Sislej Xhafa has furnished the waiting room of a police station in Gent like a grand palace. He presented a clandestine Albanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale and has used the Ljubljana train station as if it were a stock exchange selling wishes and hopes to people instead of shares: he is an artist who draws inspiration from the complexity of social relations to whom MAXXI
is dedicating the exhibition BENVENUTO! Sislej Xhafa, curated by Hou Hanru and Luigia Lonardelli on view until 2 October 2016.
The exhibition comprises about 30 works, spanning his career from the 1990s through to the present, including a new work the artist has created especially for this show. MAXXI is presenting the full range of his artistic output that draws inspiration from the contradictions of contemporary reality.
The exhibitions title is taken from the major installation created by the artist in 2000 within the ambit of the Arte allArte project in the Casole dElsa hills near Siena. A gigantic script Benvenuto (Welcome), an invitation to openness, to the embracing of others understood as necessary, inevitable progress that over time leads to social and cultural change.
This work, together with many others on show, highlights issues such as the coexistence of the cultures and religions and the redefinition of the concept of migrant in a global world.
Installed in the spaces of MAXXIs Gallery 2, BENVENUTO! Sislej Xhafa comprises numerous widely different works, chosen by the artist and curators, with a layout that avoids a chronological order, preferring to juxtapose the works and create a syncopated rhythm that in part recreates the stratified identity of the artist.
The issues the artist tackles are frequently tied up with his own experiences; those of identity, nationality, migrations, legality and the institutions, always confronted with tones ranging from the ironic to the subversive and making recourse to the most diverse techniques.
The works include Association in Yellow (2009), an oversize jacket on which is printed a list of New York lawyers taken from the Yellow Pages, a piece that questions the representation of power by attempting to humanize it.
Beh-Rang (2004) is a video filmed in Kabul featuring a burning bicycle referencing the poetics of violence while Giuseppe (2003 - 2007) is a sculpture in black marble that represents Garibaldi with a plastic bag and a number of sugar cubes in his hand: a reflection on the concept of the modern hero, the theme of identity and the contemporary idea of the celebratory monument.
This Call May Be Recorded for Quality Service (2012) in which the artist has recycled around 2,400 old cell phones used as pieces in a mosaic that composes the Ying and Yang symbol in red and black.
Sunshade (2011) is a wall-mounted beach umbrella where the materials are refugee clothes left behind on the beaches of Lampedusa, a wrong-footing symbol of a promised land, a reflection that is both poetic and bitter on the issue of migration.
The show also features My Garden (2011 - 2016) which sees the gallery floor scattered with pieces of paper, bags, empty bottles, plastic cutlery, objects commonly considered to be rubbish, but which in the imagination of the artist become a garden with an aesthetic that has been overturned with respect to traditions. The same formal configuration has also been adopted with Paradiso (2003), installed in the museum piazza and featuring a plastic table with four chairs and an umbrella which beneath the neon script Paradiso create strangely contrasting images.
BENVENUTO! Sislej Xhafa is a visual journey through the complexity of the modern world in which each work encourages the observer to reflect, both in personal and collective terms, on the social, economic and political phenomena of our world.
Sislej Xhafa was born in 1970 at Pejë (Kosova). When he was 20 years old, he left his home country to move to London and later Italy. His artistic education took place in Italy where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. The last fifteen years he has lived in New York, a place which he chose for its contradictions and its uncertainties. Xhafa has exhibited in leading contemporary art museums around the world, including: Kanazawa, Toronto, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Roma, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and New York. He has participated in the Venice biennial (1997, 1999, 2005, 2013), Istanbul biennial (2001), Gwanju biennial (2002) and Havana biennial (2009). Among the awards he has received is the Premio Querini Stampalia Furla for young Italian art in 2000, assigned to him in consideration of his relationship with the country that welcomed him during his formative years.