime of concrete barriers and high security fences. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the UN Administration Headquarters installed a long wall of concrete in the heart of city. Similar walls were erected for the KFOR military camps and other NGOs and embassies. Sadly, locals began to appropriate this aesthetic for their own homes as well. Today, nobody can seriously argue that the construction of these militant high-wall structures by the internationals hasn’t shifted the concept of fences in Prishtina – forever.

In the meantime, 90% of the houses in Velania and elsewhere got renovated in order to adapt to the new revenue streams after the war: renting out apartments to internationals, sadly the only income for many. With the private renovations, extra entries, and extra floors, a new extra reality began. High fences popped up around the neighborhood rapidly – at my parents’ house, too. By the way, the necessity for high fencing was usually excused by “our foreigner guests should feel safe”, “we’re supposed to create a protected environment for them to stay”, etc. I always thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

However, as the landscape of fences blossomed, some with a more militant presence than others, the phenomenon also contributed to a booming construction of turbo tacky neoclassical architecture after the war. The space of the neighborhood as the space of the childhood of my memories vanished.

And that’s where my project, Luminous Garden, comes from. I’ve been working on the series since 2015. Focusing in particular on the Pejton neighborhood, it can be seen as an homage to every remaining modern, low, fence that was simply used lining out the borders of private properties in Prishtina before 1999. These modest fences – like the one still to be found in rruga Johan V. Hahn, for instance – are kind of illuminated mediators, engaged to create a language for the many ways in which an unfinished past is “haunting” the present and makes itself known in the here and now: It’s “[a]n exile for our longing, that stimulates an imagination of how things could be otherwise”. iii And with their humbly look, there is no way back once they become visible to you.


i Ibrahim Rugova (1944-2006) was a Kosovo Albanian writer and political leader. He served as the President of the self-declared Republic of Kosova from 1992 to 2000 and as President of Kosovo from 2002 until his death. The Republic of Kosova was a proto-state that sought to establish parallel political institutions in opposition to the ones of the Yugoslav or Serbian state. The Republic of Kosova received recognition from Albania.

ii Rancière, J. 2004. The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. New York: Continuum Publishing, p. 20.

iii European Artistic Research Network 2017. Hauntopia. Conference Guide. Vienna: Academy of Fine Arts & Gordon, A. 2008. Ghostly Matters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.