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Moabit in black and white

Interview: Majla Zeneli. In 2009 she found herself living in Moabit. Four months later she opened a studio for Mezzotint printing and now she’s bringing artists to her gallery and making Moabit a major part of Berlin’s art scene.

Image for Moabit in black and white
Sigrid Malmgren

In 2009, Majla Zeneli unexpectedly found herself living in Moabit. Four months later she opened a studio for Mezzotint printing one block from her home. Two years on she’s bringing international artists to her Waldenserstraße gallery and working to make Moabit a major part of Berlin’s art scene.

Your gallery is called Manière Noire. What does that mean?

It’s French for ‘the black technique’, for Mezzotint, the process I use to make my prints. It starts with a drawing, a sketch, which I put on the computer. Then I transfer the image by hand to a copper plate. So there is handwork, computer work. It’s like composing an entire picture from beginning to end. It’s not just an expression; it’s not just about movement, like in painting. It’s imagination and precision.

Mezzotint allows for very fine detail, but your work doesn’t focus on a narrative, a story…

It’s very monumental. Small, but very monumental. A lot of Mezzotint prints try to capture detail, but I wanted to capture something new. I think it is innovative to bring more of an atmosphere to Mezzotint. There are other people who make color Mezzotints, but I think my work is very new. I am exploring the form of things.

Photography can often feel repetitive, but printing always looks fresh.

That’s because it’s made by hand. It’s not a ready-made image that is found or staged, it’s an original.

Were you always planning for your studio to become a gallery?

No, first it was just a studio, only about me. Then after last year’s Moabit Kulturtage, when I had a lot of people here, I decided to start organizing. I invited a friend of mine from Poland to show his work, and more people came. It went from exhibition to exhibition. People were coming to the gallery, I was having great artists. I was becoming a gallerist.

You put on a new exhibition every two months, and you are booked until 2013. Who’s next?

I have Anna Trojanowska, who does beautiful lithographs. She is an adjunct at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, where I studied.

…and discovered Mezzotint.

Yes, I was working with an American professor, Christopher Nowicki. He introduced me to Mezzotint. It was love at first sight.

You were born in Albania, moved to Poland, then came to Berlin. How did you end-up in Moabit?

The true story? I was more than seven months pregnant when my husband and I were ready to move into an apartment in Charlottenburg, but it was given to another family. We felt so bad because we were homeless. My husband told me, “Just find something in the center.” In the map Moabit looked in the center. I had no idea what it looked like. I saw pictures in the internet. They were full of trees, the houses were all renovated. I thought, ‘it looks great.’ I found a very beautiful home full of light. We liked the street, the neighbors. And I found a studio just one street away.

And after two years, what do you think of the area?

I love my neighborhood. I just find it a pity that three new casinos have been built. But on my street, I see the parents walking children to school, and they can see into my studio, see me creating art. I’m in paradise. I really can’t complain, except for the casinos and the vegetable shops. People don’t need so much of that stuff.

So Moabit is your home now?

Yes, I think people are safe here. I don’t trust the things that are written about it. I can come home at two or three at night. And I’m in love with the Spree. But mostly I like the trees, the green. I was once stopped by a man who was riding his bicycle. He just stopped and asked me, “What’s this beautiful area? How is it called?” I told him, “Moabit!”