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The fire roars to life as Bashkim Tejeci takes his mouth-blown torch to the latest piece of filigree. For 43 years he has been perfecting his craft. But his students are only just beginning their journey.
The small shop sits by the Lumbardhi/Bistrica river in Prizren, Kosovo*. Outwardly humble, its heart is rich with history, and deep with an ancient knowledge.
Filigran is an enterprise originally formed in 1947 by the Yugoslav state in cooperation with local craftspeople. At its peak, Filigran had 142 people creating and selling unique silver jewellery known as filigree. With the collapse of communism, the factory closed its doors and many masters remained unemployed.
Today, a group of only ten work in this studio. A new initiative is planting the seeds of to revive filigree work in a systematic way. It’s gathered masters to teach students how to bend and shape thin strips of silver into beautiful pieces of art.
One of these students is Nazan Fushan. A mother of three, she fell in love with filigree as a young child.
“My father used to own a factory that produced coins, spoons, ashtrays, and filigree, but this was all done by machinery,” she says. “Sometimes he would bring back necklaces and it made me fall in love with it.”
Nazan is excited by the opportunity to learn, not only for herself, but for her children. “I love handmade works, so this is an opportunity to learn how to pass this on to my children.”
Faik Bamja is the manager of Filigran Association. He has worked with the entreprise for half of his life.
“Filigree has a spiritual and physical connection with the people of Prizren” explains Faik Bamja.
The 60-year old artisan is the manager of Filigran Association, having worked with the enterprise for half of his life. As a young man, he studied electrical chemistry, a vocation he has applied to his art.
Faik is excited by the drive and desire of his pupils. For him, passing down this knowledge to the next generation is hard to put into words.
“The feeling cannot be described, it can only be transformed into art,” he says.
The workshop has given Semra Alija a unique medium to express herself.
“I want to put femininity into my work, so that it is appealing, and also to display my heritage, so other people can see it and learn from it” she said.
The student of education at the University of Prizren, finds the experience almost spiritual.
“When I work, I feel fulfilled and calm, like a meditation,” she adds.
For Semra, and the other participants, the workshop has been invaluable experience in beginning their own filigree journey and has inspired many of them to dream of something bigger.
“The workshop has inspired me to open my own shop one day. This desire is something completely new.”
Carefully watching over the students, is Bashkim Tejeci, who has become one of the masters of the craft. For him, the charm is in the minute details that are the essence of filigree’s elegance.
“The beautiful thing is that when you take into consideration this whole craft, you can analyse and see what you can do from a single wire, and what a hand, an eye, and the spirit of a person delivers to the final product,” he said.
Bashkim believes in this unifying power of filigree, “Art does not have boundaries. Who does it belong to? It is everybody’s in its own way, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe,” he added.
Filigree developed gradually in the region during the 15th century. By the 18th century, it was flourishing. Caravans passing through age-old settlements played an active part in shaping the craft, and the art form keeps developing to this day. Although there have been famous craftspeople in other towns across Kosovo, Prizren was, and still is, the main centre for jewellery makers.
Many ethnicities have lived side-by-side for centuries in Prizren. Although the 1999 Kosovo conflict disturbed these multi-ethnic relations, the vibrant city has pushed to restore the harmony among ethnic communities. This filigree workshop is just one example of that spirit.
“Preserving cultural heritage – like filigree – is a crucial component of our work in sustainable development,” says Sehadin Shok, UNDP Project Manager.
“We are not only ensuring filigree’s survival but also using the unifying power of art to create stronger bonds between communities.. Across Kosovo, our cultural heritage projects bring people together and develop understanding, tolerance, and mutual respect.”
The organisation responsible for organising these workshops and bringing together masters and students, EC Ma Ndryshe, hopes to turn Filigran into an economically sustainable enterprise.
Flaka Xerxa, an architect by profession, is the project manager. She has been working with EC Ma Ndryshe on the preservation and protection of Kosovo’s rich cultural heritage since 2013.
“Filigree is important in Prizren, and many people want to learn it. That's why this is such a powerful project” she comments.
Faik Bamja and the other masters have been heartened by the number of applicants for the workshops, and the future of filigree.
“For me, it is like a dream and I still can not believe it,” he said. “Our motto used to be ‘let’s protect the tradition’, now it is ‘let’s continue the tradition.”
The workshop is a part of the EU-funded ‘Inter-community Dialogue through Inclusive Cultural Heritage Preservation’ project which is implemented by UNDP in Kosovo.
Kosovo (*) - This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
Photos: Arben Llapashtica / UNDP Kosovo, Story: Sebastian Sherrah, Martin Fosse, 2019 UNDP Eurasia
The article was originally published by UNDP Eurasia