In 1940, the Fascist regime established the “Entity of Colonization of Sicilian Latifundia / Ente di Colonizzazione del Latifondo Siciliano” following the model of the “Entity of Colonization of Libya” and colonial architecture in Eritrea and Ethiopia. These territories were considered by the regime “empty,” “underdeveloped,” and “backward” and therefore in need to be “reclaimed,” “modernized,” and “repopulated.” For this purpose, the “Entity of Colonization” inaugurated in Sicily eight new rural towns and as many remained unfinished. Today most of these villages have fallen into ruin. However, what does not seem to be in ruin in Italy is the persistence of colonial and fascist rhetoric, culture, and politics. Despite the fall of fascism following the Second World War, Italy’s de-fascistization remains an unfortunately unfinished process.
This is one of the reasons why Italy still has visible architectures, monuments, plaques, and toponymy that celebrate the fascist regime. Furthermore, Italy – having lost its colonies during the Second World War – has never embarked on a real process of decolonization. In 2017, the nomination of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fascist and colonial architecture built during the period of Italian occupation, posed a series of fundamental questions for both the ex-colonized and the ex- colonizers: who has the right to preserve, reuse and re-narrate fascist colonial architecture?
The DAAR installation presented for the 2020 Quadriennale d’arte – FUORI at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, home to the First International Colonial Art Exhibition (1931) and other propaganda exhibitions of the regime, proposes to rethink the rural towns built by the “Entity of Colonization” in Sicily starting from the nomination of Asmara as a World Heritage Site. The installation is the first intervention, and it will be followed by a second step ”Towards a Decolonization Entity / Verso un Ente di Decolonizzazione”: the opening of a summer school, a space for critical knowledge and pedagogy, to investigate the aftermath of colonial and fascist architectural heritage. The school will take place in the summer 2021, in Borgo Rizza, Municipality of Carlentini, (Siracusa), one of the rural settlements built by fascism. The school wants to intervene in the debate regarding the architectural heritage associated with the histories of violent pasts and painful memories.
It is a collaboration between the Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Course, at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, the MA program in Critical Urbanisms, at the University of Basel and the local community in Carlentini. The lived experience in these towns will offer the opportunity to elaborate on a series of important questions: What should be done with such troublesome heritage? Is there a possibility for its re-use and for critical preservation without falling into the celebration of colonial/fascist ideologies? Who has the right to reuse and reclaim this heritage? Answering these questions will also help to problematize the exploitative relation of the ‘urban’ with the countryside, histories of migration and unsolved questions of (post)colonial injustice – especially after the renewed interest in the “countryside” at the time of a global pandemic.
VERSO UN ENTE DI DECOLONIZZAZIONE, 2020
A project by Sandi Hilal e Alessandro Petti (DAAR)
Photographic dossier: Luca Capuano
Installation: Video projections, photographs and plexiglass
Research and texts: Emilio Distretti, Husam Abu Salem
Graphic design: Diego Segatto, Rosanna Lama
QUADRIENNALE D’ARTE 2020 | FUORI
Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Roma
30 October 2020 > Spring 2021
Acknowledgements: special thanks to Matteo Lucchetti, Corrado Gugliotta e Nicolo Stabile for their support and hospitality while in Sicily.
Contacts and info: www.decolonizing.ps
DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Research) is an architectural collective that combines conceptual speculations and pragmatic spatial interventions, discourse and collective learning. The artistic research of Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti are situated between politics, architecture, art and pedagogy. In their practice art exhibitions are both sites of display and sites of action that spill over into other contexts: built architectural structures, the shaping of critical learning environments, interventions that challenge dominant collective narratives, the production of new political imaginations, the formation of civic spaces and the re-definition of concepts.
Emilio Distretti is a researcher and an educator. He is currently Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Basel (Switzerland). Prior to this, Emilio lived and taught in Palestine, where he was Director of the Urban Studies and Spatial Practices Program at Al Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences in Abu Dis. His research takes on interrelated avenues on the politics of space, architectural heritage, Italian fascist colonialism, postcolonial and decolonial politics in the Mediterranean (Italy, North Africa, and the Levant) and on the Horn of Africa.