In Focus

Anri Sala, Intervista

In 1997, Anri Sala discovered a black-and-white 16mm newsreel in a box of his belongings at his parents' home in Tirana, Albania. Sala's parents had thought the newsreel, wrapped in black plastic, belonged to him. However, the newsreel, which no longer had its soundtrack, was made in the late 1970s by the state television. It shows his mother, Valdet, who was one of the leaders of the Albanian Communist Youth Union, attending a congress at the time of Enver Hoxha's [1] regime, and then being interviewed after a meeting of the Union's West German counterpart. Although Sala grew up in a deeply political environment and was aware that his mother attended congresses and knew politicians, he was surprised at how young she was when the newsreel was made. "She was about thirty-four and now she is fifty-three, so thirty was much nearer to me than to her. I found this image of her belonged much more to me, to my age, to my moment, than to her age. "[2]

When Sala shows his mother the newsreel, her reactions are mixed, from amusement to slight irritation. She laughs uneasily at seeing herself as a young "militant." While recognizing Pushkin Lubonja, who conducted the interview, she does not remember him interviewing her nor what she is saying during the interview. Sala contacts Pushkin, as well as the sound recordist from his mother's interview, to discover what she is saying in the newsreel, but neither remembers the interview. Finally, Sala takes the newsreel to a school for deaf-mutes, where children read his mother's lips.

Intervista captures the moment when Sala shows his mother the edited video with her words subtitled. It is a tense, disturbing moment, when his mother not only confronts the innocence, ideals, and beliefs of her youth but also the failed dreams, painful disappointments, and disillusions of adulthood. Sala asks his mother, "Did you believe in that ideal?" She answers as if she is thinking aloud, "Where does compromise with power and one's self begin?... Yes, we were living in a deaf and dumb system. We went about our lives. We could still fall in love, have children."

Demonstrating how emotions are profoundly connected to memory, his mother's moods and expressions subtly change as she watches the tape with her son and begins to remember how she felt at the time. Deeply considering her past actions and beliefs, Sala's mother recalls: "We thought we could change the world. Our generation was the victim of past errors, whereas our parents were luckier, they just won the war and everything was possible. The positive side is that you can learn from our errors. I believed in what I was doing."

In Intervista, Sala montaged archived footage of black-and-white propaganda films with scenes showing large masses of enthusiastic and hopeful young laborers toiling in factories and fields. In another part, he has added edited segments of recent television news reports of an Albania in chaos and conflict. Sala moves to extreme close-ups of his mother, her face almost in total darkness; she speaks in a straightforward, deliberative way of her confusion and fear for Anri, his sister, and the future of Albania. Intervista is both a political story told without being didactic, and a personal story told with compassion but without sentimentality.

On a fundamental level, Intervista tells the story of the artist's search to find the words his mother spoke nearly thirty years ago and his subsequent discovery of a profound and pivotal part of his mother's, and his country's, history. In learning about her serious involvement in Albania's highly charged political landscape, Sala discovered, with difficulty at times,[3] deeply personal aspects of his mother. Intervista offers an exploration of the place in which memory and history—collective and personal—intersect.

[1] In 1941. Enver Hoxha became first secretary of the newly formed Albanian Communist Party, which controlled the country from 1944 to 1991. Backed by the Sigurimi (the secret police), Hoxha ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1985.

[2] Sala, "(No) Paris. No Cry."

[3] In a published interview, Sala described how difficult it was to "give out your personal history or that of your dearest people, especially when it has been embroidered with disillusion, pain, loss, responsibility and failure ....I experienced and learned how far one could go touching where it could hurt, but still respecting the other while implying one-self." Gioni and Robecchi. "Anri Sala-Unfinished Histories." Flash Art 34. no. 219 (July-September 2001): 105.

Adapted from

Suzanne Weaver, "Concentrations 41: Anri Sala, Intervista and Nocturnes," (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2002), n.p.