My Home, My Prison

Vancon Laetitia

2014 - Ongoing

April - May / The Vukaj family of northern Albania, have been trapped in a Blood Feud conflict for 20 years. Innocent of any wrong doing, they sadly belong to the "wrong" clan.

Isolated, unconsidered, and depending on corrupted public administrations, they are deprived of their basic human rights.

Nowadays blood feud is defined as a serious social plague in the Albanian society. It reveals the power vacuum that characterized post-communist Albania, and especially the extremely corrupt, slow, and unreliable judiciary system. It shows the incapacity of the state in defending the fundamental human right to life as the most fundamental and important right of individual protected by law. The Albanian Parliament has approved hundreds of laws that appear pro European but have substantial flaws because they are not based on the Albanian reality.

This justice system leaves the family of Noja without their basic human rights: the right to education, social life, and freedom. Their house, the only place they are safe, according to the Kanun, is becoming their prison.

I find important to keep on informing about this issue. I develop this work with an intimate angle, in order to involve the viewer with universal feelings and emotions. What I focuse on, is not so much the feuds themselves but the idea of being in forced isolation, and how it feels for the different members of the family. In order to do so, I gave them single used camera and integrate their pictures and their texts in the work.

The Vukaj family story makes the world feel like a smaller place. It suggests that the similarities connecting us across continents and cultures are more resonant than the things that divide us.

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  • Once a month, Angje is waiting in front of a Christian convent to receive some food. This day, like many of them, she will receive nothing.
    Vilma confined: " I feel sad as I see my family suffering for daily bread, I grieve when my mum goes like a beggar behind the doors of churches or associations to ask for some food.. I grieve when I see my sister, Jozefina, growing without perspectives for her future. I can not see her anymore watching from behind the window what she is dreaming to do. I hope one day we can pull out the fence and we can make our dreams come true."

  • Noja : "I am really pessimist about our future. Nobody cares about us, nobody works with heart, in our days if you cannot serve the interests of the people, you are nothing, you do not count. Only God can hear us."

  • There are certain things we feel are beautiful and good, and we hope and hunger for them. Whatever happens we keep on moving further.

  • "If I could one day, I would like to go to school, to seat in a class and meet friends in a schoolyard …Is that really high expectations?"

  • The Besa has been given to the family until the 5th of June 2014. Noja used this time to go to the hospital. He has a severe infection of his right elbow ligaments.
    Less than the half of the population in Albania has health insurance. However, insured or not, you might not gain the interest of nursing staff without a bribe, and your generosity will significantly improve the quality of your treatment.

  • Pictures taken by Jozefina with a single used camera.

  • "I am born into chaos. I don’t really know what peace feels like, says Vilma, The worst for me is that I never could do what I wanted. I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t meet some friend - Apart of my family, I know nobody."

  • Pictures of Paulo Vukaj, Noja's son, replaced on the window where he was standing, before to flee in Belgium on february 2014, where he is now asking for asylum.

  • Blood feud has created a climate of fear, stress and anxiety that casts a shadow over the family, depriving them of free interaction with their neighbors and community. They have to live most of the time hidden.

  • Place where Simon Vukaj, the brother of Noja, was killed on the 14th of May 1994. North of Bardhaj.

  • In North of Albania, the social ancestral code, called "Kanun", emerges again after the fall of the communism time in 1991.
    In 2014, it is now a degenerated version of it, without boundaries and exceptions. It becomes a total confusion and a deep social wound with too many bitter consequences, and a flagrant violation of human rights.
    Since 20 years, the family Vukaj is trapped in one of those tragic stories. Lock inside their house, their only crime is to belong to the "wrong" clan.
    Stories from another age, only two hours away by plane from Geneva or Milan. North of Albania, although close geographically, remains definitely mainly unknown and impenetrable from the rest of Europe.

  • Angje, the wife of Noja, and their daughter Jozefina. Angje is suffering from depression and anxiety.

  • Blood feud blights the lives of the whole family. Vilma 16 years old, and Jozefina 10 years old, laying on the coach of the living room. The girls resort to text messages, Skype, video clips on TV or YouTube and Facebook to interact with the outside world.
    Their modern means of communication juxtaposes the old-world values of the Kanun and traditional Albanian lifestyle.

  • " I feel so tired, after 20 years living with these problems, and I can only trust myself to resolve them."
    (Picture took by Noja with a single used camera)