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Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art

Haveit, a Kosovan art collective consisting of four young women, use their performances to explore gender and social issues.

On May 18, 2011, Diana Kastrati, a 27-year old student on her way to university, was shot dead in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, at about 10 am. The perpetrator was Adnan Jashari, her ex-husband of 10 years.

A few days later, four friends from Prishtina were sitting in Tingle Tangle, an art café hidden in a courtyard of residential buildings in the city centre.  They were enraged by the tragic murder. “We have to do something,” one of them proposed. And on March 20, 2011, they participated in the march for Diana Kastrati organized by the Kosova Women’s network. Disguised as brides wearing black clothes and a white veil on their heads, they held a sign with the following message: “every marriage ends in violence.” This was the start of the art collective the four girls formed: Haveit.

Haveit consists of Hana and Vesa Qena, and Lola and Alketa Sylaj. The two pairs of sisters live in Prishtina and are all in their mid-twenties. Alketa explained that the four chose to call their artistic project Haveit, because it fits to the theme of their performance protests. Artistically, they vehemently rebel against the problems of their society. “What we do is art out of necessity,” Lola said.

The four members of Haveit. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Against nationalism and women’s oppression

They illustrated, for example, the Kosovan struggle with power and water shortages by washing hand towels in the fountain of the Mother Teresa square, the main pedestrian street in Prishtina, in July 2013. This performance was called There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains. The four criticized nationalism – in abundance everywhere in the Balkans – by replacing the graffiti “traitors have merited the bullet” in the city centre with “what color is your flag when it burns?” in July 2014. With a performance called Tager*, Haveit also fought against the Kanun, the fundamental text of women’s oppression in Kosovo. They poured flour on the book and spread it with a rolling pin on this year’s International Women’s Day.

All four artists studied art at the University of Prishtina, but they found the conservative environment at the university restrictive. “Our professors didn’t want us to produce new things. They only wanted us to copy old things,” Alketa said. But this disappointment did not discourage the four. Haveit’s decision to do art performances was quite groundbreaking: it made them understand that what they want is not only to make art for art exhibitions. They wanted to be more obtrusive, in order to reach people who aren’t the usual art admirers.

Haveit’s performances are not modelled on any other artist, three of the members explained to me in an interview (Hana Qena was absent as she was in Tirana, Albania’s capital, that day). Kosovan society serves as inspiration for them: their performances continue to address the problems of Kosovan society that originally inspired them to begin making performance art.

And Kosovo’s society is predominantly conservative; not to the effect that political disagreement with the known cleavages between right and left – for example church (right) versus state (left) – are decisive. Kosovo is conservative in a traditional sense, which means that there is a cleavage between those who protect tradition – for instance no heritage rights for women – and those who challenge it.

Haveit stencilling 'What colour is your flag when it burns?'. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

“Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote”

The parents of the Sylaj sisters, for example, don’t take their daughters art seriously. At the same time, their parents don’t put obstacles in Lola’s and Alketa’s way. “Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote,” they said. Don Quixote lives in a dream world, in which he is a knight and stumbles from defeat to defeat. Transferred to Haveit’s performances, this could mean that Kosovo’s traditional conservative society is so omnipotent, that the four are fighting a battle without the slightest chance of winning.

Lola, Alketa, Vesa and Hana are well aware of the texture of conservatism in their society, and the difficulty of their undertaking. So they define the main objective of their artistic efforts as “helping to create a space for critical discussion of the problems of our society,” as Vesa Qena explained. And they partly succeeded: after they performed There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains in July 2013, politicians increasingly began to finally address the plight of water outages, Alketa explained. Shpend Ahmeti became mayor of Prishtina in December 2013. One of his key promises of his election campaign was the fixing-up of the city’s water pipes. If he keeps this promise, there will be no more water cuts in Kosovo’s capital from December 2015 on.

Haveit’s most provocative performance was when Vesa kissed Lola and Alketa kissed Hana on Prishtina’s main pedestrian street on Valentine’s Day 2013. The kiss went viral on Facebook – shared in Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. “It made ordinary people speak about a stigmatised topic in our society,” Vesa said. A local survey realised in December 2012 showed that 62 per cent of those interviewed considered homosexuality as a threat to society. Not all Kosovans hailed this breach of taboo. Some postulated the conspiracy theory that Serbia paid the young women for the “propaganda of homosexuality.” Others insulted them: “you’ll never get married” (in Kosovar society this is really an insult for women). And others wrote death threats to the four.

Haveit performance. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Modesty and financial autarky

I asked Haveit where they currently see room for improvement, and they said that they could do more performances. So far their performances in Kosovo have been limited to Prishtina. But one of their future projects will take their art to other Kosovan cities and maybe villages. This is crucial to that extend that Kosovo consists not only of Prishtina and the society problems the four criticize apply to the whole country.

When asked about their biggest success, the young women were silent for a few seconds and thought about it. “Honestly speaking, we had neither big successes nor big defeats yet. We also have no big expectations regarding our performances, therefore most of our experiences were good,” they agreed. And if they were to name one success, Lola said: “We are still working together and are still planning to work together.” Besides this modesty, something else is also considerable in Haveit’s work: everything they do is self-made – from the financial matters to the organisational structure.

In the coming September, Haveit will be very busy. They are going to participate at the City of Women feminist festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the Biennale in Milano, Italy with the performance Tager* and at the Hapu festival, an event for art in public space, in Prishtina. Furthermore, one cannot be sure whether this is all they are planning to do. “Haveit also means surprise,” Vesa Qena said with a smile.

For more information, visit Haveit’s Facebook page


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