Filmmaker Fred Kuwornu on Blaxploitalian and representation in cinema.

Fred Kuwornu is an Italian-Ghanaian filmmaker and activist best known for his documentaries Inside Buffalo (2010), about the Black American soldiers who participated in the liberation of Italy during World War II, and 18 Ius Soli (2012), about the children of immigrants in Italy and their struggles for legal and social recognition. This summer, he has begun screening his latest film project, Blaxploitalian: One Hundred Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema (supported by a grant from the Lettera27 foundation). A sweeping documentary inspired by Leonardo De Franceschi’s seminal collection L’Africa in Italia as well as Fred’s own experiences in the Italian film industry, Blaxploitalian recounts the century-long yet underappreciated history of people of African descent in Italian cinema. Like...

The Nationless Pavilion

Paolo Perulli

Political crisis of today is dictated by outdated nation state model of mapping the world. While all the other systems already spilled over with economy, art, science going global, nation state still draws the lines on the geographical map.   Political power and it’s redistribution is the heart of the issue. Advancement of human civilization, apart of providing technological leaps, also demanded more transparency and visibility from power. It has always been ‘catch and run’ game - with new strategies of mystification of political power into institutional forms of different kinds. Authority redistribution mechanisms always tend to appear impersonal as their function is to communicate idea of being ‘detached’ from the matter of defining good and bad, right and wrong. Ethical, moral and...

Jheronimus Bosch. Visions of Genius

Mariella Guzzoni

’s-Hertoghenbosch, 9 August 1516. The funeral service for the painter Jheronimus Bosch is held in the church of St. John. The mourners gather in the new chapel of the Brotherhood of Our Lady (Lieve Vrouwe Broederschap), of which Bosch is a “sworn member”. The Requiem mass is organised by the brotherhood, who cover the costs, as was the custom. The perfectly preserved book of accounts is a precious artefact: from the expenses accrued we can deduce that this is the final tribute to an important and highly revered man. He would have been around 65 years old, although the date of his birth is unknown (1450-55).   Ten years ago, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of the artist, Charles de Mooij, director of the Noordbrabants Museum, began work on an ambitious project: to bring the...

Not nostalgic. The Italian Transavantgarde

Stefano Chiodi

More than 30 years after its early stirrings, the Transavantgarde is the elephant on the Italian art scene. There is a paradox here. The Italian movement, represented by Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Nicola De Maria and Mimmo Paladino, was highly influential. The ‘brand’ was a huge success internationally in the 1980s, when pieces were snapped up by museums on the spot, and the five artists became an instant phenomenon (which has not yet been historically contextualized). And yet, the critical debate over the last twenty years has marginalized them. The movement has become a background feature, like faded, unfashionable wallpaper, an easy target for criticism. Nicolas Bourriaud, in a 2002 essay, claimed that the Transavantgarde exploit – epitomized, in his view, by Enzo...

Thomas Macho. Or, on the Science of culture

Antonio Lucci

The pig and its history, Pier Paolo Pasolini, the history of towers in the West, Philip K. Dick and science-fiction literature, the films of Andrej Tarkovskij and Rossellini, the cultural history of calendar formation. And: metaphors of death, rites and myths in the context of historical anthropology, ethical, aesthetic and cultural models of Western history. What might sound like entries in an impossible and ironic encyclopedia in the spirit of Borges and Foucault are in fact all subjects of some of the courses held and the books written over the past few decades by a man who in Germany is considered the Kulturwissenschaftler par excellence: the Austrian Thomas Macho. What is a Kulturwissenschaftler? To understand it, we need to dig into the history, as well as the etymology, of the...

Le Tragique et la pitié

Pierpaolo Antonello

This text was first published as the preface of the Brazilian edition of Le Tragique et la Pitié. Discours de réception de René Girard à l’Académie française et réponse de Michel Serres (Paris: Le Pommier, 2007). René Girard, Michel Serres, [O trágico e a piedade: Discurso de posse de René Girard na Academia Francesa e discurso de recepção de Michel Serres (São Paulo: É-realizações Editora, 2011), pp. 9-17].     23, quai de Conti, Paris; 15 December, 2005   I am looking up at the round seventeenth-century Louis Le Vau dome of the Institut de France, which is hanging over the oval room where the ceremony of the election to the 37th seat of the Academie Française is ready to begin. It’s a bright day in mid-December and a soft light fills the distinctive hybrid architecture, partially...

A Return to the Middle Ages?

Silvia Urbini

In these days of decapitations, tragic exoduses, impaled effigies, and new epidemics, media forums and the gurus of geopolitics lament the fact that western civilization is on its way back to a period that could be defined as the ‘New Middle Ages’. The definition was created in the last century by the Russian Philosopher, Nikolay Berdyaev, in the context of the First World War, published in Russian in a book by the same name in 1924. (The English version was entitled, ‘The End of Our Time’, Sheed and Ward, 1933). The same label was also commonly applied to the period of the oil price shocks and energy crises of the 1970s. At that time, a fascinating debate developed in the art world along the same lines, claiming that there had been a marked return to the past in the visual arts.  ...

Giulio Paolini’s and Sgt. Pepper

Michele Dantini

Giulio Paolini has often stated that in his work the end repeats the beginning, and that everything is there in the first sketch. Is this really the case? Why do artists so often represent their work as a perfect circle?   First, an answer to the second question. The narrative shape of artists’ biographies follow the eighteenth or nineteenth-century model imposed by the natural sciences. In the eyes of pre-Romantic and Romantic historians, events in individual lives and the entire history of art evolve in the same way as organisms, following the same steps. Birth, growth, maturity, decay (or decomposition) and death follow from one another ineluctably, at a given rhythm. Goethe believed a genius (if artists are geniuses) imitates nature without meaning to. The seed of creativity lies in...

Umberto Eco: How I Wrote my Books

Marco Belpoliti

It is snowing when I get to Umberto Eco’s house in Milan. It’s February, and his latest book, Numero Zero, published by Bompiani at the beginning of 2015, shot to the top the best seller list almost instantly. There have been several reviews, and Eco has given more interviews than is his wont, if I remember correctly. So what can I ask him that hasn’t already been asked? I had read the proofs before the book came out, but we weren’t able to find a date to meet before today. I’m excited to meet him. Eco is famous throughout Italy and the world over, perhaps the best-known living Italian author today. Essays, articles, whole books have been written about him, and yet there are many things about him that escape his readers and critics. One thing I want to find out more about is his double...

Gabriele Basilico: a Slow Gaze

Stefano Chiodi

I presented Gabriele Basilico’s last book, Lezioni di fotografia (Rizzoli, 2012), at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan at the end of 2012. Looking tired, but with all his lucidity intact, Basilico spoke about his photography, his choice of themes, his travels, his thirty-year career, and some of his most famous photographs. He also contributed his views on urban landscapes, and on photography as a daily habit and as a life choice.   I have never really believed that the photographic medium has its own specificity. Rather, as I have studied the endless variety of their characters, grammars, functions, vocabularies and themes, I have always seen in photographs as images a deeply uncanny element; in things portrayed are “as they are”, whether they are famous or anonymous, I sense a ghost-...

Compassion: Between Tenderness and Cruelty

Pietro Barbetta

There are so many things to say about compassion that one could fill a book or an encyclopedia. A partial list of areas to cover would include: commiseration, piety, love, understanding, sharing, empathy, sympathy, antipathy, intropathy, bliss and clemency. Compassion is what we feel reading about Hector and his wife Andromache, or the dream about the twenty geese that Penelope tells the disguised ‘beggar’ who is really her husband, Odysseus. It is the condition Aristotle refers to in his ‘Poetics’ when he uses the term ‘catharsis’. It is also the virtue embodied by Aeneas as he slings his old father Anchises and his son Ascanius to on his back and carries them out of burning Troy to safety. Or again, when Eros disobeys his mother and falls in love with Psyche. And so on, throughout...

Guy Debord: the Power of Writing

Riccardo Venturi

Archive One thousand four hundred sheets of Bristol paper covered in miniature, cautious, cadenced, rounded script. The hand writing continues even when there is not enough surface to contain everything that is needed to be said; the lines get thinner and thinner and increasingly close together, like the jets of smoke acrobatic pilots draw in the sky. There are minimal variations in the script, even though the works span a period of forty years. I’m curious to decipher the words, and go close up to read them. It takes me a while to realize that they are a series of citations since they are not protected by quotation marks. These long passages are free of their source, ready to be re-used, re-appropriated, transformed by the author. A dètournement  of this type, in the days of digital cut...

Guantánamo and the New Concentration Camps

Enrico Manera

After the terrorist attack on the Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, some commentators wondered what the consequences of a reaction calling for greater security would be for European legislation. The almost hysterical use of the inclusive “we” in the slogans following the attack (Nous sommes Charlie) provide a linguistic clue to the identity politics in play, just as the 9/11 attacks fueled the rhetoric of a “clash of civilizations”. The reaction to both has been a justification for police interventions on an international scale and so-called ‘surgical’ warfare.   The Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, in an interview in La Repubblica (Jan 15, 2015), invited readers to “stay lucid” and not repeat the mistakes of the past. “The overlapping of the concepts of terrorism and...

Farewell Luca Ronconi, Master of Utopias

Massimo Marino

Luca Ronconi, one of Italy’s greatest theater directors, died on February 21, 2015, just before turning 82. His last productions touched on the theme of death, which he probably felt breathing down his neck during his countless sessions on the dialysis machine, during those innumerable hours of immobility. A man who was constantly boiling over with new ideas was forced to face up to the ghosts of his mind, the same ghosts that were represented on stage. Suspended deaths, like in his recent production of ‘Celestina’ that opened with the body of Melibea. Doors on set opened to reveal pulsating worlds of sex and intrigue, then led back into emptiness before returning, at the end of the play, to the lifeless corpse of the young protagonist. Ronconi’s rendering of  Spregelburd’s ‘Panic’ comes...

Arabs, Israel and Terrorism

Francesco Ciafaloni, Primo Levi

Given the tensions in the Mediterranean region, how do you see the issue of the relationship between countries on the northern Mediterranean rim, such as Italy, and those with an Islamic culture on the southern rim, such as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria? What do you think we should do, think, or write in order to avoid exacerbating these tensions as we have done in the past? Finally, do you think there are some areas where our knowledge is incomplete in this regard?   Knowledge is always a good thing, but our knowledge of the Arab world - objectively speaking - is very limited. This limited knowledge is partly our fault and partly theirs, because it is undeniable that very little good news has come out of the Arab world, or Islam in general, for centuries. They use technology but...

When Freelancing is Female

Cristina Morini

The debate over the role of women in the labor market has entered the social, academic and political arena through various channels. I can’t say for sure whether society has already entered a post-patriarchal era or not, but it is undeniable that women play an essential role in both biological and economic developments today. I would like to frame the issue by taking into account the fact that precarious short-term contracts have been one of the strongest markers of gender – and gender discrimination  - in the past decades. Since I argue that the concept of gender is socially and historically constructed, it is clear that the condition of being hired on a short-term contract is responsible for much of what we see as the condition of women in the workplace. This does not altogether rule...

Being #matteorenzi

Nello Barile

Claudio Giunta’s new book, Essere #Matteo Renzi (Il Mulino, 2015) is the most recent of a long list of scholarly books about the young Italian Prime Minister–after the earlier pamphlets which were lighter and generally celebratory in tone–which fill the shelves of Italian bookshops and contribute to what could almost be called a new genre. The title of this book hints at the main issue, which each of the eleven chapters deals with to different degrees of depth and explicitness. The title, in fact, paraphrases Negroponte’s Being Digital (Knopf, 1995), a bible for Internet researchers, while parroting ‘Being John Malkovich’, a film which critiques the idea that ordinary people can wrap themselves in a cloak of fame. Giunta analyzes two essential ontological aspects of the Renzi phenomenon....

Escher in Medieval Siena

Luca Scarlini

Maurits Cornelis Escher visited Italy for the first time in 1922. The master of perspective and transformation, whose trade mark was to create deceptive images by making his subjects one with their backgrounds, arrived from his home town of Haarlem with two friends on the traditional Grand Tour. The three young artists, Escher, Jan van der Does de Willebois and Bas Kist, were all pupils at the well-established School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where they were apprenticed under Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, who introduced them to the art of woodcutting. The itinerary of their Tour was linked mainly to the ‘old masters’ who were so popular back home. Their work served as a model for the remarkable paintings of Jan Verkade (the subject of a magnificent portrait by Giovanni Papini),...

Out of sight, out of mind

Missla Libsekal

Back in 2004, during a period where my work largely dealt with architecture, I visited Asmara. Though that trip originally had nothing to do with the built urban environment, it became a turning point of sorts. For one, I was mesmerised by the city’s brick and mortar heritage - some 400+ modernist buildings from the 1930s and 1940s in various states of repair and disrepair. The biggest impact however, was that it left me with many questions; I found myself mentally circling around notions of memory, amnesia and heritage. In an effort to learn about that city’s history, I began a quest for sources on its Italian colonial past and architectural endowment. Asmara is home to one of the largest collections of buildings reflecting numerous Modernist movements, including Novecento, Art Deco,...

Why Africa Why

Carlo Pizzati

Why Africa Why. And who am I to say? Why Africa Why? All I remember is a river I did not sail up, in search of who, Kurz, Marlon, who? And I do remember a few Masai, one in particular, riding with me a road in Kenya, and a lake with a European name it’s time to shed, perhaps, and a desert and dunes and things that are wider even than Africa, amazing as it sounds.   I don’t remember the Namibian desert and its dry mysteries of a distant hut without running water, because I’ve never visited it. And a lively Ivory Coast that runs only in my imagination along with a singing Senegal and a Congo I’ve read about in some brilliant short stories and Zan-zi-baaar and Mad-ag-as-caaar, being the most important scar, like the one on the face of African princes, from where? I don’t remember now....

Why Africa? Changing the Narrative of the World

lettera27

Why Africa?  For many years lettera27 has been dedicated to exploring various issues and debates around the African continent and with this new editorial column we would like to open a dialogue with cultural protagonists who deal with Africa. This will be the place to express opinions, tell their stories, stimulate the critical debate and suggest ideas to subvert multiple stereotypes surrounding this immense continent. With this new column we would like to open new perspectives: geographical, cultural, sociological. We would like the column to be a stimulus to learn, re-think, be inspired and share knowledge. For the opening piece we asked our partners, intellectuals and like-minded cultural protagonists from all over the world to answer one key question, which also happens to be the...

Why Africa? Companions of Longitude

Roberto Casati

Why Africa?  For many years lettera27 has been dedicated to exploring various issues and debates around the African continent and with this new editorial column we would like to open a dialogue with cultural protagonists who deal with Africa. This will be the place to express opinions, tell their stories, stimulate the critical debate and suggest ideas to subvert multiple stereotypes surrounding this immense continent. With this new column we would like to open new perspectives: geographical, cultural, sociological. We would like the column to be a stimulus to learn, re-think, be inspired and share knowledge. For the opening piece we asked our partners, intellectuals and like-minded cultural protagonists from all over the world to answer one key question, which also happens to be the...

My Plate’s Empty: Italian Food and Melancholy

Alberto Saibene

We had spent a week in the company of ghosts. Nobody cared about the Balkan wars any longer, except perhaps a pathetic huddle of war veterans trying to speculate on the glories of their war. In Mostar, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and the smaller Bosnian cities, all that remained were the facades of the houses pock marked by artillery fire. Most people want to forget the past and look to the future. The food was generally bad, at times truly terrible. Once I mistakenly ordered a plate of Findus ‘sofficini’ in a bar in Pale, thinking I could read the cyrillic alphabet on the strength of my schoolboy knowledge of Ancient Greek.   Leaving Bosnia behind and venturing towards Belgrade, we thought of our destination as an oasis, if not of civilization at least of good restaurants and attractive cafés...

Sharing is the new welfare?

Tiziano Bonini

In the last few months I’ve rented rooms through Airbnb, listened to music on Spotify, picked up a free yellow bike in Milan, got a lift from Milan to Florence with Blablacar, grabbed a city car for a quick ride with Car2Go, hailed a cab on a rainy night with Uber, and funded a documentary with an online crowd funding platform. I have quite a few friends who rent office space using a co-working website, though I’ve never actually needed to do so myself. A year ago, none of these opportunities I now consider almost routine were nearly as common. They are all different facets of what is called the “Sharing Economy”, or, less frequently, ‘collaborative economy’, or ‘collaborative consumer economy’ .   They have one factor in common: the sharing of private resources (my car, my desk, my...