• Conference: Action Boxing Club

Action Boxing Club

Saturday, 13 December 2014, at 20:30

Panelists: Gjejlane Hoxha, Elana Katz, Nikola Radić and Petrit Selimi
Moderated by Albert Heta

The former building of Boxing Club Prishtina
Mark Isaku Street, Prishtina

Action Boxing Club was open for the public, from September 12 until October 11 2014, together with the process of opening for the public of a building with multiple identities.

Conference of the project, presentations and a panel discussion with panelists Gjejlane Hoxha, Elana Katz, Nikola Radić and Sali Shoshi, moderated by Albert Heta will address the exhibition Action Boxing Club, the continuation of the research of the artist, contemporary and historical topics triggered by the work, methods of commemorating World War II and its consequences, the role of art in historical discourse, and the memory of Kosovo’s Jewish history.

Through collection of oral histories Elana Katz’s research had identified this building as a former Jewish school or Jewish Community building of Prishtina.
The building, once used also by Boxing Club Prishtina, through Action Boxing Club has become another independent contemporary art platform located in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. “Kosovo is known more for conflict than culture.”, was a statement made in the online travel section of the Guardian. Prishtina still has only one independent contemporary art institution, one governmental national gallery, one gallery that functions as an office of a department of a governmental institution, one gallery of the faculty of arts and one or two private art galleries.

Since the late 1980’s, or in other words, the times when conflict began, when the country lost its autonomy and many citizens lost their jobs, this building was the place where people tried their luck with numbers. After the liberation, the building was still being rented by the Boxing Club Prishtina to a private business to be used for the same purpose – a tombola. This agreement gave some financial support to the club and this ended only recently. Before then, the building was only used by the trainers and boxers of the Boxing Club Prishtina, a famous club in former Yugoslavia. Boxing Club Prishtina, with the legendary trainer Lah Nimani, had among its ranks Kosovar boxing champions like Bajram Hashani, Aziz Salihu, Sami Buzolli, Afrim Majanci, Xhevdet Peci, Mehmet Bogujevci that alongside other clubs and their sportsman and sportswomen, were the pride of Kosovo in Jugoslavia. These boxers won medals in European and World Championships and in the Olympics. But, the majority of my generation who just watched their matches never knew that their base was this historical building and not the Youth, Culture and Sports Center Boro and Ramizi.

For older citizens of Prishtina, this building was known as ‘Sokolana’. Before being transformed into the gym of a boxing club, this building was known as “Sokolana” or “Sokolsko društvo”, both names in Serbian language. Similar institutions or institutions with the same name that were created in the beginning of the 20th century continue to exist in Serbia, and their activity is based on the original tradition of improving the motor skills of children, youth and citizens. After the Second World War ‘Sokolana’ was used by the youth of the community, sportsmen and sportswomen, as a gymnastics training hall and a hall for team sports.

Prior to this project the building was lost from public sight. Even though it is located in the center of Prishtina, today the building is barely visible. Located some 100 meters away from Parliament, and from a central street, one has to go through an underground passage of a post World War II residential building, and one will always speed walk past this building to avoid the smell coming out of the open trash bins located next to it. Or I always did this and only noticed the sign ‘Boxing Club Prishtina’, barely standing, atin the edge of the building. The faded ‘Boxing Club Prishtina’ sign is still there, as if it was a joke. The club operated in another location for years. Papers and folders scattered about also mention a boxing club named ‘Radnicki’ which seems to be the former name of the Boxing Club Prishtina. Information is available on the internet about this name in the Serbian language, used by the club in 1979. Cracks running through walls of the building and a surreal image of the interior are overshadowed by the high ceiling, tall windows and the vast (around 120 square meters) of the main hall, an architecture like no other building in Prishtina, and no other museum or gallery space in Kosovo.

In relation to this building and others that have been associated with the Jewish Community of Kosovo, documentation is non-existent.

The archive of the Jewish Community of Prishtina is currently missing, since it was re-located to Belgrade, Serbia after 1999. Katz has been following traces of the vanished archive, as well as researching Kosovo's Jewish history through interviews with members of the Jewish Community of Kosovo - located in Prizren, current residents of Prishtina and Holocaust-survivors of the former Jewish Community of Prishtina, who have relocated to Belgrade, since the 1970’s and until 1999.

In interviews with Katz, these community members have confirmed the history of the building in the focus of the project. What is not clear to me is how did this building, located in the center of Prishtina, remain successfully hidden from the memory of the citizens of this city, and several high-level governmental attempts aimed to identify sites and buildings related to the Jewish Community of Kosovo. Today the building looks like it’s destined to be replaced by a new construction. Similar processes have occurred to buildings built around the same period and were left to be destroyed by time and negligence, and are today replaced by new buildings and new interests. These buildings were protected as heritage and this building is not.

But more than anything, this project highlights once again the possibilities and the potential of individual research, and the power of art and social work in a country with no archival history, credible archival institutions or archival material. I said it many times, history (making) as a tool for erasing and engineering the past for those in power in the present is a dominant practice in this country.

Action Boxing Club, and the action of the reactivation of this building, are necessary steps in making public the histories of this society. It does this by opening existing spaces to public use and creating discussions by the public as a way for developing a credible process of remembering and documenting, not only Kosovo’s Jewish past and its present absence but, also the past and the present of Kosovar society.

Action Boxing Club Conference is supported by: U.S. Embassy Pristina, Municipality of Prishtina, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Kosovo Energy Distribution and Supply Company – KEDS, Ujë Rugove and DZG