Photography and life: an interview to Letizia Battaglia

Silvia Mazzucchelli

I had wanted to meet Letizia Battaglia for some time, but I hadn’t found the guts to write her yet.  I had always considered that like one of those appointments you keep on postponing to keep your hope alive, the hope that it wouldn’t end in the very moment it happend. However, something suggested me that I couldn’t interview her without visiting her city first. So I went to Palermo with my sister and we stayed for a few days. I tried to catch the secrets of that place, to tune up with what surrounded me: the road sounds, the smells, the markets, the suburbs, the places of the dead portraied by Letizia. Palermo is weird. You find yourself shrouded in a grip of contradictions, it is both a cradle and a grave, sea and asphalt, beauty and death. The city gives something new to your eyes, a...

Echoes of Pasts, Inscribing the Present

Awam Amkpa

In an elegantly frescoed salon at New York University’s Florence estate, Villa La Pietra, stands an artifact of beauty, her light brown tunic adorned with brushes of gold fig leaves, a golden collar, and buttons and boots to match. An expansive smile is etched into her ebony face as her body strikes a semi genuflecting pose. Her outstretched arms beckon visitors with an invitation to be served: “give me your gloves, your scarves, your coats, they seem to say.” A similar sculpture but male, is positioned across the room from her. He is made in the likeness of an 18th century page.  With the stem of a horn or trumpet tucked under his right shoulder, this African-looking boy, resplendent in rich curls, and brown and gold heraldry, is perched on a descending platform in a...

Contemporary photography in Benin

The first edition of the Mois de la Photographie, held at the Institut Français of Cotonou, has showcased the work of four Beninese and French photographers – Laeïla Adjovi, Léonce Agbodjelou, Jean-Jacques Moles, and Catherine Laurent – all focusing on contemporary Benin. The exhibition shed light on a little-known scenario, less established and thriving than that of other countries, such as neighboring Nigeria, but increasingly aware of its striking potential (as clearly emerges from the pictures showcased and other projects). Art and culture in Benin are significantly supported by the Institut Français, the French government agency for the promotion of French culture overseas , and Fondation Zinsou, a local foundation operating in the visual arts field and committed to broadening access...

Santu Mofokeng: A Silent Solitude

Silvia Mazzucchelli

“A gift is the evidence of an act, a symbolic gesture that is at once free and obligatory,” writes Katia Anguelova, curator of AtWork Dakar 2012. “Considered in terms of a give-and-take relationship, the work of art can therefore be regarded as a gift or a representation of a gift.” This is the central idea of AtWork, the educational format created by lettera27 and Simon Njami. Its key element is a workshop during which participants produce a personalized notebook, which they can choose to donate to lettera27, thus becoming part of AtWork Community. The workshop that has recently taken place in Italy, in partnership with Fondazione Fotografia Modena, was entirely dedicated to the photographic image and was attended, among others, by the young Ivorian aspiring photographer Mohamed Keita....

Thinking for yourself and within yourself

On April 27th upon the invitation by Art Basel for Non-Profit Visual Arts Organizations, we have launched our first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to implement the sixth chapter of our itinerant educational artistic format AtWork. The campaign is aimed to fund AtWork Addis Ababa, consisting of: a 5-day workshop for young Ethiopian art students and creative talents led by international curator Simon Njami and an exhibition of the created artworks at Addis Foto Fest in December 2016. With your support, we can continue to offer AtWork experience to the students for free. Join our crowdfunding campaign on Art Basel Kickstarter and contribute to nourishing a new generation of creative thinkers that can build the future we are all longing for!     lettera27   On the occasion of the...

Asmarina: post colonial heritages

Italian Version   Asmarina, a 2015 documentary by Alan Maglio and Medhin Paolos, follows what they call “voices and images of a postcolonial heritage.” This beautiful documentary (with an absolutely riveting soundtrack) tells the story of Milan’s habesha community, integral to the Porta Venezia neighborhood since the mid-twentieth century. Weaving together the experiences and identities of those who have lived in Italy for generations with those of newly arrived refugees, Asmarina traces the complex networks of colonial legacies, transnational migrations, family ties, and diasporic politics. And through these stories, which can only be understood from a spatially extended and transhistorical perspective, it also forces a serious reconsideration of what we mean when we talk about “Italy...

London Walks

Italian Version   In Mogadishu, we children used to hang around together all the time. On holidays, we wandered from one place to another just for the sake of being together and setting out on adventures. However, there were rules in that apparent anarchy. The older kids made sure we always had the right amount of fear, just in case we came up with some silly ideas. That’s why my cousin told me about cannibals. She said there had been some ugly mugs hanging around lately… Rumour had it that a girl, taking a taxi home on her own, had accidentally bumped into a brutal murderer. Apparently, he was a normal guy but, as soon as they were alone in a deserted alley, his gentle eyes had turned flame red and he had pulled out a spit to feast on her flesh. I do not remember now whether the young...

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

Denis Maksimov

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...

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 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...

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,...