The Bratko Museum of Oriental art is more than just a collection of rare and fascinating Asian artefacts. It is a testament to the character and inspiration of one of Albania’s most important photographers.
The Tale of the Museum
If you look deep into any museum’s story, you will most likely find an interesting tale of a dream or an idea, passed on from one generation to the next, which finally materialises in the form of a museum. Such is the story of the Bratko Museum of Oriental Art, although this one’s tale is a little different to the rest! It is one where personal life, art, and war extends to three continents before returning to where it all began: Korça, Albania. This unlikely synthesis of far removed events, cultures, and places makes this museum arguably the most unique in the entire Balkan region.
The Bratko Museum of Oriental Art contains around 450 objects representing 17 Eastern cultures of the world. The collection includes Asian clothing, swords and other Indonesian weapons, dozens of paintings and photographs, and many other rarities which, thanks to this museum, are accessible to the international public. It may seem odd at first that Korça, or even Albania, hosts such a large collection of Asian artefacts, but it all becomes clear once you get better acquainted with the museum’s legendary story.
It is, in fact, the personal story of the famous Albanian photographer Gjergj Dhimitër Mborja. His name circulated among the crowds of communist Tirana, as much for his alleged romance with a Japanese king’s young daughter, as for the fact that he accompanied American generals during the world wars. Though later in life he worked in Hollywood, Mborja initially spent 14 years (1942-1956) in Japan as General Douglas McArthur’s photographer. His love of Asia, however, continued well after he returned to the U.S. The Bratko Museum collection, gathered by him throughout his travels, is Mborja’s gift to his hometown of Korça. In his will, he requested that his museum be built with his savings, and for it to be named in honour of his mother, Viktoria Bratko, who never left Albania.
A Building That Tells a Story
Built in 2003, The Bratko Museum of Oriental Art, designed by the architect Kliti Kallamata, is a bold construction that truly represents the three different cultures which it draws together, combining an American and Japanese architecture which sits harmoniously alongside the urban landscape of Korça. It also represents Mborja’s towering personality, well-known for his courage as a photographer, and as deeply involved in the war as he was in the lives of ordinary people, which is reflected in the collection of fascinating items on display here. Created by the vision of a passionate collector, The Bratko Museum is infused with a great man’s spirit – a man who had a profound desire to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with his native land, who wanted to create something timelessly valuable, and curated a collection as intimate and private as it is historical and universal.