Marie-José Hoyet - 26/07/2011
Lentamente/slow is a special book in English and Italian result of a collaboration between the French photographer Sopie Bachelier and the Senegalese Boubacar Boris Diop and the Italian Nando della Chiesa, two determined politically committed intellectuals. Published in 2010 by the VMWF editors in the D’ici-là series (from here to there), according to its writers, the book “aims to question the concepts that are born out of the adjoining of very different realities or situations” in a way that writing and iconography come into resonance. The meeting takes place around the concept of waiting in what Maria Valerio Ferrari calls the “ancient sea” context: waiting, especially the women’s waiting, combined with other issues such as migration, poverty and oppression.
Far from the routine depictions, seven of the nine beautiful black and white photographs taken by Sophie Bachelier portray women either alone or in pairs in their family environment or working by the sea while the last two where greys dominate, show a beach with remote figures moving in the dark and muddy Atlantic waters.
The texts and pictures confront three visions like a bridge built between Africa and Europe and actually tell us the same story. In the portraits of women who remained in the fishing villages on Senegalese islands or peninsulas waiting for emigrated husbands or sons to whom Sophie Bachelier also dedicated a film ( Nathalie Galesne, Figures de l’absence, Babelmed, 3/9/2010 ), the artist seizes the alienated expression of a face through which loneliness and resignation are perceived: unchanging daily life, a silent dialogue with those who are across the sea. Through these presences captured in the eternity of a glimpse radiates a great dignity and their presence has an evocative power: it is as if they radiate an aura, a little magic hidden in the simplest small things (dolls) and gestures (wood collecting, sorting the catch).
The pictures are inserted between two texts written by Boubacar Boris Diop, well-known novelist even in Italy where Murambi, The Book of bones (Edizioni e/o, 2004) in which he expressed his reading of the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been quite successful. Former director of the Senegalese daily newspaper in French Le Matin and current collaborator with various German and French newspapers, he is actively engaged in his country’s politics and in the defence of African cultures. In 2002, he made the activist choice to only write in Wolof, the mother tongue of most Senegalese, in the future: this is a very innovative personal project by not a very easy one to implement in a systematic way.
In the first of the two published texts entitled Black and Blues, Diop refers to the photos, evoking the bare landscape of the African coasts, a time that is full of life where the ocean is transformed into a desert and where the fishermen’s pirogues symbolical instrument of work, have now become an instrument of death and are “not more than black traits on the water” (cit.p. 17).
This way of highlighting the tragedy of migratory fluxes and their consequences on everyday life reveals the weakness of a social equilibrium and denounces oppression and racism through a message having a strong human impact. With regards to these issues, Diop can be compared to Fatou Diome (also coming from Senegal, from one of those fishing villages in the Saloum’s Delta), who in her last novel entitled “Celles qui attendent” (Flammarion 2010) addresses emigration from the perspective of “those who wait”. When presenting the volume, the author insists that they are “the true heroines of emigration”. One of her previous novels “The Belly of the Atlantic” (published in English in 2006 by Serpent’s Tail Publishers) already focused on the same theme through the character of a child who remained at the village dreaming of reaching his sister in France. Exactly like in Diop’s second story entitled “Battute di Caccia’ (in Italian meaning Hunting defeats), being the only link between them, the telephone plays an inescapable role. In this same text, evoking the tragic reality of exploitation and violence against foreign workers and the conspiracy of silence and the winding or demonstrated racism, Diop puts his own unmistakable voice to the service of these anti-heroes who consume another distant life just like the real life protagonists – among the hardest and the most significant recent illegal immigration – the facts occurred in January 2010 in the Calabrian town of Rosarno (Italy). These scandalous events are already partly forgotten like those of Castel Volturno, a town in Campania (Italian region), theatre of a Camorrist massacre against immigrants in September 2008. Six young Africans were killed in the revolt sweeping away numerous foreign workers. Let us remind that on the 10th November 2008 in Castel Volturno, Roberto Saviano specifically held a concert with Miriam Makeba known as Mama Africa for her lifetime struggle against apartheid in South African. Exhausted, she died at the end of the concert.
Two films were dedicated to the explosion of violence between Italians and immigrants (resulting in the wounding of 68 among them and the deportation of about a thousand Africans in other Italian cities) and the clashes and the context of the dramatic reality of criminal subculture and Mafia(1) administration of the southern territory. “Il sangue verde” (The green blood) in 2010 by Andrea Segre on Rosarno and the significantly entitled documentary and fiction film “Là-bas – con il mare negli occhi” (There – with the sea in the eyes) a film on Castel Volturno by Guido Lombardi, in competition for the “Quinzaine des réalisateurs” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.
Driven to desperation in Italy or glued to the phone in France or in Spain lile Medun, victime of merciless manhunt, Diop fears (“they wouldn’t make it”) that they can never reach “the moment of justice” (p.65) because it is difficult to identify the lineaments in a world that struggles against state racism more and more deeply instilled in society.
The Italian writer, politician and sociologist Nando della Chiesa, always finds lapidary expressions to lay bare the degrading living conditions in which certain populations live: “The waiting as a way of life on dry land. But also at sea where is it also flux and movement” (p.29) and focuses on the link between waiting/slowness/justice in an interesting digression in Italian letters. Revisiting some Italian classical works that have meant a lot for the Italians and which have become central in his beautiful texts, the author shows the various ways of looking at the sea: particularly that of The Malavoglia ,(2) in that ancient and still Sicily that the film director Pasquale Sineco had chosen to update in the eponymous film(3) released in May 2011.
This is how a perspective of life shaped by ‘waiting’ emerges. Yesterday, in the great literature and the social construction of rural Italy where it is characterized by a dimension of great solemnity and sanctity (p.37) like today in the recent tragedies born out of the combination of: Mafia, waiting, justice.
Referring to his essays on the Mafia and in particular to “Le ribelli” (The Rebels). In “Storie di donne che hanno sfidato la mafia per amore” (Stories of women who defied the Mafia for love) (Milan, Melampo 2006), Dalla Chiesa draws a main line of thought between the vanquished of all souths, united by the slow pace that makes them feel as if life pulsated elsewhere but in which some female figures have revolted to assert their right to truth. Because she is the woman “who becomes a metaphor of the time that doesn’t pass” (p.31). With regards to Sicily, it was the look and the authoritative voice of Carlo Levi and then that of Ignazio Buttita who dedicated unforgettable words to Francesca, mother of Salvatore Carnevale, trade-unionist and peasant defender killed by the Mafia. Other mothers like Felicia, mother of Peppino Impastato (activist and radio host) and Saveria, mother of Roberto Antiochia (policeman) also killed by the Mafia, launched a challenge to the ultra-conservative do-nothing policy and amnesia, calling for “an idea of justice beyond courts” (p.41).
This interesting volume with a variety of approaches and the right game of mirrors between Italy and Africa is an ode to all women, those in African in their self-sacrifice and those in Southern Italy in their resistance and denunciation. He invites us to condemn any indifference to events of a global dimension such as mass migration and to come up against discriminatory migration policies and increasingly exclusive systems. Words and pictures fulfil their task, that of making memory a tool of awareness and to try to affect the reality of the world.
In an interview on his previous novel “Le Cavalier et son ombre” (Stock 1997), Boubacar Boris Diop writes: “These is a certain greatness in a more humble existence and there is more self discovery in the effort of encountering the memory of the entire humanity through dark and dated stories” because we are in an era “in which respect for human rights should apply to every human being”.
1) The Camorra is a Mafia -type criminal organization, or secret society, originating in the region of Campania and its capital Naples in Italy. It is one of the oldest and largest criminal organizations in Italy, going back to the 18th century.
2) I Malavoglia is the best known novel by Giovanni Verga . It was first printed in 1881. An English translation, The house by the medlar-tree (1890) by Mary A. Craig was published in the Continental Classics series.