RomaMoMA – Sead Kazanxhiu

The Nests
installation, materials: wood, metallic wire, polyurethane foam, and paint
Location: Garrison Command

Kazanxhiu builds giant nests—evocative of swallows’ nests—and installs them in public spaces and institutions. These nests are used as metaphors to draw attention to issues, concepts, and cultures that are not part of our public institutions and history, even though we are conscious of their existence. In addition, the nests are used to create a new reality, in which they take on another function: they serve as a means to create a physical space for marginalised cultures that have not been institutionalised and cultures that are not allowed to take part in decision-making processes. At the same time, the nests demonstrate the need for collective action, the need for us to work with each other, and the environment surrounding us.

First installed on the façade of the Albanian National Museum in Tirana in 2012, The Nests called for the institutionalisation of Roma history, art and culture within the Albanian context. The installation articulates the position of Roma art and culture within the broader framework of a majority culture, highlighting the duality of homeliness and strangeness. Within this context, the communal, grassroots, and caring character of Roma institutionalism is every bit as present as the condition of constant exclusion. In this sense, too, the metaphor of the swallow’s nest is significant: the simple habitat of these small migratory birds is seen by many as a problematic addendum to their homes, and people hold little regard for the bird’s ecological value. Similarly, with all its merits and achievements, Roma art and culture are often considered an “outsider.” Yet, according to Kazanxhiu, swallows are literally “free as a bird,” They also have a nest to return to. This metaphorical relationship also emphasises Kazanxhiu’s paradoxical research into the idea of “Rromani phuv” (Romani Land), the country of this nation without a nation-state.


Small house, Home sweet home
multimedia installation, plaster houses. Dimensions: 5 x 5 cm each, overall dimensions variable
Location: Garrison Command
multimedia installation, materials: 500 small, individually crafted plaster houses. Dimensions: 5 x 5 cm each, overall dimensions variable

Sead Kazanxhiu creates tiny pottery houses that become accessories to the artist’s public performances, spontaneous actions and demonstrative protests, which he often enacts in public spaces to call attention to the Roma housing situation across Europe. Occasionally he installs many thousands of tiny houses in front of official buildings that house public authorities or in artistic spaces, in which he makes a conscious effort to connect his political activism and aesthetic work. These interventions call attention to the tragic housing situation of the Roma people: Roma families often lack the financial resources necessary to own a home, making these communities dependent upon national authorities for housing access. It also makes them vulnerable to the numerous occurrences of eviction, and homelessness rates are high in Roma communities due to economic oppression and a general lack of possibilities to lead a prosperous life in Albania. Where can Roma feel safe if they do not have a home – symbolically and literally? 


I Don’t Have Borders to Protect
public installation, materials: writing in balloon letters, dimensions variable
Public space: Alba Iulia Street

Sead Kazanxhiu’s statement, “I don’t have borders to protect,” written with golden balloons, serves as a kind of ironic celebration of the future (obsolescence) of borders. The artist explains that in his Romani language, there is no word for ‘’border ‘’. It does not exist. When his community wants to speak about borders, they refer to the equivalent words in other languages. The sentence “I don’t have borders to protect” becomes a testimony left by the artist’s grandfathers, a remnant of the times when they were forced to go to war. His ancestors hid their children to keep them from going to fight to protect borders that his people never had.


video, 7:28’’
Location: Garrison Command

Documentation of the performance in which the artist invites members of his community to cover him with shishik (“clay” in the Romani language) as a form of purification and a protective process. 

Through his art, Sead Kazanxhiu has continuously fought for various cultural, social, and political issues related to his identity as a member of the Roma minority. As a result, the question of the Roma minority’s participation in the decision-making process has taken on a crucial role in its work.

How long should an individual, often marginalised, continue to sacrifice himself to raise awareness of the necessity of a minority’s participation in decision-making processes?

Often Albanian politicians, or various private and public entities, use the term “Baltosje” (“mudding”) with a negative connotation to articulate a form of an indictment against a particular political entity, institution, or even an individual. “Nothing about us without us” is a slogan used during the 1990s to communicate that no political decision should be made without the full and direct participation of all group members affected by it.

In this performance, the artist invites members of his community to cover him with shishik (“clay” in the Romani language) as a form of purification and a protective process. The interaction between the artist painted and covered with mud by members of his community figuratively expresses their desire and commitment to preserving his “pure” figure as a form of acceptance and legitimacy given to him, as he becomes a positive model of a Roma person who has struggled for—and achieved—participation in the decision-making processes of the Albanian government.


Sead Kazanxhiu is a visual artist from Baltëz-Fier in southwest Albania, currently living and working in Tirana. He works across various media, including painting, installations, video and performance. Kazanxhiu’s work as an artist and as a cultural producer, more generally, reflects his position as an Albanian Roma citizen. Profoundly aware of how social and political hierarchies within the nation-state reinforce unequal privileges and prevent participation, Kazanxhiu’s practice foregrounds and addresses issues of politics, activism, prejudice, exclusion, and the environment. His image-making represents a single artist’s efforts to restore the dignity of a cultural group that has been forcefully and unjustly marginalised within the structures of European democracy. With eight personal shows since 2012 (in Tirana, Budapest and Brussels) and numerous group exhibitions, including documenta fifteen and Manifesta 14, he is considered one of the most engaged younger protagonists in the contemporary Albanian cultural scene.


RomaMoMARomaMoMA is a joint initiative of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) and OFF-Biennale Budapest. RomaMoMA is a contemporary art project initiating a forum for collaborative reflection on a future Roma Museum of Contemporary Art, with the involvement of local and international Roma and non-Roma artists, cultural experts, social scientists, and the civil sphere.

In the form of a contemporary art project involving stakeholder communities and exploiting the possibilities of collective thinking and discourse, as well as the critical and discursive potentials of modern art, it – prefiguratively – “creates” itself. It is an imagined and natural space home to both Roma arts and artists.

Rather than the realisation of a specific museum concept, the project connects a range of programs (exhibitions, film screenings, performances, workshops, etc.), modelling nomadic, flexible institutional operation, which raises questions about the devices of contemporary art.