There is no doubt that moving to and living in Tirana has instilled within me a sense of “meraki”, a Greek word that is used to describe doing something with soul, creativity, passion, or love. But in my case, it refers more to putting a bit of myself into whatever I am doing. When I was living in Cyprus I lost this spark and I retreated into this uninspired life of monotony- sleep, eat, delegate my work to staff, drink and repeat, and by doing so I lost the artistic drive that I once thrived on. The first few months in Tirana was rocky, to say the least, but now I have found my feet and the meraki that I once had has returned, flooding through my veins and leaving me with so many ideas that there are simply not enough hours in the day to realise them all.
Earlier this week I met with Kristina and Irina from Ali Art Gallery and I realise that this wasn’t just a phase, but rather it is something about Tirana and this country that seeps inside of you and brings out the vibrancy and soulful concepts that lurk inside.
I had stumbled across Ali Art on Instagram where the online gallery of delicate and wistful sketches caught my eye demanded that I find out more. Kristina Genc is the woman with the paintbrush, and her friend Irina is a writer as well as a confidant and regular coffee drinking partner. Inspired by the beautiful surroundings as well as the desire to create books for their children to give them another creative outlook instead of an iPad or TV, the idea of Ali Art was born.
Who are Ali Art?
Kristina comes from Russia and having worked in marketing, as well as being au fait with graphic design for many years, she decided to rekindle her creative juices when she arrived in Tirana two years ago. Irina, from Romania, is a dedicated yogi and writer, as well as a driving force behind Kristina-pushing her and encouraging her to realise her full artistic potential. As I sit chatting with them, sipping coffee (and tea) it feels like meeting with some old friends. We share the same ideas on the beauty that is just bursting out of the ashes of the communist regime and the way that the city sucks you in and pumps you full of ideas and inspiration. We agree that Tirana is a true mixing pot of culture, history, nationalities, and creativity that is simmering away and each day creating something new and exciting to be discovered.
The art of coffee painting
Kristina paints and sketches with a range of mediums, but her favourite and the one that I feel is the most Albania-appropriate is coffee. Anyone that has visited or lived in Albania will soon come to realise that coffee drinking is the national pastime and you will soon find yourself doing it a minimum of two hours every day. She carries her papers and brushes with her wherever she goes and loves to sit in one of the capitals many cafes or coffee shops and sketch the world around her. She paints people as they sit socialising and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, the interesting mix of colonial, communist, and 21st-century architecture that makes up the cityscape, and more whimsical subjects such as birds and other animals.
One of my favourite images is one of the city’s most eye-catching landmarks- the Pyramid of Tirana, built by the daughter of Enver Hoxha to commemorate him, it has since fallen into disrepair and disregard and remains as nothing more than a reminder of the past and a backdrop for Instagram selfies. Another is a woman sat in a café, wrapped up against the elements, sipping a cup of steaming hot coffee oblivious to the Baltic temperatures around her.
Whilst Kristina’s images are ethereal and light, using delicate layers of paint to build up subtle variations in tone and shade, she still manages to capture the life and soul that powers the city. The images show a place full of colourful people who despite the odds, find solace in friends, the beauty of their surroundings, and of course, coffee.
Ali Art and the future
When I ask Kristina about her plans for the future, she speaks of a desire of wanting to teach as a way to nourish the creativity of the younger generation. She also hopes to exhibit her work, as well as take to the streets of Tirana with some other artists in the warmer months to paint the world around them. At the moment, she is receiving commissions for her work and even I have decided to ask her to paint a scene for me. The problem that I am presented with is in such a fascinating city, how can I possibly pick just one panorama?
As our meeting comes to an end, I feel inspired and encouraged to seek out more talented individuals that call this place home. I will be following Ali Art avidly, and I look forward to the exhibition that Kristina promises me will happen one day. I am happy I met the women behind this project, and I am also happy that I have met such beautiful women, with such wonderful philosophies.
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