The artist Petrit Halilaj has withdrawn from the Belgrade Biennial after the organizers of the exhibition dithered over how to present his nationality in accompanying materials.
Halilaj is from Kosovo, and the biennial is organized and hosted by the Cultural Centre of Belgrade in Serbia, a country that does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. He pulled out of the show after he was unable to agree with the organizers about how his country of origin would be named in the list of participating artists.
Halilaj, who is based in Berlin, has written an open letter detailing his experience with the exhibition, which is officially called the 58th October Salon: Belgrade Biennial.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and there is a fraught history between the two nations. During the Kosovo War of 1998–99, fought between the two nations, Halilaj himself was displaced and spent more than two years living in refugee camps. In his letter, Halilaj recalls how his and his family’s passports were destroyed, and refers to the conflict as a genocide.
“When I received the invitation to the Belgrade Biennial I was internally conflicted, but I also saw it as an opportunity to create a bridge, to open up a dialogue and to explore new paths of reconciliation through art,” Halilaj writes.
Organizers first omitted his country of origin from a document released in May. After he requested a correction, organizers introduced it with an asterisk, which Halilaj says “reiterates the refusal of Serbia to recognize Kosovo as an independent country.”
“The asterisk does not even begin to repair a century of oppression and genocide that Serbia has inflicted on Kosovo and it is painful to witness in the context of an art institution that may have a different understanding of the issue,” Halilaj writes.