“I kept going to work sick, with an injured leg, and my leg was injured again in the same place, because I kept my boots on all the time. Working 12-13 hours straight; we even worked for 20 hours. No rules at all. During my medical leave at the end of 2018, I was fired, even though I had a work contract. I was fired.”
This is a quote from Doruntina Kastrati’s artwork on worker deaths in Kosovo. The work is the result of extensive research, including dozens of interviews, official documents, and digging in archives, and will be exhibited this year at the National Museum in Prishtina as an installation of sculptures, videos and photographs, accompanied by a publication.
Fifteen years ago in my “Theories of Nationalism and Contemporary Art in Kosovo,” I noted that a country with almost 60 percent unemployment did not have any artists addressing this issue. I criticized the nascent art scene of Kosovo as nationalist, as it was mainly preoccupied with symbolic cultural values.
My initial conclusion was that this absence of class in Kosovo’s contemporary art scene was a symptom of its fixation with the nation as a form absorbing and transcending any other expressions of politics and everyday life. Now, after 15 years of ups and downs in Kosovar art, Kastrati is determined to fill this gap with her efforts on worker deaths.
The most striking issue with this first artwork about workers, class and unemployment is that it focuses on the most extreme elements of this subject: death, injury and constant humiliation. I argue that extreme language is the only language to use when talking about Kosovo’s working class, which is reduced to living as slaves. Workers and their invisible class today call for this language.