Where have all the flowers gone? New memories and contemporary holocausts

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Intro

This is an article of the informal collective CatArTica Care, made up of artists, independent curators, art critics and musicians.  The article is written by: Michele Tarzia, Elvira Lamanna, Tebala Valentina, Luigi Scopelliti and Roberto Giriolo and it is the result of our shared thoughts coming from October 15, the day dedicated to contemporary art in Italy. The event Emigration zone, part of the Ecumene project by Camera237, was held at the migrants’ cemetery of Armo (Reggio Calabria).
During the event, the artist Luigi Scopelliti has situated his sculptures at the cemetery: 45 swallows on some stones among the migrants’ graves. As collective action, we also realised all together little temporary plates with migrants’ names and we placed them on the graves, with the participation of all the people present at the cemetery. The names of the migrants were written in white varnish, and their names were added to their identification numbers, already placed on the graves.
Michele Tarzia of {movimentomilc} has organised a series of poetry readings and testimonies. Some people have read them in a spontaneous way and the readings were accompanied by a guitar and a double bass in the background. The whole day was a very intense moment of both commemoration and reflection. These are our thoughts.

 —–

17:48 October 15, 2016. Cemetery of Armo, Reggio Calabria.

The guitar begins its soliloquy. People situated plaques on the graves with the names written in white. The silence is so intense that the wind has stopped to whistle down, maybe because of the fear of disturbing. A symphony of peace, a requiem of hope comes from the hill of a small village towards the infinite sky and slowly accompanies us toward a secular commemoration.

A minute of silence. [1’]

We don’t feel the wind yet. Exchange of glances. Some people are moved, others are concentrated. All of them are absorbed with thoughts that I do not know. Someone starts to speak up, but suddenly the sound coming from the double bass’s bow pervades the atmosphere. The sound is both so delicate and strident to fall silent the voices. The dead, who are watching us and spying on us, are aware of our intent, they know that their buried brothers have had little luck in the sea. From the hill of the cemetery, we can see that sea, like a creative presence, a welcoming mother, as if perhaps the sea was waiting for another boat to be welcomed. One, two, three, four and five people follow one another and read white sheets of paper. Simple white sheets of paper with a strong idea of ​​resistance. They are testaments, poems and letters of people who belongs to this land, and as all of us have the will to talk, to speak, to tell about what is happening.

Europe.

Memory of present. Dyscrasia of collective thoughts.

Adal Neguse writes about his brother, a testament that cannot be unnoticed. Unread.

My little brother Abrish, those who chased you out of your country and those who did not want to give you the protection you seeked, they might have their price up on the sky. But I have to promise you one thing today that I will/shall not leave your enemies to be in peace. Death to this barbaric dictator!!!

Abrish, my eyes are in tears and my heart is bleeding.

Rest in peace!”.[1]

Tears.

Candles.

A light turns on like a lighthouse in the sea, a welcoming hope dedicated to the viewer, or perhaps, to the citizen, the one who talks so much about equality and brotherhood, about love and peace among the people. I am talking to the one who goes out on a sunny day to take a walk, whose thought is: “it is hot today”!

The border is an imaginary line, made up of several border points. If only we could remove these border points, then we would have only an imaginative vision of borders, where the everyday fragility finds love and the greeting of the world is in everyone’s hands.

***

We need not imposed rituals. The entire day was a ritual of both action and reflection that has rediscovered the communality of a “we” in its rhythms, without names, nations, borders. As Hannah Arendt stresses in The human condition (1958), human beings are equal because no one can choose with whom they can cohabit the Earth, our common place. As human beings, Arendt says, “we” have both speech and action as characteristic traits of our common human condition. This commonality comes from sharing a human plurality, in the meaning that everyone embodies, at the same time, uniqueness and communality that must be protected for all human beings as equal. “We” as equal beings means taking into account all the contradictions of such a condition (uniqueness and commonality) as well.

It means that those who have no voice and rights, as people who migrate with journeys inhumane conditions, must be considered to be equal human beings. Our actions and speech embody all the contradictions of a tragedy of migration, starting from our territory and challenging who does not act to promote this protection of equal human beings, such as the governments conceived only as nation-states delimited by imposed borders.

According to Arendt, only by “acting in concert”, being together with others, equal human beings are united in a commonality deriving not only from this equality, but also from the respect for the different uniqueness that each one embodies being unique.

Yet, how should we react in the face of a terrible tragedy of human beings who migrate and die in the sea? How can  governments allow this tragedy to happen?

How can we understand the pain, the anguish felt by people who migrate hoping for a different future?

Necropolitics is how Achille Mbembe defines the action of the governments that decide who must live and who must  die.

However, “acting in concert” means to take collective actions with the awareness that we are equal persons. We should always start from our reality, even if it is very small in relation to ​​migratory tragedy. Our “acting in concert” starts when during a September morning we went with Luigi and Michele to the migrants’ cemetery in Armo (Reggio Calabria), where 45 migrants are buried. The majority of them were youth and women, coming from Ethiopia and Somalia.

It would have been significant to know these people’s dreams, their uniqueness as human beings. That morning, I was struck by a phrase that Luigi said: “I do not feel on top of the situation”. I was struck by it because the tears are made up of pain, guilt and of shame as well. We feel ashamed because of the privilege and dignity to live a life without bombs, torture, and a lack of freedom and of a dignified life.

History does not forget, and even “we” should not do it. We have both word and deed, but only by “acting in concert”, we could produce something new in the present. Yet, shame and grief are emotions, as well as fear, that can paralyse us. And, this is the reason why “acting in concert” toward the commonality of a “we” is urgent and very current today. Especially, it is worth to build something “common” for those who have no voice, or nobody is listening to them, without the fear of the “I do not feel on top of the situation”. We should keep this feeling of understanding and sharing our doubts and fears, and only in this way “acting in concert” can give a voice to those who are voiceless.

Thinking about the “common” through not imposed rituals and actions aims to unveil a lack of dignity for a recognition of equality and communality. It is a self-organised process, but must be done “acting in concert”. “Acting in concert” means also reading, writing down the names in white on the plaques and reflecting upon poems or words coming from testimonies that belong to equal and voiceless human beings.

***

The first time I set foot in the cemetery of Armo (Reggio Calabria), I began to understand that the numbers of the death reading on the social networks, hearding on the TV, were tangible! They were tangible there, in front of me, on a land that was arid and dark and they were tangible like the millions of thoughts which would have filled my head soon.

It was the end of June, the vegetation was growing again on the maddu (this is the name with which that dark soil is called in Cataforio, my suburb in Reggio Calabria). Small numbers on this land broke down the environment’s tranquillity, pushing my thoughts towards a feeling of anguish. I am feeling the same anguish even now, while I am writing these few words.

1

Elvira Lamanna, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

2

Elvira Lamanna, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

3

Elvira Lamanna, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

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Roberto Giriolo, Visual and auditory session by {movimentomilc} and Luigi Scopelliti’s Emigration zone, Armo’s cemetery (Reggio Calabria), October 15, 2016.

Those numbers pushed me to create something plastic and light. I worked there every day for almost a month, and every time I went to the cemetery, I felt always the same feelings, then I came back home tired and full of thoughts, while my installation was taking shape. The 45 swallows of this installation are linked to this feeling of anguish and are the symbol of the hope for an utopian world, where we are no more witness of those tragic events, but we become aware that there is a restart, a destination beyond a specific place, beyond these hills and this sea. Many hands joined me in this journey. In our puffy eyes I saw the feeling of being unprepared and dismayed, but also the anger, the desire to give or do something.

After a research, from Reggio Calabria’s port captaincy I got the names, the age and the origin countries of some migrants at the cemetery. Gradually those numbers turned into human beings or just an idea of human beings that our imagination built. We situated the names on rusted plaques, as memory of the boats crossing over the Mediterranean and we wrote down their names in white varnish in order to stress the iron’s coldness. Our collective action was to place them on the same maddu (local dialect word for soil) which now becomes womb, welcoming those its sons once again. The swallows are going to take flight towards South East and look far away from those names, towards the endless sky, the African’s sky.

***

We, who live safe in our warm houses. We, who find hot food and friendly faces on our way back home in the evening, consider if these are men [and women, and children].

I felt the most terrible emotion in front of the neat tract of burial mounds and numbers on plastic plaques – some pitiful little flower here and there – when all together replaced the names of those people who died in the sea to their respective number. The physiognomies of their faces’ precious ebony appeared clearly in my mind, but that ebony was defaced by tears and sea. And it was terrifying and sad at the same time. Because, according to me, the responsibility was also ours, of us who at that time were crying and accepting them in death, but we were not able to save them when they were alive. I felt the sweetest emotion when I looked around and our eyes embraced. I realised that something had changed inside us and the consciousness and experience of that collective action had united us all so closely: no more an us and a them.

Probably Luigi’s art installation and that ritual of gestures and readings will not change the facts, but in a small way they approached conscience. In Armo (Reggio Calabria), like anywhere else on this Earth «beautiful, without frontiers or boundaries» (like Michele said us quoting Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who observed Earth from the space), our struggle against the abuse and intolerance resists through active and reactive sharing of love and beauty acts. These ones make us “human” again. All of us are human beings as well as those desperate people who continue to die in our Mediterranean or, even before, in our African desert.

Let us meditate that this came about, and continues to be.

***

I am a father. I have two sons. Many times I wondered what I would be willing to do if my kids or my wife were in danger. “I would have crossed over the sea by foot”, once I said to a friend of mine. I do not understand how you cannot understand this feeling. I do not understand how you can be insensitive to the request for help and asylum of a person. According to UNHCR, in 2015 about one million people has crossed the Mediterranean.

How many of us would put in a boat full of people, a child of six months, two or three years, for a journey from Libya across the sea? My feeling could be paradoxical, but I have ever felt compassion towards these people, but I have nurtured a strong respect for their courage. I feel respect for both the will and the determination they have to search for happiness, for the deep love towards their children, for exposing themselves to both terrible dangers and pain.

I do not aim neither to celebrate anyone nor to find new martyrs or heroes.

In this small cemetery of Armo, in the province of Reggio Calabria, 45 “travellers” – as I like to call those who rely on courage and love to search for a better life – are buried. I want only to commemorate the courage, the determination, the triumph of life that does not give up to the subjugation and oppression, refusing war or discrimination.

All this is a beautiful lesson of love and courage for me. NOTHING MORE.

Even if one day I would be forced to flee or to fight to save myself and my loved ones, and even if I will die crossing over a sea, a desert or climbing a mountain, chasing for salvation, peace and happiness, I would like to be remembered as a man who has had courage and has done everything to be “free”.

Here you can find all the readings of that day in a video “Abrish 1”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjEZ4R2X4_8&feature=youtu.be

CatArTica Care

Michele Tarzia, Elvira Lamanna, Luigi Scopelliti, Valentina Tebala, Roberto Giriolo

Thanks to: Camera237, Daniele Laro, Daniele Fera, Carmelo Manglaviti, Tiziana Sorgonà  and all the people who took part in this collective action.

[1]Adal’s letter to his brother Abraham, one of the victims of the massacre of 3 October, 2013, happened off the coast of Lampedusa. The letter was published on 7 October, 2014 www.archiviomemoriemigranti.net.

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Elvira Lamanna

She graduated in Art History at "La Sapienza" University of Rome, with a dissertation about art and institutional critique from the '60s to 2000s. She obtained a Master's degree in Educational Management for contemporary art in Turin. Art critic, she deals with contemporary art, in particular in relation to interdisciplinary practices, political activism and alternative pedagogy. She is undertaking a Master of Research among the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in London.

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