Cafe Zanzibar, located on the ground floor of a wildly postmodern building, is hosting Tirana's art crowd. Between the murals of African savannahs three young Sweden-based artists are handing out blue t-shirts. Miss Wet, they say. The shirts are absolutely dry and only available in extra large. Monica Melin en Joanna Rytel from Sweden and Tina Finn�s from Finland are up against Albanian patriarchism here, just like their work in Sweden and elsewhere is often concerned with human rights and the equality between men and women.
Their yellow manifest counts 38 demands: '1. Demands the right to speak and be heard. 2. Demands to be taken seriously. 3. Demands the same status as men. 4. Demands the same wages, or more! 5. Demands to be seen as a human being.' The artists make their cheerful rounds through the cafe, tiara's in their hair, holding a microphone up to everyone to hear what they think. Stainless feminism in party dress: the newest event organized by 1.60insurgent space. Every month, local and international artists are invited by the Italian curator and love migrant Stefano Romano to choose a spot in Tirana and turn it inside-out.
Among the earlier events: a living statue at a factory gate where for years, a bronze Stalin greeted the workers every morning; a disco in a student apartment measuring six square feet where the hunger strikes again the communist regime started in 1990; a walking marathon with no winners through the neighborhood where Enver Hoxha and his apparatsjiks used to live.
Melin, Rytel and Finn�s were here first during last year's Biennale. Now they are infected by the Tirana virus. 'The chaos here opens new possibilities,' says Monica Melin. 'And that's attractive,' confirms Tina Finn�s. 'A society without structure, but full of creative energy, and just like in all societies going through big changes this opens questions and ideas about the future, but it can also make people want to return to the past.' In the Biennale catalogue Zdenka Badovinac, guest curator from Zagreb, put it this way: 'Tirana is different, not just like an isolated society is different, but in a modern way. Everything revolves around the nomadic and the survival. Albanian society is characterized by the absence of rights and values, so it can hardly be taken to be an alternative for developed democracies. Many things still absolutely have to change, but in the meantime it still remains to be seen if all those temporary, parallel strategies of survival are worth less than the formal structures of power. These kinds of parallel systems represent important forms of individual creativity.'
Melin, Rytel and Finn�s are hooked. In the talks they record with the visitors of cafe Zanzibar, we hear varying reactions to their feminist approach: the men sometimes with a sense of guilt, the women proud and defiant or simply resigned. Albania is traditionally a man's world: the traditional clans are strictly patriarchal, during communism Hoxha's men had full authority and today politics, crime and business are fortresses of machismo.
That it takes outsiders to confront these patterns goes almost without saying, and the three women from the North, while cautious not to behave as art neo-colonialists, sense that there is much to gain here, with this promising mix of sophisticated art, feminism and activism. 'We consider art as a universal language and human rights as a universal concern. Of course things are different in different cultures, and in our missWet project we looked and are looking for these differences, but we have also found a lot of common issues and concerns... There is still a lot to do in Sweden and elsewhere, and for us art is one way to deal with these questions and concerns.'