Above Everyone

Serie of 13 paintings, watercolour and ink on paper, each 36 x48 cm


Lined up one by one, Alban Muja’s series Above everyone (since 2020) creates an unconventional cityscape. His works focus not on typical landmark buildings but unassuming single-family homes that gracefully ascend above the city’s rooftops. In the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, an increasing number of Pristina’s residents began appropriating open spaces on existing structures to create homes of their own. These homes, built one or two stories up, largely resemble freestanding houses.
Muja captures the diverse array of these buildings in his watercolours (currently comprising 13 pieces). His play of black and white with colour evokes classical design sketches, where the surroundings of a new building or a renovation are merely sketched out and colour is restrained. He brings attention to the extensions and highlights a paradox: these
unauthorised annexations shape Pristina’s cityscape, yet they remain conspicuously absent from official depictions.
These houses in Muja’s watercolours seem to preside serenely over the existing architecture. Presented in a unified display, they look like sculptures atop slightly diminutive pedestals. At times, they appear to overwhelm the original structures, especially when they blanket entire rooftops so that there is no upward tapering. It creates a sensation of falling as soon as one steps out of the door. Each house in Muja’s series possesses its own unique character, reflecting the tastes and construction skills of their owners. But what narrative lies beyond the formal aspects of this network of architectural relationships?

Mapping the city this way, Muja delves into urban stagnation and its evolving contours. His watercolours depict an inhabited version of the city, a version that both testifies to the failure of a system, as well as to an individual “creative” approach to it. He devotes himself to a (structural) development directly linked to the war and the post-war period. The buildings he documents evidence a kind of parasitic construction, often built without permission from the local authorities and in violation of building regulations; a DIY solution for many who had lost their homes in the war and took advantage of the institutional vacuum and the absence of laws in the post-war period to build new homes to meet the housing shortage. Intriguingly, instead of selecting secluded places on the outskirts of the city or in the backyards of existing buildings for these illegal building projects, they assertively appropriated the free spaces on the roofs in the city centre – in plain sight to all. The extensions generally avoid other camouflages too, only occasionally adopting the shapes, colours and materials of the buildings to which they are attached; most of the annexes are quite overtly recognisable as subsequent add-ons.

(Text by Merle Radtke)