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“They don’t even know how to copy”

The discourse on originality in Albania’s art world

Sofia Kalo


This article explores the prevalence of concerns over artistic originality in Albania’s postsocialist art world. Based on anthropological fieldwork, it discusses how Albanian artists discipline each other’s work, particularly by noting its lack of originality in relationship to well-known Western artists but also their own. Emphasizing the social and organizational role of such concerns, I analyze them in light of various factors that have become salient after Albania’s transition from postsocialism to a market economy, including the loss of a system of authority following the liberalization of art production from state support and oversight and the failure to develop a stable one since 1991. The discourse on originality expresses Albanian artists’ perceived marginal status in the transnational art world and market and is deployed to transcend this status.