[The interviewer asks the speaker to introduce himself in front of the camera. The question was cut from the video—interview.]
Tomislav Trifić: I am Tomislav Trifić. I am a graphic artist, a professor at the Faculty of Arts, I lecture in the graphics class.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Can you tell us when were you born, something about your childhood, whatever you remember? When were you born, your family, your parents?
Tomislav Trifić: I was born in 1949 in Lipjan. You must know where Lipjan is, a small place, usually I like saying that Pristina is located near Lipjan. In that year 1949 when I was born in Lipjan, it was the post—war period, and God knows that the conditions were not good. My parents… my father was a carpenter while my mother was a housewife, who unfortunately, my mother and my father both were part of the post—war actions in the Brčko—Banović railway in Sarajevo. She got sick and died in 1955. So, I grew up without a mother, but with my father who was a craftsman and so as a result, I managed to develop my own craft. Carpentry, which was not important, or necessary, however it helped me with graphic art, industrial design through designing interiors, which helped me with that.
During that time when we, we were growing up, it was a totally different time. A different time, capitalist for a while, then socialist, changes and so on. When I finished secondary school, secondary school…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Tomislav Trifić: I have one sister, who unfortunately died three years ago in a car accident. She was a doctor.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was that time?
Tomislav Trifić: At that time…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Without a mother and without…
Tomislav Trifić: The way it is supposed to be. At the time when 80 percent of people lived the life of a worker, a productive life… if you studied enough, you were able to choose what you wanted to study in high school, then further on in the University and so on.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was the post—war school?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, say, it wasn’t right after the war, but this was, if you were born in ‘49, after seven years you finished secondary, I mean elementary school in Lipjan, and after that I enrolled in the Arts High School in Peja. In my time, the Arts High School lasted five years. So, after my generation the school was reformed into a school specialized in artistic techniques, which lasted for four years.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Let’s just stop here a little…
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, alright…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Let’s include every aspect.
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, yes, I will… just let me know.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Can you tell us more about the Arts High School in Peja, what did they teach you? How was it? What ideas of art did they teach you?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, the Arts High School in which I wanted to enroll, I didn’t know much at that time after finishing elementary school. In fact, my father wanted me to go to the military school and become an officer, because at that time they were paid best, they had insurance and so on. But I simply didn’t want to do something like that, I don’t like such things, I wanted to enroll in the Arts High School. I remember how I was two days late for the admission exam. Back then the admission exam lasted for seven days. There were many people, forty candidates for one spot.
So this was my fate and I enrolled in the Arts High School, which I guess, I can even confirm that it was way stronger than our academies. Why am I saying this? I am saying this because that School of Arts worked in two shifts. Every day we were offered two meals until… we learned all the crafts, figurative and all possible. You know, we learned, we were educated, we have learned the basis of figurative arts, and that is why it is so well known.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Who supported you in your education, did you live there or did you travel?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes. Of course, my father, since I was an only child, he understood that that was what I wanted to study. Of course, he allowed me to enroll there. I enrolled in that school. I think my father supported me financially during the first and second year. I was living there, I had to live there… of course in a private house. There were no dormitories for high school students like nowadays. So, during the summer I worked in order to earn money so that I could go to the Arts High School in the autumn. After that, after the third, fourth, fifth year, I had already learned some crafts and I started earning money and living independently.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: During the time you were in Peja, were the professors from Belgrade?
Tomislav Trifić: At this Arts High School, the professors were from Peja, Peja in Kosovo and Metohija. There was the famous Vlada Radović, an extraordinary painter. Maybe you don’t know or haven’t heard about him. He was a master of painting and aquarelle in Kosovo and Metohija. Also, wait let me remember, Zorka Mihajlović was there as well, a painter, the son of Veljko Radović. I don’t remember well the professors who worked and lived there.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What about professors from Albania?
Tomislav Trifić: What?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you have professors from Albania?
Tomislav Trifić: At that time, no. There were no professors from Albania or Belgrade or Niš, because back then that was the only school in Yugoslavia, in its southern regions, which was so specific and important. There were professors who lectured… who later became great artists. I don’t remember, because I wasn’t prepared to give you this information. Because above everything, high quality students came out of the Arts High School, and the professors who lectured there were just as great.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you have exhibition spaces?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, in that…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were there spaces at school?
Tomislav Trifić: The exams at that time consisted of, in the first semester all you had do in every course was hand over to the professor of the course the works and they assessed it with a grade. There was little space at the time at our school, so there were no exhibitions. There were exhibitions that were part of various events where we represented our school, the Arts High School. That is where we exhibited paintings, sculptures, mosaics, graphics and every other applicative art, respectively, crafts.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you came in contact with art? You told me how you worked with your father. I am interested to know how did you come to the idea that art is a kind of a configuration of that?
Tomislav Trifić: I don’t know. The dream of each person when they finish elementary school, they plan where they want to go, to which school. Somehow, everybody was choosing the gymnasium, economic school, agriculture and so on. I don’t remember where the desire to enroll in the Arts High School came from.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: When did you notice…
Tomislav Trifić: That is what I am talking about. I didn’t notice anything special, but my art teacher got me interested in… yes.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Where have you seen in your surrounding, where did you have the chance to see art?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you translate it to yourself that what you wanted to do was art?
Tomislav Trifić: I can remember it better now. When I finished elementary school. My house was across from the paper factory which was called Lepenka. Since they processed paper, I would find various books in their trash, and one day, by accident, I found a book on art. And I would collect all those books without being aware of or knowing anyone at those early times, that period. Then I fell in love with art, I mean, as I was studying its visual forms. My art teacher, she had finished exactly at that Arts High School in Peja. And so, in conversations with her, she said, “You could go there. I see that you are talented.” And so on.
I mean, this is literally what led me there. I wanted to become what I wanted to become, I wanted to learn how to work with colors. When my father was working in the region… I would take his colors, the furniture colors, the carpentry colors and so on, and I tried to paint with those oil colors. I am sure that had an influence too. And this was my desire behind which I stood stubbornly and I achieved my goal to enroll at the Arts High School. So, from my family, not anyone close or far, there was no one to advise me and say, “Ah, this is what you should study.” And maybe it was better this way.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were there people engaged in arts, any artistic scene?
Tomislav Trifić: What?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Artistic scene, did you…?
Tomislav Trifić: Scene? There wasn’t one. Lipjan is small, a small town where the notion of a gallery, nobody knew what a gallery was, what an atelier was, I don’t know what else. A small setting where people lived the way they did. Those small industrial factories, they were all here. Art was something strange. In fact, I met a sculptor back then, I don’t remember his name, he was working on the memorial of the Aksić brothers in Lipjan, and I looked at how he worked on sculptures with clay or mud. And I was fascinated by how he worked. I looked at him all the time while he was working. So, I didn’t have any other chance until I went to the Arts High School.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you go there more out of enthusiasm?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes that, but Lipjan is an agricultural place, just like every other flat place in Kosovo. However, the shops were there, then the paper factory, mining and the metal industry, the upper mine and so on. There’s nothing special about the place. Pretty much an agrarian setting.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Okay. Can we go back and talk about the Arts High School in Peja?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, in Peja, as with every new beginning that you have to get used to, you start from the alphabet, starting with most basic: the line. I mean we started drawing this, then nature and so on. We learned the techniques of aquarelle, then painting, sculpture, decoration and mosaic. Every discipline, connected not only to art but also to applied art. You know, all of these, namely figurative and applied, every technique was taught in that time.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: And then you went to Pristina for the High Pedagogical School?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, yes. After I finished the Arts High School, I enrolled in the High Pedagogical School in Pristina. The Department of Art, this is how it was called, the Department of Art. There the students were prepared to work as teachers, as art teachers in elementary and secondary schools.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: When were you prepared to work as a teacher?
Tomislav Trifić: No, I never thought of working as a teacher. In fact, I wanted to finish… to improve myself in my profession, to enter that magical craft, a magical word, art. So, the Academy was opened when I finished the High Pedagogical School. I mean, it was 1973, 1973 is a very significant year, not only for me but for art in Kosovo and Metohija in general. The Academy of Arts was opened in ‘73 in Pristina, and this is how it was called in the beginning, the Academy of Figurative Arts.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Who taught there?
Tomislav Trifić: Back then in the High Pedagogical School they lectured… I mean the school advanced from a High Pedagogical School to a Faculty. Back then there was Muslim Mulliqi, one of the masters and one of the greatest painters in my opinion. At that time, but also later. Now there was Svetozar Kamenović, back then there were, I don’t know, [Shemsedin] Kasapolli lectured, Tahir Emra, Xhevdet Xhafa came later. These were young artists who grew up to be strong artists. Esad Valla, Rexhep Ferri earlier, since he had come as a painter, and others.
I can’t count all of them but there was a constellation of strong artists who first of all came here from the academy in Belgrade and that in Zagreb. I don’t know who came from the academy in Ljubljana.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Xhevdet Xhafa?
Tomislav Trifić: Xhevdet Xhafa came as a graphic artist. I mean, the skeleton was comprised of professors of the High Pedagogical School and professors of the Academy of Belgrade. I have to mention that at that time, I enrolled in the Department of Graphics with the famous professor, professor, professor (laughs)…my memory is failing me, I don’t remember. Boško Karanović, sorry, Boško Karanović. He was a master of graphic art in Yugoslavia, not only here. So…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Is he from Kosovo?
Tomislav Trifić: No, he is from Belgrade. In fact, he was the first one who opened a collective exhibition of graphics… and so on. Not to talk about those things now. But this is a generation that had a lot of good professors.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: In what language did they teach?
Tomislav Trifić: They taught in Serbian here. There were no divisions. It was the same in the Arts High School in Peja. Back then there was no interest in teaching in two languages parallelly. But some subjects, as the art history were later taught in… professors from Belgrade who visited, of course, they couldn’t lecture in Albanian. But above all, people must know that art is a craft. Everything about a craft can be known. All languages are spoken. In this system of crafts, of the passing on the knowledge of crafts, how to say, learning crafts. Of course, and the poetics that developed later.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: To you, was Pristina a new city, or since you lived nearby it wasn’t like that? How was it back then?
Tomislav Trifić: At that time, I came to Pristina from Peja. Pristina was however an administrative and cultural center. Pristina at that time was way stronger than Niš and Kragujevac and Kraljevo, or I can also say Skopje, the whole southern part gravitated toward Pristina. First of all, it was a university city with new spaces. The Academy opened in ‘73. For example, the academy in Novi Sad was opened in ‘74. So, it is a long tradition. So, students from Niš, Prokuplje, Vranja and others, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, they all came here to study. From Peja, Montenegro and so on. So, again, it was a kind of cultural and administrative center, a center of art above all.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Could you tell us more details about how it was back then?
Tomislav Trifić: At that time when the first generations of figurative artists started coming up, that was the time when the famous, so called Associations of Figurative Artists began to be founded. The first Association, as far as I remember was the Association ULUS, The Association of Figurative Artists of Serbia with a branch here in Pristina. Those who were members of ULUS were already great artists. And it was difficult, difficult to be accepted into the Association. You had to be good and have quality work, to have amazing work in order to be considered by the commission that gathered annually and so on. And each year, they received requests from new members, they received requests for new exhibitions that were organized in Pristina as well as in other cities in Kosovo and Metohija.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Do you remember the first exhibitions held with the Association?
Tomislav Trifić: The first exhibitions were at Boro and Ramiz. You know Boro and Ramiz?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Yes, yes.
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, that center. It was an…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: In the corridor?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, in the corridor. That was in ‘76, ‘77, the end of these years. You know, in ‘73 I enrolled in the University, after four years.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Back then there was the Gallery?
Tomislav Trifić: Yes, of course there was. How not?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Wasn’t the Gallery opened in…
Tomislav Trifić: The Gallery, the Gallery was there.
Erëmirë KrAsniqi: … in ‘79?
Tomislav Trifić: I don’t know when it was opened, but I know that there was a gallery… it wasn’t a typical gallery but there was a lot of space. Yes, back then there were no shops there. The space in which the [exhibitions] were organized. It was a tradition in the Faculty, or in the back then the Academy, for the annual exhibition to be organized in Boro and Ramiz at the end of the school year. I mean, all the groups. We had painters, sculptors and graphic artists. Later the Department of Graphic Design was opened within the Academy of Arts. In the beginning there was the Department of Music with a focus on piano, violin and I don’t know what else. And then there was the Department of Acting, the Department of Drama. Until then there was the Academy, which later expanded and it was called the Faculty of Arts, since two other departments were added to it, the Department of Music and Drama.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How would you define the style of your work?
Tomislav Trifić: Realism, Cubism, Marxism?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you aware of what you were using in your work? Was it… how is it?
Tomislav Trifić: Speak in Albanian.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Was it a conceptual determination?
Tomislav Trifić: Every academy or school of arts or high school had to teach their students realism. Realism is the basis of everything. This is like learning all the letters [of the alphabet], learning to write well and then to read well, so that later you can create your own texts. Whether you will write haikus or epic poems or novels, that depends on your poetics. So, the Faculty was the first year, second and third, it was focused on teaching the basic rules, crafts, techniques, ways and so on. There was no determination on realism at that time, hyperrealism, whether that was impressionism, cubism, abstraction and so on, it was all the same.
It depended on the determination of the students, on what they chose. We weren’t all the same when we graduated from the University. Everybody had their poetics. We were all different from each other. There was no copying of professors, students who were like their professors, students who were similar to their professors. If anybody understood it that way, that is the greatest mistake. I mean, each one had to develop as an individual in their own direction and become notable in their own style…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What were the influences from, for example from… from the world [English] how do you call it?
Tomislav Trifić: From…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: From the world’s art. Were you exposed to the art of the world?
Tomislav Trifić: Through… I will tell you now. From subjects such as art history, in which we had, we learned art history in the School of Arts and in gymnasium… the so—called poetics of the twentieth century, it was contemporary art history and we learned about it there. Of course, with time, with technological development, there were various opportunities, so that we had the chance to watch it through television, in various documentaries about certain exhibitions that were organized. We went with the Faculty from here to Belgrade for each big and important exhibition. I mean, to see what was happening up there in Belgrade, what was happening in the world, where they were coming from, what kind of works, new tendencies and so on.
Related to this, we… I will speak specifically about the field of graphics, each year we had the Yugoslav Biennale of Student Graphics. Each faculty in back—then Yugoslavia held a common exhibition in Belgrade, the so—called Student Graphics. I can tell you that one year, in the last year when we exhibited, I won the first prize of the Student Graphics, The Student Graphics of Yugoslavia. Back then the award was organizing a solo exhibition in the all—Yugoslav Exhibition of Student Graphics. This is how we got involved.
We literally competed with every other academy, the Academy in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Novi Sad, sometimes Skopje, back then Skopje had no academy. These were the four academies with which we often competed, we followed who was working on what. So, this existed not only in the field of graphics. Of course, this also happened in the field of painting, as well as sculpture and the others.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: There was no Biennale of Graphics here in Pristina?
Tomislav Trifić: There was no Biennale of Graphics as far as I remember, because we were a developing country at the time, for that tradition is required. So, the first, second and fourth year weren’t enough. But mainly, the big exhibitions would come here, so the students who weren’t able to go there and see the exhibitions in Belgrade and so on, would have the chance to exhibit.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What centers of Yugoslavia did they come from?
Tomislav Trifić: Mainly from various centers. Even if it was a Yugoslav graphics exhibition, it would travel to cities where the students were coming from, from all around. I mean, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Belgrade and Pristina. We were all equally strong, equally good.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Can we return to ‘74, when the Academy of Arts was founded. How was the admission exam, how were you accepted?
Tomislav Trifić: After the High Pedagogical School, as I told you, the conditions were secured to open the Academy. The foundation was laid down by the professors who were there. While no academy in the world, not in Belgrade, Novi Sad or Zagreb could be founded without the help of one of the old academies. This is how the Academies of Belgrade and Sarajevo were founded. I remember Karamehmedović who would come from Belgrade to lecture in art history. People would come in the first and second year and so on until the staff was established.
The assistants who had finished their studies in Belgrade, they continued working at the Faculty, so we didn’t feel the vacuum of qualified professors. So, simply, there were always good professors. So, having good professors and good students, it was always a difficult competition to enroll in the Academy. It was a privilege.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you decide to enroll in the Department of Graphics?
Tomislav Trifić: I simply decided to study graphic arts since graphic… I didn’t know its techniques. I decided to study it out of curiosity. They told me that I was a good painter, that I painted really well, at that time in Peja I worked with spatulas, with Japanese metal spatulas and that is why they called me Toma, The Spatula. I enrolled in the field of graphic arts simply because it was unknown to me, and I wanted to research it, to find out what graphic arts are. Yes.
 Shkolla e Mesme e Artit, the Arts High School in Peja was built in 1926 and opened in 1949. The first generations of visual artists in Kosovo received their education in figurative and applicative arts from this institution. This education enabled the artists to continue higher education in arts. The historical building of the Art High School in Peja was destroyed in August, 2017.
 Vladimir Vlada Radović (1901-1986) was born in Peja, Kosovo. He graduated from the School of Arts in Belgrade. He was one of the first educated painters in Kosovo and an organizer of cultural life in Peja, as well as a teacher at the Arts High School in Peja.
 A European type of secondary school with emphasis on academic learning, different from vocational schools because it prepares students for university.
 Shkolla e Lartë Pedagogjike, The High Pedagogical School, was founded in Pristina in 1958 as the first institution of higher education in Kosovo. In 1974, the academic staff of the Figurative Arts department of the High Pedagogical School founded the Academy of Fine Arts within the newly established University of Pristina.
 Muslim Mulliqi (1934-1998) was born in Gjakova, Kosovo. He was an impressionist and expressionist painter from Kosovo. Born into a family of artists, Mulliqi attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade under Zoran Petrović’s mentorship, where he also continued with his postgraduate studies.
 Svetozar Kamenović (1921–1979) was born in Pirot, Serbia. He was a Kosovo Serb painter who finished his training at the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts in 1953. After graduating, he began teaching at the Arts School in Peja, where he remained until his death in 1979. His paintings were widely exhibited in Kosovo, in particular in 1970s.
Shemsedin Kasapolli (1929-2006) was born in Peja, Kosovo. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Serbia. Upon his return to Kosovo in 1969 he taught aesthetics at the Shkolla e Lartë Pedagogjike and later at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prishtina.
 Tahir Emra (1938) was born in Gjakova, Kosovo. He is an Albanian modernist painter. Emra is a member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosovo.
 Xhevdet Xhafa (1934) was born in Peja, Kosovo. He did his graduate and post-graduate studies in Ljubljana under the mentorship of professor Gabriel Stupica. He worked as a professor at the Academy of Arts in Pristina until his retirement.
 Rexhep Ferri (1937) was born in Kukës, Albania. He is a renowned Kosovo painter. Ferri attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. In 1999 he was elected secretary of the Art Section of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosovo and in the year 2000 he was elected as a regular member.
 Boško Karanović (1924-2009) was born in Bosanska Krupa, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was a painter and graphic artist. He graduated in 1948 in the Academy of Fine Arts and specialized in Graphic Arts. He was the founder of Graphic Arts Collective in 1949 and Graphic Arts Appreciation Society called ARTA. He was one of the lead artists in modern graphic art.
 ULUS – Udruženje Likovnih Umetnika Srbije, The Association of Serbia’s Figurative Artists.
 Boro dhe Ramizi refers to two friends, Boro Vukmirović and Ramiz Sadiku, who were executed during the Second World War. They became the symbol of the Brotherhood and Unity of the Serbian and Albanian people. In Yugoslav times it was common to name institutions after the heroes of the anti-fascist war.
 The Pristina Gallery of Arts was the first exhibition space in the then-Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The gallery space was established in 1979 and located in the Youth and Sports Center – Boro dhe Ramizi.