Petrit Halilaj, 36, knows war very well because he lived it as a child refugee in Kosovo. The visual artist showcases his experience with drawings that art lovers can currently explore at an exhibition in Paris.
Halilaj was thirteen when he became a refugee due to the armed conflict between Kosovo and former Yugoslavia. Back then, he used fluorescent gel marker to draw soldiers killing civilians.
His drawing caught the attention of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the time. During a visit to a refugee camp in Albania accompanied with world's media, in 1999, Annan met the kid Halilaj, and saw his drawing.
During an interview with Agence France Press (AFP), he said: “At first, I thought this was my chance to stop the war. I was rushing to complete a big drawing before he arrived.”
When Annan asked if he could take the drawing to a major UN meeting, Halilaj said no. “Maybe I was thinking about my grandfather's words who said Annan’s visit is theatrical. But maybe I just had a sense that this is my drawing and I wanted to keep it!” the artist said.
Today, Halilaj, is a famous artist, and he shed lights on war traumas and refugees’ affairs at an exhibition held at the Kamel Mennour Gallery in Paris until June 23.
This man, who teaches art at Paris’ Académie des Beaux-Arts once a month, sees things on a large scale, so he turned his childhood pictures into huge installations featuring nature and animals, as well as some war-inspired images, including a drawing that depicts a soldier threatening people with a gun and a knife.
“In war, you learn to be afraid of strangers and others. Only once I was in the camp did I learn to start connecting to strangers again and having art was so important as a way to express and share,” he told AFP.
His exhibition emphasizes the importance of consulting a mental health expert. “Petrit had a psychologist trained in working in traumatic situations who understood how to present the situation as therapy first and foremost, and not something to be instrumentalized,” co-curator, Amy Zion told AFP.