Fulbright-mtvU fellow raises awareness, voices in Kosovo

Shabani (left) on location for her last film, “The Gift.” (Photo by Emily Porter)

When you can’t speak, sing.

In the simplest terms, this philosophy inspires Albulena Shabani. But the research she’s begun as a new Fulbright-mtvU fellow is in no way simple: gender, sexuality, how women heal the wounds of war through music and voice.

More than a decade after the Kosovo War, Shabani (’10 BA English) says the silence around sexual violence against women in wartime remains largely, dangerously intact.

Albulena Shabani

“In Kosovo, rape was used as a weapon of war to emasculate Muslim men who could not defend mothers, wives, sisters, daughters. How do you talk about that?,” Shabani asks. “Most people don’t. That’s why music can be such a powerful space for healing and creating mutual understanding. Who needs to talk when you can sing?”

Shabani, whose work is affiliated with the University of Prishtina, will begin crafting an open mic series with a women’s choir, Lira, when she arrives in Kosovo this week. The Fulbright-mtvU fellowship funds a select handful of research projects yearly that explore the power of music as a global force for mutual understanding.

“Art helped me find my voice,” says Shabani. “I really had to fight for the freedom to be an artist, though. It was so taboo for a young lady to be creative outside of traditional spaces.”

That’s because – before she represented Milwaukee in the 2010 Women of the World poetry slam; studied English, film, political science and women in Islam at UWM; and directed award-winning short films – Shabani had to manage her own cultural transitions and expectations.

She moved from Macedonia to Wisconsin at age 12. “As first-generation immigrants, times were tough and my family struggled a lot with poverty and culture shock. We moved lots.

“I’m grateful my family has done so well in Wisconsin.”

Shabani (left) with her fellow Fulbright-mtvU fellows.

Arriving at UWM via Tomahawk High, Shabani launched into academics, art and activism, helping organize events that brought Saul Williams and Amiri Baraka to campus. She studied film, film theory, Islam and feminism, writing and critical thinking, political science and more. “My parents didn’t have an opportunity to even go to high school, so I’m grateful to have had guidance from my community here,” Shabani now says, naming several UWM faculty who inspired her academic and artistic interests.*

“Now I want to help Lira create a space where more women can share their voices. My job is to document this process and offer another venue for their voices to be heard through film.”

Shabani is in Kosovo through June 2013.

Read her blog at http://fulbright.mtvu.com/

Watch her films at http://www.youtube.com/user/albulenaearth?feature=watch

* Shabani says: “My passion for film and film theory started in a course I took with Portia Cobb, then Gilberto Blasini and Tami Williams. Kristie Hamilton, Alice Gillam, Lane Hall, and Jane Gallop helped me grow as a writer, artist, and critical thinker. Lane Hall has been a great mentor for me. Natasha Borges Sugiyama was my favorite Political Science Professor. She’s the reason I became passionate about women’s issues in a global context. I recently had the opportunity to share with Ellen Amster from the History Department here how important her influence was. I took a class with her on Women and Islam.”