25 Mar A meeting with sculptor Thoma Thomai
Today I met with sculptor Thoma Thomai, an Albanian artist who worked on several monuments from the communist period such as the memorial in Barmash and the Skënderbeg monument on the road to Krujë, which was massacred during its “reconstruction.” After studying at the Liceu Artistik in Tirana under artists such as Odhise Paskali, he studied for several years in Prague, before returning to Albania where he became involved in many monumental projects during the communist period.
Thomai told me that there was a specific, legalized, hierarchy of monumentality, starting from simple plaques, mosaics, base-reliefs, busts, statues, and lapidars up to grand scale martyrs’ cemeteries. Most of these monuments were placed on sites that had already been marked as “historical” within a decade after the end of WWII in 1944, and important anniversaries, such as the 25the anniversary of the liberation in 1969 were the occasion for a well-structured efforts at the “materialization of history,” as Thomai called the process. Specific laws and decrees would be drafted ordaining the creation of specific monument types at preselected locations. Older monuments would be “upgraded” with materials and forms that were proportionate to the importance of the person, army unit, or battle to be commemorated. All of this was centrally planned, even though individual artists had considerable artistic freedom (within the stylistic norms of socialist realism and the material and typological restrictions set by the government, that is). Moreover, there were open competitions and local governmental bodies were allowed to propose monumental projects to the central government.
All of this raises my hopes that somewhere in the archives of the Labor Party of Albania, which are currently held in the State Archives, there must be documentary evidence of the legal and governmental aspect of this monumental practice.
Post-communist work by Thoma Thomai: