In 2016 Agim Sulaj won the 3rd Derwent Art Prize for his work ‘Refugees’. The drawing depicts an old, battered suitcase, the top of which is adorned with tempestuous waves and a capsizing ship. Desperate drowning souls are seen fighting tooth and nail to climb on board.
The drawing is the finest example of a powerful political comment; the observations from an artist who empathises with the struggles faced by those fleeing their countries in order to seek a better life. Agim Sulaj is an Albanian born artist who now lives and works in Italy, and who has exhibited extensively around the world since 1979. In this interview Agim tells us about how he is revisiting the motif of the suitcase for his 2018 Derwent Art Prize entry, and his excitement for interpreting his drawing ‘Refugees’ as a public sculpture.
Lisa: How did you develop the idea for drawing ‘Refugees’?
Agim: “Refugees” is typical of my artistic practice. I am also an emigrant and I’ve seen how it is. In leaving my own country I’ve seen very well the difficulties of arriving in a foreign country, and it inevitably affects one’s art. I like the metaphor of the suitcase and have used it numerous times, in fact my entry to the 2018 Derwent Art Prize will also incorporate the theme of the suitcase. The drawing “Refugees” was successful in my country. At the moment I’m in contact with the city of Vlore (in the south of Albania) for the transformation of this drawing into a big sculpture for the harbour of the city, in the place where a lot emigrants start their trips.
Lisa: How important was winning the Derwent Art Prize to you?
Agim: Winning the Derwent Art Prize was very important to me, because it meant international appreciation of the work, and also the award is from one of the most famous producer of pencils in the world.
Lisa: There are many competitions that require online submission these days. How do you feel about your work being judged on a computer screen, as opposed to being judged in the flesh?
Agim: Of course by judging the work in the flesh the judges can access more of the emotion of the works, but it’s understandable that for international art competitions, with so many entries, judging via a computer screen can be very helpful for the initial selections.
Lisa: Is it important for artists to draw every day, in your opinion? If so why?
Agim:Yes, of course. Working every day in the studio is very important for all artists, because it keeps you trained, like someone that goes every day to a gym.
Lisa: What is your favourite medium to work with and why?
Agim:I like many techniques and I like to experiment. My favourites however are oil on canvas and graphite pencil because through these techniques I find it easier to express better my ideas.
Lisa: You were born in Albania yet now live and work in Italy. How do you think moving to Italy has influenced your art work?
Agim: Moving to Italy helped my art a lot. I studied in Albania at the university of art in Tirana but when I came to Italy I was happy because I could access a lot of museums and exhibitions of famous painters and it has given me the opportunity to learn a lot.
Lisa: What art work are you most proud of and why?
Agim: There are lots of paintings I have made that are important to me, but ‘Refugees’ is the work I am most proud of at the moment. My favourite changes all the time in accordance with my inspirations and interests. I am always searching for new ideas and am always trying to do better.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Agim:At the moment I’m working on several competition entries, one of these is for the “Derwent Art Prize 2018”. As I said before I’m also working on a sculpture based on ‘Refugees’ in Albania.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
The deadline for the 2018 Derwent Art Prize is the 8th May 2018. To enter and for more information visit https://www.derwent-artprize.com/
Header Image: ‘Soap Bubbles’ by Agim Sulaj, Oil on canvas, 70cm x 80cm