A Story of Dictatorships, Censorship, and Unlikely Friendships

In her new photobook published by Siglio Press, French artist Anouck Durand mixes private archival and propaganda images to narrate a story of the Albanian dictatorship through the voice of those who helped propagate it.

© Anouck Durand, from the book, Eternal Friendship

The scene is set with a poster of the almighty Mao. Beijing, 1970: the People’s Republic and communist Albania enjoy, “the friendship of brotherhood, solid like granite.” This is what we read in the first pages of the book. An iconographic survey of dictator Enver Hoxha's years serving as Head of State in communist Albania, Eternal Friendship tells the story of three photographers who spent four months in China on an official mission: to learn a colourisation process that would supposedly do justice to the greatness of their leaders and their industry.

"Because Enver is as major a figure as Mao, the Party has decided that we should use the same technique for the portraits of the comrade First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania," explains the book’s narrator, photographer Refik Veseli. The reality is quite different: "None of us are persuaded by this outdated and complicated method. We hope they won’t take away our Kodak film," he admits a few pages later.

© Anouck Durand, from the book, Eternal Friendship

His words are loosely adapted from interviews that Anouck Durand conducted recently along with researcher Gilles de Rapper, and the narrative is based on a variety of resources that are mostly diverted from their original purpose. Pages are filled with propaganda posters, press clips and personal photographs of the three missionaries who learned a useless technique in order to avoid a diplomatic incident.

The official quarrel between the two allies would be irretrievable in 1978, but during this short decade of unshakable understanding, "the Chinese [were] helping to build power plants, metal and textile factories, and refineries." Therefore, no one was asking questions - the consequences of curiosity are not clearly stated but they are sufficiently explicit for Refik to understand that silence is a golden rule. The same silence is imposed on the images - their absence or gaps reveal some bits of the history.

© Anouck Durand, from the book, Eternal Frienship

The originality of Anouck Durand’s approach precisely resides in the subtle way she has to duplicate the codes and techniques of dictatorial censorship: a character disappears in the slice of the book, some silhouettes are erased roughly when they are not burnt out. The result of an extensive iconographic and ethnographic research, the re-appropriation of these images generates knowledge.

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Eternal Friendship by Anouck Durand

Published by Siglio Press // Translated by Elizabeth Zuba with an introduction by Eliot Weinberger

Hardback and dust jacket // 100 pages // Colour illustrations throughout // $36.00

BUY HERE

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Anouck Durand is a French artist-writer. She creates polyphonic photo-novels and image-based narratives using a variety of found materials and archives, drawing on history, pop culture as well as fictional constructions.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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