Name
Ornela Vorpsi
Country
Albania
Ornela Vorpsi, born in Tirana in 1968, left her home country at the age of 22, lived in Milan for six years and finally moved to Paris in 1997. The prose author, fine artist, photographer and video artist studied at the colleges of art in Tirana, Milan and Paris. She has participated in exhibitions of contemporary art, most recently "The Balkans crossroad the future" (2004, Bologna), "Blood & Honey" (2003, Vienna) and "Politique d'intérieur" (2002, Paris). In 2001, she published "Nothing obvious", a volume of her photographic works (Scalo Verlag, Zurich). This was followed by two books, written in Italian but first published in France "Le pays où l'on ne meurt jamais" (The country where one never dies, Actes Sud, 2004, translated into more than ten languages) and "Buvez du cacao Van Houten" (Drink Van-Houten Cocoa, Actes Sud, 2005).

"The country where one never dies" is an ironic, melancholy book about a childhood spent in Albania under the red dictator Enver Hoxha; it is about everyday life in one of the most terrible regimes of the former Eastern Block and a parable about the danger potential in backward societies – a book about a country where equality means no more than poverty for all and "re-education" camp for those who are not satisfied with their lot, a country with a capital city that repeatedly bleeds the already dry provinces of Albania like a vampire, with village-dwellers who dream of life in the city and city-dwellers who are transported to the countryside as political prisoners, with people who hang themselves with electric cables in their ramshackle huts because their pantries are completely empty and there is no end to their need in sight. This is a book about a country isolated from the outside world, where hatred and resentment rule and people live according to the motto: "Live, that I may hate you, die, that I may weep for you." And it is particularly difficult in Communist Albania if one is female. For the patriarchal structures, the machismo and the traditional prudery are so deeply rooted here that every woman lives under general suspicion of being a whore – even if officially the sexes have equal rights and the women are emancipated. And it becomes much more difficult if one grows up as the daughter of a political prisoner and - on top of all that - one is blessed with beauty. Ornela Vorpsi, whose father was imprisoned without reason when she was seven years old, and who was compelled to hear that she would "soon be a little tart" from a very early age, tells of the traumas of an Albanian childhood. The depth of her wounds is indicated by the fact that Ornela Vorpsi had to leave her home country behind her, be conscious of an ocean between herself and Albania, and learn a completely new language before she was capable of writing about her childhood.

Ornela Vorpsi's second book, the volume of stories "Drink Van-Houten Cocoa", appeared in 2005 and is based on some lines from Vladimir Mayakovski's poem "A Cloud in Trousers", which she read as a child and has been unable to forget since then: as the story goes, in Russia in 1910 the chocolate manufacturer Van Houten offered a man sentenced to death – and thus his heirs – a large sum of money if, directly before his execution, he shouted "Drink Van-Houten Cocoa" loudly into the crowd, and the man agreed to the deal. "Drink Van-Houten Cocoa" is a book about man's capacity to sell himself at any price and up until his last breath – on the gallows in 1910 and in the Reality-TV shows today. It is also a book conveying a great disappointment, because the West with its Christian and enlightened values did not emerge as her longed-for paradise after flight from Albania, but as a gigantic supermarket, in which everyone is prepared to sell his own skin.

Ornela Vorpsi's first publication appeared as early as 2001: the volume of photos "Nothing obvious", in which she shows femininity as something uncertain, damaged and fragmentary. Intimate snapshots and details of the female body, fluid and blurred: a white female body before a red background, hands that are holding a cup with bright-red painted fingernails, the silhouette of a woman before a rumpled bed. Red appears again and again, along with the search for what constitutes life as a woman; for female existence.