‘’The group MakeArtNotWalls/Italia grew from an initial encounter with a group of migrants arriving from francophone and anglophone sub-saharan West African countries ; these future participants were residing in the Umbrian comune of Trevi, near Foligno in Umbria, central Italy – an area previously known for wines , truffles, olive oil, a spiritual heritage interwoven with medieval and renaissance painting and architecture. These young men and women did not have official documents and were applying or awaiting the outcome of their applications for residency : their personal situations were/are often precarious.
The encounter in Autumn 2016 was by chance; Virginia Ryan (artist/art therapist) had recently noticed the men walking up and down the highway towards the local supermarket, and, on enquiry, was informed by local council that the city was hosting around forty men and women recently arrived by boats in Sicily,then bussed to centres throughout the mainland.
Through Arci she made contact with the staff at the centre and asked if it would be possible to invite some of the men up to the local museum where recent work from her series ‘I will Shield You’ was on exhibition. The visit proved highly engaging and all were warmly welcomed by Museum Staff; the young men and women were enthusiastic to see the work which referenced Ryan’s West African experience; we equally enthusiastic to have conversations with people who had travelled so far with courage; some seemed eager to of share the trauma of first-hand experience .
After the meeting Virginia asked if it would be possibile to visit them at their temporary home, the Califuria.
They said yes.
That turned out to be the decisive moment.
After the first, tentative encounters in the eating-area of the Hotel Califuria (September 2016) , a crucial workspace was provided so that participants might have free and continual access to basic, donated art supplies and recycled materials.
The first art-space was a disused garage behind the hall of residence.
It was here that Virginia invited and was soon joined by volunteer Julia Perry, an American art-restorer and trainee councelor also resident in the area. Julia’s dedication,assistance and expertise has proved invaluable in the continual period November 2016 – May 2018.
We were introduced to Federica Di Marco, an Italian teacher who was to prove unfailing in her commitment to the importance of transmitting italian to the new arrivals and aspirant residents.
Our first public ‘outing ‘ of works was in December 2016 at the local museum/pinacoteca of Trevi with a large public in the presence of the mayor Dino Sperandio and his deputy Stefania Moccoli; an installation of works was held before the Dello Spagna painting ,the famous Incoronazione della Vergine.
This was our first public validation of both work and inspired our approach which has become our signature – being present in public spaces and presenting frequently to the community-at-large evidence of our activity. In this way we create a bridge between immigrants and local residents through artistic expression. Taking the work outside the confines of the art-room also validated the importance of the process in the eyes of the participants themselves.
After some months, a number of other exhibitions and public encounters were held in Italian museums ; the ‘open studio’ format of the art-space allowed for the unpredictability of the participants’ length-of-stay in the residential centre attached , whilst acting as a negotiated space between the longer-stay image-makers and the arrival of new migrants. The cohesion of a work-space was considered, at least by facilitator- volunteers, as a quasi-essential part of an emotional emergency package .
As time went on, the visual material presented reflected the instability of the migrants’ status and the duration of their stay in Umbria but also of hope and personal change ; many most showed a level of engagement and exciting graphic and pictorial development.
Other new participants arrived at the califuria and entered our space -at times tentatively- t as late as Winter 2017-8 , there creating their first, courageous works on paper or recycled wood off-cuts.
Overall, the small, unexpectedly numerous works explore a range of subjects , from drawn-out memories of home, of time spent in detention centres in Libya and of the voyage across the Mediterranean, to hopes and heart-felt dreams of a new life in Europe.
Most imaging were completed by men as the women were moved to another centre in Spello in August 2017; the depictions surprised by their tenderness; by the yearnings for a home, children, a romantic love-life cohabiting visually with graphic paintings of crouched bodies in car boots, men behind prison bars in Libya and the arrival in Italy.
For news reporting Summer 2017 read/listen to NPR senior European reporter Sylvia Poggioli:
In Italy, migrants-are-making-art-and-friends
A TOTAL WORK
After some months, the art room was heaving with these works, most on recycled wood off-cuts; small, poetic tentative marks or boldly outlined cartoons ; often reminiscent of the West African sign-painting tradition which the migrants will all have seen on the streets of any West African village or city – now, in major cities, being slowly replaced with digital advertising.
Our approach has always been to use as much recycled material as possible; for financial constraints but more importantly to allow for experimentation, risk-taking and as a sign of respect also to the many Italians who might not be able to afford art supplies for their own children in the present economic climate. We believe that by taking abandoned and unwanted supplies considered waste ( wood offcuts in primis) we are also acting on the idea of transformation and ‘new life’ . Paints and paper were donated by our many friends and supporters; individuals and groups such as the congregation of St Leonards Anglican Church in Assisi.
We were joined by master fibre-artist Sofia Verna who ran a sewing group for over a year in the centre (and created some beautiful textile artworks of her own referencing paintings by Camara and Raphael) whilst also engaging with Alessandra Sebastiani, the local Shoe-repairer and leather worker, with whom three of the men- Raphael, Lucky and Lamin – would meet twice a week to learn new skills in her workshop all through 2017.Over the same time artist Gary Jo Gardenshire created a beautiful set of drawings of participants;his visits were a further confirmation of friendship and interest in the members.
Visitors often remarked on the density of the work on the walls; all space became exhibition space, which often floods over onto tables and floor.
–The display was democratic; reflecting the approach that We Are All Creatives.
–Over time, those who were the more frequent members would be found in the same place: Alex Johnson from Nigeria,for example, came to think of the art-room as his office and had his own ‘special place’.
–The keys to the room were held by participants-volunteers did not control opening/closing.
At present as we write, the participants do not have permits to cross Europe – but their art-work can still travel freely, empowering them also symbolically, to challenge borders.
Some of the projects we have developed included:
Reciprocus was collaborative art work between artist/art therapist Virginia Ryan and members of the group, layering Italian newsprint and partially ‘whited-out’ local stories from the central Italian newspaper ‘Corriere dell’Umbria’ with subsequent interacting hand-painted images responding to the news/text . Worlds collide, interact and juxtapose in this set of mixed-media works on paper and card.
The series presents a universe in which intersections of figures, patterning, hand-written testimonies and Italian newspaper type suggests individual and collective ‘what-if’ imaginings, whilst recording memories of the journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean.
The process of interaction with local news, discussions in the workshop and re-actions with paint and pencil mirror or suggest moments of fusion within the wider community. The works act as ‘visual intergrations’ to imagine a space where different worlds interplay.
Theses make up a large body of the collective archive: Examples of the many portraits of real or imaginary people created in the artroom; from aspirational figures such as Martin Luther King and Barack Obama to romantic couples drinking champagne in the bath ; from angels to rappers to memories of West African traditions; as one of the men said ‘’a world of heroes, of hope,romantic sweetness and future loves’’.
The Voyage – in Viaggio
Six Sets of works,each comprising ten units by:
Raphael Benjamin, Alex Johnson, Patrick Euria Chukwuemeka, Felix Omogui(j-Boy) and Chineweaba Michael Chinedu from Nigeria; Foday Cisse’ from Gambia.
These works are a strong testimony of the West African asylum seeker experience: leaving home, travelling through the Sahara to Libya and arriving in Italy. The works required a level of commitment to memory and self-exploration; to self-exposure which put the participants to the test; on completion, each image-maker was proud to present his work firstly to the international public at Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.
Whilst it was not possible for the contributers to travel across borders at present, the works take their place . The participants thanked Susan Morse and Gallerist Rose Shoshana for the invitation; thanks to Rose’s generosity Virginia was physically present to advocate .
THE FILM_PART ONE
The Art of Migration is also a docu-film of approximately 25 Minutes telling the story of the encounters over the first autumn ,winter and spring of 2016-2017 made by Bernardo Angeletti e Matteo Fiorucci from Perugia.Their camera bears witness and accompanies the participants as they begin to negotiate the multiple terrains of image-making, of new physical places , of the Italian language and of each other in an unfamiliar environment – a new home. The film is subtitled and partly spoken in English and will be present in upcoming documentary film festivals :
Previous public presentations included at Sala Pegasus (Spoleto) , Zenith (Perugia), Italian Cultural Institute Edinburgh, San Francesco Trevi, and the British Institute in Florence.
We thank Publisher Paolo Lombardi from EraNuova Publications for publishing the first two books, and a further three in progress : Paolo was introduced to us by Julia Perry in early 2018. These books ,written with the help of professional translator/book editor Stefania Proietti, document visually and through text the voyage of individual members from West Africa to Umbria. Stefania is now assisted by Mario Pagliacci, a university professor from Foligno. Once again, these books reflect the growing confidence of the subjects in the use of the Italian language.
The first two books ( Abubacar Diallo,Raphael Benjamin) were presented at Villa Fabri in Trevi in April 2018; one of the most powerful memories we will have is of Raphael smiling as he signed copies for the public! New publications will include Foday Cisse, Alex Johnson and Chinedu Chineweaba..
Those who exhibited with us, supporting each other and making this all happen, during the period include:Aboubacar Diallo / Ibrahima Yallow / Yusepha Suso / Souleymane Banfo Traore / Chidiebere Aghanwa /Alex Johnson / Raphael Benjamin / Blessing Osagie Edegbe / Costante Ukpokolo / Madou Lamin / Emannuel Ituah / Osayuki Omurgi / Camara Yakhouba / Ernest Okplie / Isaia Abu / Joy Osayande/ Sannah Conte/ Foday Cisse/ Chinedu Chineweaba/ Felix j-Boy Omogui
Exhibitions 2016- May 2018
The Art of Migration 1 Pinacoteca of Trevi 2016
The Art of Migration 2 March-April in collaboration with Arci, Palazzo Lucarini, Contemporary Art, Comune di Trevi and Sistema Museo , Museum of San Francesco Cloisters, Trevi March 2017
Cibi del Mondo Self-curated Stand by MakeArtNotWalls Participants (international Food Festival) May 2017 Foligno (Pg);
AntiFestival – Cannaiola (Trevi,Umbria) , invited to one day exhibit during music Festival June 2017
Infiorata/Corpus Christi in association with Vo.La Trevi, June 2017.
Umbria World Fest and Contemporary Art Day AMACI October 2017, Palazzo Trinci (Foligno – Pg).
Make Art Not Walls ‘Reciprocus’ Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh, October 2017 and Phantome (portraits of members of the group) by Matteo Fiorucci.
Make Art Not Walls Reciprocus at Harold Acton Library, British Institute, Florence on Occasion of Black History Month, February 2018 curated by Justin R Thomson.
MakeArt Not Walls, Rose Gallery in association with Human Rights Watch, Bergamot Art Station, Los Angeles, May 2018.
Encounters/outreach with school children from Trevi and Foligno Public Schools were held at the Istituto Valenti (Trevi),Villa Fabri ( Trevi) and the Pinacoteca di Trevi.
Meetings with visual artists were held at Trebisonda (Perugia); MAD museum, Campello su Clitunno (thanks to Mariella Badiali) , Palazzo Lucarini Contemporary (Trevi) And the Museo del Costume in Spoleto.
Thanks to all Visual artists who visited us, were visited and shared aspects of their work over one or more included resident artists Gary Jo Gardenshire, Polly Brooks and Jeffrey Isaac/ Carol La Lievre-Jennie Temple-Chris Walker-Jane Frere from Scotland /Lucia Minervini and Michael Walker from the USA; many other artists visited including Michael and Carol Venezia, Myriam LaPlante ,Danilo Fiorucci and Judy Holding from Australia.
Visiting curators included Silvano Manganaro, Manuela de Leonardis, Andrianna Campbell, Maurio Coccia and Mara Predicatori ; anthropologists Steven Feld and Ivan Bargna’ .
We could not have done without the support of Piter Foglietta and Fabio Bravi from ARCI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf9JPCcTkzU France 24 (Phoebe Lanzer-Wood)
click the link : On YouTube-an occasional visual diary:
Thank you everyone mentioned above, including those who came to engage with us at the space, especially Silvia Poggioli , Fiona Ryan, Giorgia, Caroline Wooden, Phoebe Lanzer-Wood, Helen Lanzer,Olimpia Campello and Eduardo Munoz, Ruth Ellen Gruber , Giancarlo Izzo , Barbara Allen, Lex Ulibarri, Rob and Janine Cushman, MariaPia Barbini, Dina Sperandio,Vera Martani, Fiona McPeake,Ricard Stourac, Maggie Piper, Pam Moscow ,Teresa Murphy, Amy and Jim and Patricia for your extra Italian classes, Katia Bacchettoni, Rosella Zenobi,Maria Rita Cacchione; Tim Rees, Marco Margheri,Gael de Schaetzen ,Alessandra de Collalto, Carla and Flavia Mattioli, members of St Leonards….to be continued.
In a cosmopolitan community individuals from different places nation-form relationships of mutual respect. As an example, Kwame Anthony Appiah suggests ”the possibility of a cosmopolitan community in which individuals from varying locations (physical, economic, etc.) enter relationships of mutual respect despite their differing beliefs . Various cities and locales, past or present, have or are defined as “cosmopolitan”; that does not necessarily mean that all or most of their inhabitants consciously embrace the above philosophy. Rather, locales could be defined as “cosmopolitan” simply by the fact of being where people of various ethnic, cultural and/or religious background interact with each other.”