The artist’s way

By Fitore Berisha

In mid—February, I went to Berlin, I stayed for a week and I was exhausted, but also I was very sick. When I came back, here were no cases of the virus. We always think that we’re isolated and far from the world, that it will not come here. But, I was never that sick. I live alone and I didn’t want to get anyone else involved, I always said, “I have asthma, I’m not okay.” I quit smoking and my condition was getting worse, especially breathing. At some point I got really sad and said, “I have something. I have to go get a checkup, I might have an allergy or something?”

I researched a little about a doctor, she was in China, she worked quite a lot in this field, Luljeta Ahmetaj, she did blood tests and said, “You have many allergies. You’re allergic to food, to pollen, to nuts.” I was getting cured from asthma for 15 years, using an inhaler… she said, “No, you don’t have asthma, nor bronchopneumonia. Why did they give you injections?” She gave antihistamines for weeks. I used all sorts of things and I got better. So, this is how the lockdown started.

I don’t know, I was falling into a state… fear, I was afraid. Fear. Then I noticed I was walking around the atelier, you know, I couldn’t see myself calming down or meditating. Then there was the news in politics. I said to myself, “It is mental abuse for this nation, it’s a violation, mental violation.” On the other hand, I was trying to calm down my mother who also lives alone. One day I said, “Okay.”

I remember they gave me a book in Washington, D.C., it’s called The Artist’s Way. A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. “You know what?” I said, “Get yourself out of this.” I tried by all means to run from the reality we were in. If you want to unblock your creativity as an artist to unblock, write, write everything, get everything out, three pages. Morning pages. It says, “As you feed a small child, you have to feed your brain, but you don’t read what you wrote for a long period of time. You can start with a word, but all in hand.” I started doing it every morning and it was hard, there were many things, I would jump from one topic to the other… it’s okay, it’s only for me, I will read it.

Then every day I was obsessed with wearing clean and nice clothes. I was grossed out by staying at home in pajamas. I would shower, comb, put my mask on and go to the Meridian shop. I became friends with all of the employees. After three months of lockdown, I bought them all chocolates, because they were very lovely, very welcoming. I was happy that someone would smile at me, that I’m talking to someone. But what happens, I’ll go back to writing.

The first week passed, the second week and one day I woke at 5:00 in the morning for no reason, because I stayed up late, I always stayed up late watching different TV shows. One day, I woke up at 5:00 in the morning and I made coffee. I have some big plexiglass panes and I placed them to work on. I started at 6:00 and finished it at 17:00 in the afternoon. I didn’t stop. When I got out of the studio, I couldn’t believe I did all that work, because I was in an altered state.

When my son came over the weekend, he said, “You did all this work in a day?” I said “Yes.” “All these details?” I said, “Yes.” When I saw what other people were saying, I just… I honestly can’t describe the feeling. I said to myself, “Kuku, you did this? Who was I?” That work ended up at Gjirafa Company where Patrik, my youngest son, works. The head of Gjirafa sat down and stayed for ten minutes and said, “Now I know what your mother went through during the pandemic.” He said, “Why?” “Because I see the same figure in different positions and in different moods.”

I started missing people a lot. Maybe I spent too much time on Viber, but at some point, I started to lose interest in people. There was a phase where I completely lost interest in all people, I didn’t even want to answer my phone. This was sometime after April. April was the hardest for me. I lost faith and I started thinking that I wasted too much energy on people and things that don’t matter. Now I’m selecting my friend circle.

I promised one thing to myself. I promised myself that I won’t let anyone hurt me, starting from a person who is on the street, I have decided that, in every interaction with people, I won’t allow myself to get hurt. But you have to say, “I’m sorry, but you hurt me or I don’t feel good with what you said.” Maybe too late in my life, but I decided that I have to protect myself for my sake. Then this costs me emotionally, because I revisit these feelings. Once, when I was in therapy in Iceland, a psychologist told me that I have to tell the person on spot, in a very polite way, not revisit them later. I couldn’t sleep, anxiety, I started taking Lexilium, I didn’t even take Lexilium during the war.

Even though we talked about the fact that it’s completely different, that the whole world is in this position, the feeling of isolation during the war of 1999 would come over me. Sometimes I couldn’t believe it, I would go verify it on the Internet, I would say, “You’re good, you’re good.” I told myself all the time, “You should be happy with the space you have, you have no occupiers to oppress you.” At that time, I was young, with babies, with parents—in—law, in much worse condition. I was the only one in the move back then. I was the one who took care of the building, made food for 15 people. Now, now it was… I wanted to tell myself all the time, “Fitore, appreciate it, appreciate it! The studio you have! You have people downstairs, Mother is fine, the boys are fine.” I was holding on to that, that I can’t forget the good.

As they say, the biggest surprise is, “If you manage to surprise yourself, that’s the best surprise.” During this time, I started drawing with both hands. I didn’t know I could draw with both hands. This connection is… the right side of the brain, but I didn’t know they were connected. When you can put your feelings onto paper, then you can concentrate. I worked a lot during the pandemic, I needed meditation, because, when you draw the lines, there’s repetition, when you are in a state that comes from repetitive movements, the brain calms down.

I was very alone and with myself I started… anyway I worked for my own pleasure, other people don’t have to like it. My biggest satisfaction was when I shared my work with my people, their reaction would keep me going. And when they said, “Ah yes, something has changed about you. The colors have changed. The faces that you draw aren’t depressing as usual.” People started psychoanalyzing me a little, which is okay, but sometimes, I’m not happy when they do.

I don’t know why, but in my work, in this dialogue, I want to find some kind of hope within. I want to look for that hope by force. I am searching for it, I am looking for it, I am looking for it, I am looking for it and all the time I have to force myself to not fall, because I notice that it is a global depression. Maybe because I lived for too long with a chronically depressed person and it had a big impact on all of us. There’s always a war fighting depression. I see my son who lives with him, all the time he would come and we would only watch comedy, stand—up comedy. The moment he went, on Monday, I would be in a completely different state. Mondays were very hard for me because I would face reality.

It’s been a while since I thought about lockdown, I put it in a place, I left it there. But now, when I have to think about it, I try to erase it. I don’t know, because it wasn’t a good feeling. When I read the notebook now, the diary, I see that it was much harder than I… than I can elaborate. I started losing interest. Even though we went out a little here and there, it started to not seem logical to me to go out and meet with people. Thinking all the time, “Slow down, Fitore! You have a sensitive health condition, you’re autoimmune, if you get sick, what will happen to you? Who will take care of you? How will you travel if you need more help for your health?”

It seems to me that, in some way, all of us will be infected. Everyone has different immunity, it will touch us all. It’s coming nearer and nearer. I don’t know how I didn’t get it until now. I was in contact with people who had it and we didn’t know or while talking to my friend, we were both isolated for a month. She was in January, I was in February. She was very sick for like two months, I was sick for a month. We walked, “Did we have it?” I had a sore throat, cough, fever.

Financially, I started to get really scared, what would happen if… how will I financially survive, because I provided for myself with art. Patrik said, “Fitore, don’t worry, I have savings.” Leka said, “Fitore, I’m still working, I have a big salary, I have savings.” Even though it’s very hard, I’ve never asked from my children, but on the other hand, we’re in this together. They said, “Are you crazy? You will not lack anything.” It really was mental gymnastics.

I honestly gave up, I’m not interested in creating art anymore, or making art in the public space. Pristina and I, my heart is broken. There are very few intellectuals who appreciate art, I don’t have the will to create in my own country. It doesn’t matter if you create a mural of a hundred square meters in 2005, 2006, or 2019. It loses its value the moment that the companies decide to clean up the entire building and renovate it. Besides that, they offend you.

During the lockdown, I had a lot of pressure to be productive. This pressure kept me going, because I don’t like it much when other people tell me what to work on, but my [maternal] uncle had a very good technique. He said, “The material that is left, the fabric, should we go upstairs and fix it?” “Now?” “Yes, now.” “Uncle, let’s do it later.” “No, no, now.” And we would finish it. A day, two, or a week would go by. “There’s nothing on the canvas, you didn’t start?” “No.” “You’re not working, Fitore.” “Yes, I am. I am, but my back is hurting.”

Then I bought some watercolor blocks and I sat down, and everyday when I would sit down to watch a TV show or music or something, I had problems with my neck, I would draw on the drawing block. But, my uncle would in a way pressure me, “The painting is waiting for you.” A friend from Brussels asked for two paintings. For four months, I painted and erased them, painted and erased them because I didn’t like them. It was imposed, commissioned work. She said, “Tole, I’ll send you the money.” “I didn’t finish them.” “It’s okay, you will.” “No, I can’t until I finish them.” “Whatever you do, I will like it. Just finish them. Do I send the money?” “No, I have money for now, I’ll tell you when I don’t.” “Please, tell me.” So, the imposed pressure was having a negative effect on me.

The first month of lockdown was horrible. The first months were around the books I will read, the new skills I will develop, I will start learning Italian. The pressure that I have to love my body to be able to feel good about myself was present. The pressure of time was present all the time, “Now it’s the time!” At some point, I stopped. “You know what? Drop it, it will happen when it happens.” I pressured myself a lot. I have high expectations of myself, always. So, I wanted my art to also change. Then all of this turned into anxiety, some kind of anger.

The anger I have is, if the coronavirus is man—made, then we are under the control of much more powerful people and human life has no value. I think that many things destroyed people, people who were in self—isolation, people whose relations were destroyed because they lived too close to one another, and they started to get to know each other. People who avoided relations, who lived in the same house, in the family, but had different schedules in their lives. Lockdown made them confront this, made them know one other and realize that they will not be able to continue to be together.

I noticed that in Pristina, during the isolation, people were more polite, “Oh, I’m sorry!” Now, there’s more aggression. I started to lose it, I started to get angry. Why a car would almost run me over on the sidewalk, I would lose myself. I noticed that every week I would have an outburst, and this cost me a lot. So, for about two years, we will be like this until they say, “Ah, the vaccine!” Then we will begin to feel more secure.

Fitore Berisha (b. 1971) is a visual artist who has been working in Kosovo and Iceland for the past 20 years. She focuses on paintings, murals, and multimedia artwork. Her work explores human problems and obstacles from daily life, as she witnessed during her journeys to many different places. Overwhelmed by injustice and division in society, Berisha fights through her art so that the face of an oppressed woman, the face of a hurt man, or the face of an abandoned child represents the collective suffering in society.  She had more than ten solo exhibitions and has produced seven art murals and dance performances.