Critics’ Picks

Alban Muja, My Name Their City, 2012 seven photographs, each 24 x 31".

Alban Muja, My Name Their City, 2012 seven photographs, each 24 x 31".


Alban Muja

Institute for Contemporary Art, Zagreb
Trg kralja Tomislava 20
March 27–April 25, 2015

What’s in a name? Those who would refute Juliet’s oft-cited argument that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” fail to recognize that these words are spoken by a character who needs no convincing of the true power of proper names.

With this exhibition, Alban Muja investigates both the import and impotency of nomenclature in Kosovo. Under Slobodan Milošević, the act of naming was one of the sole forms of agency allowed Kosovar Albanians. While borders may have been shuttered, there were no restrictions on calling one’s children after Albanian cities. Muja’s series of seven photographs, “My Name Their City,” 2012, catalogues Kosovars with names such as Berat, Gjirokastra, or Butrint, holding images of their respective cities. Meanwhile, the tongue-in-cheek photograph, Tonys, 2010, depicts nine boys who share the neologism Tonibler, in front of a billboard of their namesake, Tony Blair.

As a counterbalance, the video Blue Wall Red Door, 2009, explores an instance in which names have ceased to function altogether. Each new regime renamed the streets of Kosovo after its own, intending an honor, but bestowing it so often as to create more of an inconvenience. Citizens have adapted by way of an alternative toponymy of mini markets, architectural elements, or known haunts of local celebrities who hold more popular significance than the international notables such as Madeleine Albright, Lord Byron, Giuseppe Garibaldi, or Henri Dunant, whose names the streets officially bear post NATO. The film builds from artist’s interviews with taxi dispatchers, firemen, and postal workers to reveal how this “quirk” can have dire consequences in the places where the social fabric no longer holds.