The project is introduced with a text by the artist:
The six exhibited paintings within the N. Macedonian Pavillion at the 58th La Biennale di Venezia, were inspired by a section of the 125m2 mural by artist Borko Lazeski (1917-1993), entitled “Epic for Freedom” (1981), which was destroyed in a fire in 2013 within the building of Telecommunication in Skopje, for which the mural had been specially commissioned. There is a personal background as well as a socio/political aspect to the reasons why I decided to initiate this project and create this series of paintings.
When I was an 11-year-old child, following my parents’ divorce, my mother and I moved from Sarajevo (where I was born and had lived up to that point) to my mother’s family home in Skopje, N. Macedonia. For many years, my brother remained with my father in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina. There wasn’t a day in which we did not miss him. There was a constant feeling of emptiness and a continuous search for small things that somehow made connections to him in our minds. In our home we kept some of his favourite toys and would often open his handwritten notebooks to look and enjoy his charming, minute drawings of figures and to read and reread his imaginative, lighthearted and childish essays. We were hungry for any kind of connection with him, despite how imaginary those would be.
Sending letters and parcels to my brother, was part of our common routine. The frequent visits to the Main Post Office soon became one of my favorite activities in Skopje, where I was slowing making a new life for myself. The approach to the post office itself, was part of the experience of entering the strange and imposing space of its main hall. Descending from the Goce Delcev Bridge, one passed through a narrow passage between tall, curved concrete walls, which framed views of the adjacent river Vardar. The entrance of the post office was from the rear of the building, and opening the large glass doors revealed a large, magical interior. The sheer size of the space always felt unexpected, somehow altering one’s perception of its actual size, until one entered it. Within it, Borko Lazevski’s murals, towering above human height, coloured this concrete space is thousands of shades of red and yellow. What appealed to me most was the silence of this vast space cast in concrete, being interrupted by the frequent stamping of countless letters being sent to loved ones in some other places. To my mind, the sound of letters being stamped. were like messages of love, friendship, and support. The main hall of the Post Office was a place for a science fiction movie, a place where the future could start happening in real time, the space in which I imagined that my brother could magically be materialised and he could finally be there, once again reunited with us.
In June 2013, a serious fire erupted in the main hall of the Post office, practically burning up the interior and destroying the 6 murals by Borko lazevski. It was then that I learned how much this space, with its murals, meant to my co-citizens and not only to myself. Everyone had a personal story related to this place, sending telegrams to distant loved ones announcing the births of new family members or informing them of the deaths of older ones, sending letters and postcards or making international calls (as most people did not yet have telephones at home, at that time). Everyone had their own story related to the imposing postoffice building and its impressive spaces. Unfortunatelly, the mural by Lazeski and the interior of the post office remain unaltered to this day. The building remains closed off and the murals remain unrestored.
In 2015, I was invited to participate in a public art project, an exhibition entitled “Skopje Urban Stories” curated by Ana Frangovska, for the Association of Professional Artists of Macedonia.I decided at that point to start repainting Lazevski’s lost murals, giving something back to the citizens of Skopje, by recreating a part of our shared, collective memory. It was only possible to paint segments of the mural, which due to the complexity of their compositions and their elevated position within the space, do not allow an easy reconstruction of the original. The repainted fragments are therefore painted to different scales, indicating the impossibility (and perhaps the undesirability) of a complete and full restoration of Lazeski’s works within the Post Office.
The series of paintings represent my own desire to recreate the lost artwork by Lazeski, a valuable work which played a significant role in the collective memory of the citizens. however, my paintings are not mere copies of Lazeski’s work, but instead its motifs are painted in different scales in a free interpretation of the original works, with the intention of showing the fragility of memory. On a personal note. this translated to the fact that the time in my childhood spent without my brother, would never be returned. The paintings have strong and potent colours of predominantly red, carmine, ochre and yellow, while the shapes are framed with black outlines. They are intentionally ‘incomplete’ in order to again point out the layers of passing time. The paintings can be seen and enjoyed together as well as individually, as they all contain individual stories and move from the more realistic to a more abstract expression.
For the installation during the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019, the whole exhibition room was painted in ochre (with some areas ‘unfinished’, like the paintings themselves). The paintings are positioned on the floor leaning against the walls, in order to represent this in-between stage, as if they are still in the process of being painted in the artist’s studio. Some of the paintings are finished works, while the other paintings remain in the process of being painted and will be completed at some future point.
Jon Blackwood about the project from a book – Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia
A recent public art project completed by Nada Prlja commemorates an object that has since been destroyed. In 2015, Nada was commissioned by the curator Ana Frangovska to re-imagine Borko Lazeski’s lost murals in Skopje’s main post of ce. Lazeski’s murals, painted at the end of the 1970s to decorate Janko Konstantinov’s brutalist new concrete structure, were lost in a mysterious re in January 2013, since when the build- ing has remained closed to the public. For a period of a week, Nada re-painted the murals on a large scale, in order to jog the public’s memories, and to engage with them in sharing their recollections of the closed off post of ce space, and the paintings that used to hang there. This action, then, was a mixture of re-making lost works of art produced in a bygone political era, and a consideration, publically, of the values that they represented.