Category Archives: Meet Kosovars Abroad

Gazmend Freitag – Portraits of the Famous

Fascination and respect – portraits of the Famous by Gazmend Freitag

What motivates an artist to draw the portraits of historical and contemporary figures? Fascination and respect, is the opinion of the painter Gazmend Freitag, whose portfolio celebrates the successful, courageous, kind, creative and beautiful people of the world.  A special place in the heart and the ever expanding collection of the artist is reserved for those poets, fighters and philosophers, whose life and work is crucial to the identity and history of the Albanian people.

  1. Aleksandër Moisiu
  2. Ali Podrimja
  3. Bekim Fehmiu
  4. Behgjet Pacolli
  5. Çun Lajçi
  6. Dua Lipa
  7. Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu
  8. Havzi Nela
  9. Ibrahim Rugova
  10. Ibrahim Kodra
  11. Ismail Kadare
  12. Klara Buda
  13. Krist Maloki
  14. Lasgush Poradeci
  15. Martin Camaj
  16. Shën Tereza
  17. Nexhmije Pagarusha
  18.  Pjetër Bogdani
  19. Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad
  20. Rita Ora
Alexander Moissi
Gazmend Freitag: Aleksander Moisiu, 2017
Ali Podrimja
Gazmend Freitag: Ali Podrimja, 2016
Bekim Fehmiu 1
Gazmend Freitag: Bekim Fehmiu, 2014
Behxhet Pacolli.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Behgjet Pacolli, 2016
Çun Lajçi
Gazmend Freitag: Çun Lajçi, 2017
Dua Lipa
Gazmend Freitag: Dua Lipa, 2018
Skanderbeg
Gazmend Freitag: Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu, 2013
Havzi Nela
Gazmend Freitag: Havzi Nela, 2016
Ibrahim Rugova
Gazmend Freitag: Ibrahim Rugova, 2013
IK
Ibrahim Kodra by Gazmend Freitag, 2017
Ismail Kadare
Gazmend Freitag: Ismail Kadare, 2014
Klara Buda.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Klara Buda, 2016
Krist Maloki
Gazmend Freitag: Krist Maloki, 2016
lasgush-poradeci
Gazmend Freitag: Lasgush Poradeci, 2016
Martin Camaji
Gazmend Freitag: Martin Camaj, 2015
Mutter Teresa
Gazmend Freitag: Shën Tereza, 2013
Nexhmije Pagarusha 1.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Nexhmije Pagarusha, 2013
Pjetër Bogdani
Gazmend Freitag: Pjetër Bogdani, 2016
Princess Fawzia Fuad
Gazmend Freitag: Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad, 2016
Rita Ora
Gazmend Freitag: Rita Ora, 2014

Original link here

In a corner building in East Village, New York City, the entire uppermost floor has been turned into a photography studio. It is the studio of the renowned Albanian-American photographer, Mr. Fadil Berisha. Surrounded by windows and an abundance of natural light, there’s a certain positive energy that you feel the moment you step foot inside. The walls are covered in giant photographs of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Emina Cunmulaj, etc., and countless awards, autographed photos, and souvenirs from people that have worked with Fadil over the years.

When I arrived at Fadil’s studio on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was adding some final touches to one of his recent photoshoots. Once he finished editing, he suggested going to a pizza place around the corner where we could talk more about his life, and I gladly obliged. Over delicious Italian food, Fadil began his engaging storytelling about his early life and career.

Born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Fadil Berisha moved to New York City with his family at the age of nine. His upbringing was similar to that of any average immigrant family. Every major decision, he recalls, revolved around personal finances. So, when he chose to major in men’s fashion design, his family was not particularly thrilled. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but the degree did very little to quench his thirst for art. Put simply, Fadil didn’t feel like he was in the right career path, yet.

Driven by the desire to be exposed to different forms of art, Fadil, along with his friend, Donna DeMari, a photographer he had met in New York, traveled to Italy. Fadil would spend hours styling and observing her photoshoots, secretly wishing he was the one taking the photos, until one day he finally asked her if he could borrow her camera for a session, and she agreed. “I set up the camera and the moment I heard the click, I found my power. The next day, I packed my bags and moved back to America,” says Fadil with enthusiasm and sheer joy in his face.

“As a kid, I loved faces, all faces, and I was genuinely curious about them.”

—Fadil tells me.

Being the first person in the family to pursue art, he struggled to convince his family members that it was the right thing to do. Fadil is kind, polite, and understanding when he talks about them. It’s almost a non-verbal acknowledgment of their struggles. Most beginnings are often hard and his was no different. He soon found himself at a dead end. Evicted from his apartment shortly after becoming a father, he was forced to return home to his parents where he drowned himself in work. At one point, Fadil was working three jobs that brought some financial stability and very little joy. He could have chosen to lead a more comfortable life, but that was not in his plans. Within six months, Fadil got himself a big studio and has not looked back ever since. “The best advice I ever got was that you can never run away from yourself.” And for Fadil, not attempting to run away from his true self did pay off.

Today, we all know Fadil Berisha as the Albanian-American photographer whose work has graced the pages of some the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Nylon, etc. He’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Kendall Jenner, Placido Domingo, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Sharon Stone, Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Michael Bublé, Kris Jenner, etc. for clients including Rolex, Estée Lauder, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Lexus, Peugeot, Bulgari, Miss Universe, Sherri Hill. His work has been featured on the major networks, such as MTV, NBC, CBS, CNN, E!, etc.

Among the sea of celebrities whose beauty Fadil has greatly captured, there are many Albanian stars. Bebe Rexha, Era Istrefi, Inva Mula, Xherdan Shaqiri, Robin Krasniqi, and Heidi Lushtaku, Ermonela Jaho, Eliza Dushku, Saimir Pirgu, Blerim Destani, Rame Lahaj, and Nik Xhelilaj are just some of them.

When you hear Fadil’s stories, you wouldn’t know that there was ever a time when Albanians were not part of his life, but such was the reality. At the beginning of his career, Fadil tried to distance himself from his fellow Albanians, in fear of being ridiculed for his career choices. However, that was a short-lived attempt. With a noticeable change in his tone, he recalls the day a couple of young students, refugees from Kosovo, showed up to his studio, unannounced. He refers to that day as the day that changed his life completely.

It was around 1997, Fadil does not remember the exact year, and the early signs of war in Kosovo had already started to show. These kids had heard about him and were seeking his help in raising awareness for the dire situation back home. They even brought along photos documenting the massacres that were happening back in Kosovo. Given that his work revolved solely around fashion and beauty, Fadil couldn’t fathom how he could possibly help them. “That night, I went home and told my Mom what had happened. We had a long chat where she shared emotional stories about her upbringing and she spoke to me about the importance of helping these kids out,” recalls Fadil. The next day, he got back to his studio and picked up the phone. “You have ruined my life,” Fadil told them. “I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I had nightmares. I know I have to help you, but I don’t know how,” he continued. Despite the hopelessness, he vowed to help in any way he could.  

Around that time, along with Avni Mustafaj, Tracey Aron, Gary Kokalari, and Donika Bardha, Fadil co-founded the Kosovo Relief Fund, an organization that aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the war. He recalls nightly meetings; frequent post- Broadway show visits from the famous Hollywood star, Vanessa Redgrave, who had expressed desire to help; and the way Albanians had come together for a greater cause. In his voice, I almost sense a little bit of nostalgia as he recounts countless interesting stories.  

Fadil goes on to explain how, together with other volunteers, he had planned to use the photos he had received and created an awareness campaign. They solicited help from Stan Dragoti, the Hollywood film director of Albanian origin. Having previously been deemed too graphic, they worked their magic and turned the massacre photos into a campaign. However, despite raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, they couldn’t quite cover the fees to run the campaign on a major newspaper. However, one of those days, a peaceful protest was organized in front of the White House in an attempt to draw attention to the Kosovo cause. It wasn’t much different from other protests, or so they thought. Nevertheless, the following day, Fadil woke up to see the photo on the New York Times. A man was holding the sign they had created and a reporter happened to take a photo of it. The photo ended up in the print version of the newspaper. Fadil believes it was the sign and the push they needed to continue the fight for a free Kosovo.

“I haven’t thought about this story in such a long time, I just got goosebumps talking about it,” said Fadil as we got up to leave the restaurant.

Back in his studio, I asked Fadil if he has any pictures or videos from the events he used to organize in his studio. They must be somewhere, he tells me, but who knows where they ended up when he moved studios. “I like to recall these moments without dwelling too much in the past. I don’t like focusing on the past because you can get stuck. Remember the past and look to the future,” he says to me.

His phone rings. A famous Albanian couple, friends of his, were stopping by. The number of Albanian artists, sportsmen, political figures, and ordinary people that come to his studio, even just for a chat, is astonishing. I have heard people refer to his studio as the unofficial Albanian Embassy. “It became a duty to me,” says Fadil about his willingness to help others. “I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I help my people?’ To give is gratifying!” Whereas, for Albanians, he has one important advice: “Albanians are great to other people, but not always kind to one another. We need to change that.”

Fadil Berisha has been the official photographer for Miss Universe since 2002. With his help and guidance, both Albania and Kosovo became successful Miss Universe participants. Then he points at the picture of Marigona Dragusha, the 2nd Runner Up in Miss Universe 2009. With a big smile on his face, he explains how everyone loved her, the same way they loved Zana Krasniqi the year before. “When Gona walked out on that stage, tears starting flooding. I was so happy but also so scared of her. People loved her and they compared her to Audry Hepburn. But I was afraid of a possible backlash from other countries who may have thought that I favored her. So, I had to keep a distance.”

Fadil began working with talent in Kosovo as soon as the war ended. He took it upon himself to showcase the Albanian beauty to the world. “I always asked myself, ‘How can I get a girl that will never otherwise get a chance?’” says Fadil. And those photos around his studio are proof that he gave the opportunity to those who indeed would not have another opportunity.

So, what draws Fadil to people? “Smile, eyes, a good heart, and soul,” the answer rolls off his tongue.

Fadil talks about his career and his beliefs with a passion you don’t often encounter. He believes that arts and sports are of crucial importance as they have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. He leads me around the studio as he points at different photographs hung on his walls, telling a story about each of them. When I asked him if he could single out a person who has made a significant impact in his life, he grabbed a framed picture of him with a gentleman and says, “Without a doubt, this guy. He’s the former owner of Rolex. In 2005, he gave me a lifetime contract and was a close friend till the day he died. That opened so many doors for me.”

From sitting at his desk to running to get a bowl of seeds from the kitchen for the birds on the fire escape, Fadil Berisha never stops moving and never stops talking.

A couple of hours had passed and I did not once sense any regrets in his voice, which got me curious. So, I decided to ask him: Does Fadil Berisha have any regrets? He is human, after all. “Not taking pictures of Mother Teresa. I will always regret that” he says pensively. “You know, she was in New York City in 1997 with Princess Diana, and I could have taken pictures of her then, but my plan was to go to India and capture her and the environment in which she worked, so I put it off. She died before I got the chance to do it and it will always be something that I wish I had done,” says Fadil. I could easily sense the disappointment and sadness in his voice as he finished saying those words. It almost made me regret asking the question in the first place.

In recent years, Fadil Berisha has been doing a lot of self-reflection. Nowadays, he enjoys a day off, long walks, and meaningful chats over coffee with friends and family. Whether it’s about his siblings, his mother’s flowers, or his grandson, there’s an overwhelming sense of adoration in the way in which he talks about his family. Spiritually, he does believe in higher powers, in God. But there is one thing he has no doubt about: “We are all energy. Our souls never die, only our bodies do,” he tells me. The energy of New York City is what he claims has kept him there for so long. The crystals scattered around his studio are a testament to this.

And although there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by people, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let that happen anytime soon. “Whenever I’m ready to give up, whenever people disappoint me, there’s always someone that comes along that shows genuine appreciation and makes everything worth it.”

The doorbell rings. His guests are here and he greets them with the same smile and hugs that he greets everyone, ready to dive into another deep but lively conversation.

Hana Noka Introduces the Story of Queen Teuta of Illyria with Novel “Besa Po”

Los Angeles, February 4, 2019 – International model, actress, media personality and filmmaker Hana Noka will unveil the story of Queen Teuta of Illyria with the launch of the historical fictional novel “Besa Po,” inspired by the true story of love, loss, betrayal, victory and defeat. Queen Teutawas not only a famous Warrior Queen that lived almost two hundred years before Cleopatra, but her love for King Agron was one of the most legendary love stories in history. She was one of the first women to rise to power in the male dominated kingdom and society.

“I feel honored to be the first person to bring the true story of such a powerful woman to English language audiences,” comments Noka. “As an admirer of strong women in history, I was drawn to the stories of the ancient Illyrian women. I felt compelled to tell the story of the great leader Queen Teuta who ruled Illyria, which encompassed the modern day nations of the Balkans from 231 BC to 227 BC. It is my hope that the story of Queen Teuta will inspire women around the world just as it has inspired me. I eventually look forward to adapting the story of Queen Teuta to the big screen.

The Kosovan-Albanian beauty premiered her short film, titled “HANA” at the 9th annual La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival in July 2018. The film received three nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music. Directed by Luey Nohut, “HANA” was inspired by a simple quote from former longtime creative director Alber Elbaz of fashion house Lanvin, “Style is something reflected from our soul to the outside world – an emotion.” Along with her husband Shkumbin, Noka served as executive producer on the film. 

Noka stars in the soon to be released film “The General,” starring Goran Višnjić  and Armand Assante, and will begin shooting on  “Criminal Act” by MPH Films in London this spring. She is represented by MMG and AC Talent and is a brand ambassador for Heinemann Duty Free in Europe.

Hana started her career in modeling and acting at a young age. Despite her busy life as a child model and actress, Hana always took her education seriously. She graduated from Griffith College Dublin, in Ireland with an honors BA in Journalism and Visual Media. Born in Istanbul, Turkey as the only child to Albanian parents, Noka grew up in various countries before settling in Los Angeles. 

“Besa Po” is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Official branded merchandise is also available on www.yuzzl.com. 

Noka will appear at launch events in New York and Beverly Hills during the month of February, and will be the feature cover story for the latest issue of Marie Westwood magazine.

Follow Hana Noka on social media:
https://www.instagram.com/hannanoka/
facebook & twitter: hannanoka
www.hannanoka.com

www.besapo.com

Photos Courtesy of Hana Noka.

Germin is hosting its first international conference, Diaspora Flet, in Kosovo. The four-day event will bring together lawmakers, government officials and a diverse group of Diaspora members — professionals, scholars, community leaders, business representatives, and other interest groups – to address the advancement of the role of Diaspora in the economic, social, and political developments of their country of origin.

Register for the Conference HERE | Download the Program HERE | Check the website HERE

After her family escaped the simmering turmoil in Kosovo to England, Gentiana started to pursue her passion for hair-styling at an early age. Working as a hairdressing assistant at the age of 16, she slowly worked her way and built the confidence to open her own salon. She now owns and runs Rush Cambridge, the Cambridge branch of the famous British brand Rush Hair. Gentiana manages a team of nine employees and works as a stylist for six days a week.

2Gentiana explains how she had initially contacted Rush Hair to open a salon in Cambridge and presented her ideas to senior management. The process happened swiftly as Rush Hair helped her to open a new location for the hairstyling brand. She believes that the right attitude is crucial to achieving one’s goals.

Gentiana hopes to open another salon in the near future.  She says that Kosovars living abroad can help improve Kosovo’s image by excelling in their professions and jobs.

Dr. Ir. Edmond Balidemaj, a versatile individual whose academic success is as admirable as his dedication to benefiting Kosovo

Edmond studied Electrical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology and completed his graduate studies at the Electromagnetics Research Group in 2010. His research was focused on efficient methods for solving electromagnetic inversion problems and inspired him to continue pursuing his academic aspirations.

Dr. Ir. Edmond Balidemaj, a versatile individual whose academic success is as admirable as his dedication to benefiting KosovoIn line with this, he became a PhD student at the Radiotherapy Department of the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam in November 2010. The project Improved Regional Hyperthermia Delivery by Using MRI Data for Treatment Planning was funded by the Dutch Cancer Society and Edmond received several awards at various international MRI and hyperthermia conferences for his research results. He obtained a PhD degree in Medicine at the University of Amsterdam in 2016.

Dr. Ir. Edmond Balidemaj, a versatile individual whose academic success is as admirable as his dedication to benefiting KosovoEven though he focused his energy on advancing his career, Edmond Balidemaj always found time for his commitment to Kosovo’s improvement. In 2008, he participated in Kosovo project of Wellant College in Dordrecht during which he visited Kosovo and helped renovate a school in Drenas municipality together with 20 other Dutch students. Moreover, Edmond provided a course on the Albanian language and a workshop on the Albanian culture to the Dutch students who visited Kosovo with him. In the period of 2005-2009, Edmond and his three friends (Varoll, Verart and Vatan) organized a variety of events which brought students of Albanian descent living in the Netherlands together. Among other things, they organized entertainment activities such as bowling and barbecues and also participated in events organized by other organizations (e.g. Pax Christi, embassies, etc,) regarding Kosovo issues.

On a simple dark stage underneath a single spotlight, the Albanian music artist known as Stanaj stands tall and confident ready to perform for his fans at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. He grabs the microphone and immediately the room becomes electrified by his powerful and smooth voice and his infectious presence.s4Stanaj, 22, has been performing for large audiences like this for quite some time now. Yet, he evokes such a level of pure joy and excitement when he sings that it feels like this could be his first big performance. It is with love, gratitude, and a huge smile adorning his face that Stanaj gives life to his beautiful songs and sends everyone home with a piece of his heart and a little bit of his charm. There is something truly admirable about the genuineness with which he performs.

Stanaj, born in New York to Albanian immigrant parents, has taken the music industry by storm and is quickly rising as a pop-star sensation. Within five months he successfully released two EPs, “The Preview” in 2016 and “From A Distance” in 2017. Aside from being featured on Spotify’s “Pop Rising” and Tidal Rising, he is selling out shows in every city alongside singer Jojo.

s3

The world was officially introduced to Stanaj in October of 2016 through his first official television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. By his own admission, that debut to him was a dream come true. But, to many people, Stanaj was already someone to watch out for due to his large social media following. After performing in bars and small gigs, Stanaj began to steadily gain popularity on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. In a matter of a couple of years, he managed to go from a social media sensation to a respected recording artist. Stanaj has come a long way but he still thinks there is a lot of work ahead of him. “I am nowhere near where I want to be. However, I’ve been lucky enough to be recognized by so many people as a true artist,” he adds.

When he’s not on the road, Stanaj splits his time between New York and LA writing –he has written with some of the best writers and producers–and recording songs. But that burden is made easier by the tremendous support and the constant presence of his family—“my champions”, as he refers to them— to whom he dedicates his entire success to. In fact, his manager Mark is his brother. But the sacrifices his family has made along the way are finally paying off. Being a first-generation American and seeing the struggles that his parents have had to overcome inspires Stanaj to pursue his dreams and stay humble. His parents are Albanian from Malesia, Montenegro. “Having older siblings and parents who are so deeply involved in the Albanian culture helps me stay true to who I am, and my roots,” he says.

Growing up, Stanaj sang mostly Albanian songs, which he admits he still loves dearly. He often shares videos and images of his younger self joyfully performing in small Albanian weddings and gatherings. From a young age, his family has shared his passion for music. He says he developed a desire for singing from playing instruments with his brothers. “I am not sure that I would have had the same success without having my family guiding and supporting me every step of the way.”

When it comes to the styles of his music, Stanaj does not think he sounds like anyone in particular, but people have compared him to a mix between Sam Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys. Yet, he is unique in his own way. You have never heard anyone quite like him. You can listen to a song and immediately know it is his. This is a sign of a true artist and he plans to keep it that way. In a world full of mass-produced music, Stanaj thinks that being unique will prevail. As far as we are concerned, Stanaj’s dream built on hard work, determination, and team effort has already prevailed.

Besa Neziri Rugova is a fashion designer from Kosovo whose work is characterized by a modern take on traditional elements. After finishing her studies at Parsons School of Design in New York and working at various fashion labels, she launched her own line in 2013. Besa describes her designs as “dreamy, ethereal, whimsical, feminine silhouettes.” Her signature touches are sheer fabrics such as silk organza, tulle and hand-made lace.

From Kosovo to New York, Besa brings authentic designs to the fashion world

© Arton Sefa

The following is an exclusive interview with Besa for KosovoDiaspora.

KD: Can you tell us a bit about your background and the work you do?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I graduated from Art Academy in Kosovo with a major in painting, before I attended The Parsons School of Design in New York, where I received a degree in Fashion Design.

After graduation, I worked in the fashion industry with various labels – where I gained a comprehensive knowledge on garment making and the business side of the industry. This really helped build the confidence to start my own line, something that I always wanted and dreamed of. In 2013, I launched my own line here in New York – with a small capsule collection. Since then, I have been expanding and evolving, as designers do.

Earlier this year, I opened up a studio in Prishtina, where I not only do my production – but I also have a curated showroom where I present my work, and meet clients. I also have private clients, for whom I do custom work as well. At the same time, I’m continuing my work in New York, and gathering inspiration and ideas that feed my artistic soul.

KD: What are some of the projects you working on now?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I just finished up a photoshoot for my new Spring/Summer 2017 collection here in New York, which will be in the store soon.  I have also started working on my Fall/Winter 2017 collection – by putting together my moldboard and initial rough sketches. Beyond that, another ongoing project, which is not that closely related to fashion, is coming to an end soon. I will disclose more information on that in the days to come. I am also back to school to get certified for bespoke men’s tailoring techniques, and I am absolutely in love with this class and learning so much.

KD: How do you see the art and design scene in Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I think there are a lot of talented people in Kosovo, but succeeding there is still mostly contingent upon connections rather than merit, which troubles me. While being well connected is an important factor anywhere in the world, it shouldn’t be able to entirely substitute talent. I would love to see this change – and for young, fresh, talent to find more opportunities to present their work. Another challenge I see, quite often actually, is a lack of authenticity when it comes to some fashion designers in Kosovo. I have noticed a tendency to copy other’s aesthetics and ideas, rather than creating ones own. This is something that I find refreshing in New York- the underlying respect in the design community for individual authenticity and allowing others to retain their own ideas for themselves.

Maybe some fashion industry professionals, offering valid, authentic, unbiased critique- is needed to alleviate the above mentioned problems. This could really help improve the overall quality and respectability of the fashion scene in Kosovo.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as an artist from Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: To be honest, I never faced specific challenges related to my Kosovar origin. On the contrary, I always felt and feel welcome, and people are genuinely intrigued by our history and country here in the US. In school, I did struggle a bit initially when I got here, due to minimal computer skills, poor English, and the challenges of adapting to a different school system. However, overall, being from Kosovo and another place in general, I really feel like I’ve come to develop a unique style, based on my native culture intermixed with the creative inspiration I access day to day, everywhere I look, being in a city like New York.

KD: How can diaspora members help better the image of Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I think we are on the right track here, especially when it comes to the younger generation, represented prominently by Dua Lipa or Rita Ora. It’s important to lead by example, conveying proper values and authentic talent as the key to success, no matter what field you may be in.

To see more of Besa’s designs, check out her Instagram or Facebook page.