Speaking Arts Language – Alketa Xhafa Mripa
by - Geralda Cela

This article is taken from our first issue, The Kismet Issue, purchasable here.

London-based, Kosovon-born Alketa Xhafa Mripa may be bilingual but Art has always been the language she’s most fluent in. 

While some artists can afford to make aesthetically pleasing art, Alketa’s background and experiences don’t afford her this luxury. For her, it’s paramount that her art stands for something even if it’s not pretty or pleasing. 

From her formative years growing up in Kosovo during the 80s and 90s, before moving to the UK in 97 as an art student and later becoming a mother; art has been a way of surviving for Alketa. And it has to say something. Even if that something is silence. We’ve seen this through her internationally renowned installation Thinking Of You, a cultural milestone that gave a voice to a generation of victims of wartime rape silenced by the trauma and shame of the Kosovan war. It’s, as she describes, her ‘masterpiece’ and said what words couldn’t. 

Her works such as Refugees Welcome, Britain is Still Speaking and the most recent collaborative project – Even Walls Have Ears are rooted in activism and community. Not because Alketa outwardly seeks for them to manifest in this way but because she can’t remain indifferent to the injustices around her.  And as a result these are the artistic expressions she’s come to best know and be known for, “witnessing the oppression from the Serbian regime over the years, I became attached to a sense of collectivity and joint forces. Within this collectivity, I saw activism happen and manifest in the most creative forms,” she tells me. 

What are the key themes you’re interested in pursuing through your work? 

I’m always passionate about exploring the spectrums of motherhood, women, gender relations, memory and the body, among others. Through these themes, I try to give voice to the unheard and fight against oppression and injustice. For me it’s important, I radiate the spirit of activism through each theme I pursue, and that I encourage others to get involved.

How has your background influenced your art to practise? 

I believe my background has not only made me who I am, but it’s an ever-evolving part of my identity as an artist. Perhaps having been brought up in a society where different forms of oppression were manifested, it’s impossible for me to neglect that period of my life. Especially when it comes to my teen years in the 1980s and 1990s when our freedom was taken and many liberties did not exist for us Albanians. Witnessing the oppression from the Serbian regime over the years, I became attached to a sense of collectivity and joint forces. Within this collectivity, I saw activism happen and manifest in the most creative forms, either it is in protests, or in the ways, people were expressing themselves. This has a great part in my artistic expression and it influences the concepts I come up within my work. Also growing up with an artist father, being exposed from an early age to art and seeing how he expressed his inner feelings and anger against the system would reflect visually has pretty much influenced my art throughout the years. Same as him, I express my inner world through art for what words cannot. 

What role can art play in bringing about social change and justices? 

In the course of history, the world has changed thanks to art movements. Art is always about bringing change and giving light to injustices via means that other human activities cannot. I don’t particularly see art as a role or power. I think everything is art and art is everywhere as a natural power in its own.

What has been a career-defining moment for you? 

Becoming a mother. Because it simultaneously opened a new chapter to my art. I started to see a whole world I had been missing, and quite different from before. I not only became sensitive but much more outspoken towards a number of issues concerning women in general. People would act disturbed when I would openly support abortion after I became a mother.

“People would act disturbed when I would openly support abortion after I became a mother” 

Alketa

Motherhood is a choice and should be restrained from all political and social control. And to this day, almost 15 years after I gave birth to my first child, I am happier to see that there is a much larger group of people who understand that women should have total control over their own bodies.

Do you think art can be taught or is it innately built in some people? 

Art to me has always been a way of living. I believe some people are born with it and others find it at some point in their lives. I think art schools are places where artists should go to only find their way, even if that’s the way out. But for art taught at schools, especially unis, I believe they’re a great chance for young artists to take direction and open to broader perspectives. Or perhaps even challenge institutional forms of art and knowledge. It’s very important the artist comes across with that. 

“I think art schools are places where artists should go to only find their way, even if that’s the way out.”

Alketa

A lot of your work is installation-based, what other mediums do you enjoy working in and why? 

It’s always about the concept. The realisation of the concepts I come up with evolves with time and involves constant research and participation of others. It later takes different forms until I find the right way to express the concept. I enjoy working with any medium that feels real and best portrays the meaning behind. 

Where do you draw your inspirations from?

I don’t push myself too hard to get inspired than I have the energy for, so I like to keep it organic and real. That’s the first key to finding inspiration and creativity. Pretty much the everyday life is a manifestation I observe constantly and involve myself in different conversations. But I mostly find inspiration in listening to people and understanding struggle and the fight for justice from those who are often labelled as ‘other’. Those who have a story to tell inspire me the most.

You’ve had numerous success with your work that has reached international audiences do you feel a pressure to always top your previous work with the next?

It’s always about the concept and what I’m trying to reveal. I try to maintain authenticity and meaning in each work I produce, and the only pressure I feel from one project to the other is to have the anticipated impact. For example with my work “Thinking of You”, I was most happy by the gratitude I received from the Kosovo war survivors of sexual violence, whom I dedicated the work to. International and worldwide attention is extremely important because it promoted an issue that wasn’t spoken about in that dimension before. But this attention shouldn’t be too important for an artist if the targeted community hasn’t been reached. Even today, I feel beyond accomplished by how this work has challenged stigma in Kosovo and the progress it achieved in a national and governmental level. It’s an ongoing motivation I embrace every day, but it’s never about reaching audiences the work doesn’t initially target. 

In what ways have you seen your work contribute to conversations of social change?

In addition to the incredible contribution my work “Thinking of You” achieved with help of the people in Kosovo, I think with every work since the early days of my career I’ve succeeded to make people talk and involve in various issues. That’s my mission after all. Social change never relies on the hands of the artist, but it may be the most important step before others take action or react in ways that lead to change to happen. 

What’s next for you?  

Many things I cannot reveal at the present. I’m always evolving and becoming a better version of self and as an artist, I try to represent unheard voices and tackle important issues. I try not to pay attention to what others actually expect of me. It’s important I have a well-established platform and whatever’s next, I’ll make sure to make it of use to those who need a voice. I am always in search of that: the invisible and the unheard. 

Photography: Emanuela  Jakaj