Collection Artwork
Lui Shtini (born Kavajë, Albania, 1978)
Big Mouth
oil on board
20 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
Gift of Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

Most of us can remember the monster we had as a child. For some, the monster lives under their bed, waiting for the kid to step out from under the covers. For others, the monster is in their closet, always peering out with their bright glowing eyes. Either way, the monster never leaves the child’s bedroom. Not me. My monster could not be confined to such a small space. She roams the halls of my childhood house, coming and going as she pleases. Even now that I am gone, she stays. Waiting for the day I return. I thought I left my monster behind years ago, seeing as though I have not lived under her roof in years. That is, until recently.

I walked into the art room of The Tang, ready for my class to begin. We had a kind woman showing us famous paintings. I was excited to see the artwork laid out for us today. The day had been uneventful, and all was going well until my eyes laid upon it.

Big Mouth by Lui Shtini. A simple painting to most people. The woman guiding us even explained that the painting is mostly abstract. While that may be true, the image was as clear as day to me, and I could almost hear her screaming out my name while I stared. The painting is of a large, black oval, acting as the shadow behind the figure. In front lies a white object. While the shape is hard to describe, I am reminded of a mask used to hide one’s true identity. Even so, the white does not cover everything, and the darkness behind still seeps through. Inside the mask is a dark circular shape. The color is somehow even darker than the black previously used, as if the circle is a void. Behind that, the background is mostly white with a bit of black at the bottom. The painting seems like nothing, but I can see behind the mask. While I did not see the actual monster that ruined my childhood, I might as well have. Because in that moment, I was taken back to that dark place.

I’m a small child, about ten years old, hiding under the covers in my bed. I know that will not protect me, but what else can I do? I can hear her stomping down the hall and need to do something. What does she want from me? Why can’t she leave me alone? I did not do anything. Not that it would matter. She will find any reason to torture me. Nothing I do makes her happy.

As I am praying that she will ignore me tonight, I hear the door open, and the covers are ripped off my bed, leaving nothing between me and her. My mother. She hovers over me, barely noticeable in my dark bedroom. After all, it is the middle of the night. Most kids my age would be asleep at this hour, but not me. I still cannot sleep at night without nightmares flooding my mind. Without her face protruding in my mind. Without her voice constantly echoing in my skull. Without any peace.

I try calling out for someone to save me. Anyone who can protect me. However, there is no use. She has already scared away everyone else. There is no one. Just me and the monster in front of me. I can cry, I can scream, I can try fighting back, but nothing will make a difference. I am just a small child, while she is a giant beast with no mercy. There is no winning with her. There is no escape.

Suddenly, I am back in the museum. I can hear my heart racing, my breathing is getting heavy, and I can barely stand up straight. I slowly take a seat and try to calm myself down. She is not really here, I remind myself. She cannot hurt you anymore.

I look at the label for the painting. Big Mouth. Even the name takes me back. Just like with the painting, her mouth would open wide as she yelled. Doesn’t matter what she was saying, I always tried to drown her out until she was finished. There was nothing I could have said to make her stop anyway. It would have been like screaming into the void. Besides, most of the time that is all she would do. Yell and yell and yell until she finally got tired.

As I continued reading the label, I noticed it was painted in 2013. I find the year ironic. I was ten years old when Lui Shtini painted the monster in front of me. It is almost as if he took the image from my mind and used my imagination as his muse. Painting the emotions I feel. Some might call this a coincidence. The fact that this creation just so happened to be in a gallery at my college. That a painting created in 2013, when my monster was mistreating me, ended up in front of me. There is no way this was a coincidence. My monster is still with me, no matter how hard I try to escape.

Even today, years after the last time we interacted, my mind is filled with memories of what I went through. She thinks she can still hurt me, and I used to believe she could not. Deep down, I know I am not the same helpless child I was when she tormented me. Still, all it took was this one painting to bring me back. Time may have passed, but even now, ten years later, I still feel the same. I am the same little kid, hiding from the monster that haunts me.

Lui Shtini’s Big Mouth is large and disturbing to look at. Its mellowness in color and shape screams for rigidness, as it melts down the canvas structure. It attempts to do so in color separation, as the edges of the snow terrain stay firm from slipping into the black abyss and the nothingness beyond it. Even within the snow, a hole is present; it’s waiting for me.

I tread around the hole, occasionally losing my tracks as snowflakes fall to cover my footprints. With my heavy snow boots and snow attire, I kick some piles of snow into the hole, but quickly it either melts or it, too, gets lost. I lie flat on my back, wave my arms and legs around, and an angel is born beneath me. Born to disappear in the snow.

Hours pass, and I move on to the other side, to the black abyss. I kick snow in there too, only I notice that dark gray ripples hug the kicked snow. Is it water? It can’t be. Sea water too is murky and unsafe, but this right here is nothing like sea water. The ripples appear to be more feathery, like a bed waiting to be slept on. Should I jump? Will I jump? Oh, how it must be so nice to be hugged by feathers as the snow was. What if I melt too? Will I become nothing?

Being older now, I partly dislike snow for when I have to shovel my car out of the West parking lot. I dislike snow when I too tread along to my classes, being precarious of my shaky left knee as I sprained it just last winter. I also dislike snow from when I got frostbite on my right index finger from holding my reusable bottle outside for too long. I dislike snow when my mom would yell for me back in high school to shovel the driveway and her car out, even though we all knew she’s not leaving her bed today. I dislike snow even when sledding with my home best friend and her baby sister, but only when I have to carry both our sleds up the steep hill. There’s much to dislike about snow; yet, so much to like:

Typical winter day for a six-year old me would be waiting for my dad to make trails for me in the snow. It would be mid-morning and I would have already had on my warm blue winter jacket on, hot pink snow pants, oversized winter boots, traditional Sami mittens, and a knitted raspberry shaped hat my mother who I didn’t know then had surprisingly made for me. I’d be sitting at the kitchen table as I watched my dad with the tiny snow plow go around the empty pasture and mark passageways for me. I’d be so eager for them my legs on the chair would kick up and down. Then when it’s done, I run outside to the pasture. The walls around me stand about a foot above my height. I’d look down the trail-way; it wants me to come in. And so, I run in, my hands brushing along the enclosed snowy walls around me. A smile would beam on my face and my eyes would squint hard enough so as the harsh cold air didn’t blind me. The end of the trail led to the end of the fence, where beyond it is the woods. My dad always told me I couldn’t go past that fence due to wild animals and hunters. “That’s their playground Diana, and this area is yours,” he’d say to me. I could easily slip through the fence; we only have it up to keep wild animals out and the horses in. The spaces between the wood are wide enough for my younger self.

I never did go beyond that fence, at least not until I was taught how to shoot from a rifle. I wonder what would have happened if I did. I’d be dressed in bright colors, so hunters would see me and not shoot me. Would the animals dare come to hurt me? Or would I get lost? Would I be found if I was lost? Or am I just, well, lost?

My getting lost into my past leaves us to the next day, where all that was before remains the same as it ever will be. I play the game of the Merry-Go-Round, and I chant to the lyrics of the song:

The merry-go-round goes ‘round and 'round, The children laughed and laughed and laughed, So many were going 'round and 'round, That the merry-go-round collapsed.

And when I collapsed, I fell on my back. I chuckle at losing myself to the insanity this canvas inflicts on my mind. I should be panicking that I cannot leave this place. The image had burned itself into my brain so much so I am stuck in it. I do not make an angel this time. This time, I decided to roll around in the snow, even with my hair getting wet and snow building up around my neck and slipping under my jacket. But the smile that beamed before when I was around six-years-old comes again, and the smile becomes laughter. I shut my eyes and roll and laugh and play. I continue doing this even when I’m by the cliff of the hole. Snow is around me until I wind is gushing around me as I plummet to nothing. My own mouth is like Big Mouth; I laugh and my smile beams across my face. Oh, I am lost. Oh but, I am at peace.

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