curated by Giulia Grechi and Salvo Lombardo
«When men die, they enter into history. When statues die, they enter into art. This botany of death is what we call culture. That’s because the society of statues is mortal. One day, their faces of stone crumble and fall to earth. A civilization leaves behind itself these mutilated traces, like the pebbles dropped by Petit Poucet. But history has devoured everything. An object dies when the living glance trained upon it disappears. And when we disappear, our objects will be confined to the place where we send black things: to the museum».
Alain Resnais, Chris Marker e Ghislain Cloquet, Les Statues Meurent Aussi, 1953, film 29’ [t.b.c.]
Non Una Di Meno Press Release – March 9 2019 – Milan:
During the demonstration on March 8th, we doused in pink paint the bronze statue of journalist Indro Montanelli in Milan right at the entrance of the public gardens. We did it to remember and give justice to the 12-year-old girl bought as a sex slave by Montanelli himself during the Italo-Ethiopian war.
This woman (we only know her name: Destà) always remained nameless and voiceless in public debates, yet another colonialist and patriarchal violence against her: as a matter of fact, Montanelli never mentioned her, not even when he declared: “that’s how it works in Abyssinia” under the pressing questions of Elvira Banotti in 1972.
This story once again reveals the interdependence of colonialism and patriarchy in which the former seeks virgin lands to conquer – without caring about the native population – while the latter hunts for virgin women to subdue against their will. A very obscure plot in Italian colonialism – lasted from 1869 to 1947 – whose clear aim was motivated, beyond economic reasons, by the urgency to enforce Italy’s honor in front of other nations, showing our ability to conquer lands along with the virility of Italic men. These men, unsurprisingly, had the possibility, to buy sex slaves, or rather “lease” them, as Montanelli put it, in the name of the most sinister racist stereotypes that build black women bodies as hypersexualized and therefore always available. A perverse custom that fascism will try to counter in the name of the racial purity by sending very Italian prostitutes to the “overseas lands”, forcing them to satisfy both officers and soldiers.
Montanelli’s statue was covered in pink to remember all the victims of Italian colonialism as well; from the 100.000 people (out of a population of 800.000 inhabitants) killed in the twenty years of Italian colonization in Libya, to those gassed in the battle of Amba Aradam, still remembered in too many Italian streets and squares as a prestigious victory.
As a matter of fact, Italy never faced a real process of decolonization, since the rhetoric and popular belief of “Italians decent people”, always avoided a real public debate on collective responsibilities for the consequences of Italian actions in the colonies; a disgrace from the past which is still affecting the present life.
LUMe (Metropolitan University Laboratory) and Rete Studenti Press Release, June 14 2020 – Milan:
“Italians never learned nothing from history since they never studied it” These are the arrogant words of the “greatest Italian journalist”, Indro Montanelli. On the contrary, we believe we have shown that we know history very well. We believe, in fact, that without an honest critical revision, history cannot be defined as such. As a matter of fact, history is a living field of study, therefore we cannot pretend not to know that the statues erected to celebrate its protagonists have a collective social function, as they are located in public spaces, exhibiting and proclaiming the ruling class vision of history. In such an important global moment – barriers and false idols have been breaking down all over the world; a world that must no longer exist – we believe that figures such as Indro Montanelli could still be harmful to public opinion. A colonialist who made slavery an important part of his political activity cannot and should not be celebrated in a public square, even more so in a city like Milan, gold medal for the “Resistenza” (Resistance) against both the nazis and the fascists during the Second World War. Besides having carried out a strenuous apology campaign for fascism, the journalist also voluntarily enlisted in the army during the second Italo-Ethiopian war which was an infamous fascist colonial bloodshed; that is why the statue of Indro Montanelli is a contradiction that we can no longer accept.
During the war Montanelli bought a “faccetta nera” (little black face) named Destà, an Ethiopian girl of only 12-years-old, which he used as a sex toy without a second thought.
We therefore ask with conviction the demolition of Montanelli’s statue for we cannot accept that people who have made slavery, colonialism, misogyny, fascism and racism a mentality are appreciated or even revered as examples to be followed. As global movements such as Non Una Di Meno and Black Lives Matter have been teaching us, we want to remember that in an intersectional mechanism of transformation, all struggles are the same struggle both in the present and the future. If the world we want is late in coming, then we shall change it.
No more slavery.
No more sexism.
No more racism
« Now, many may ask: “What does bringing down the statue of a late 19th century privateer has to do with decolonizing a 21st century university?” Or, as many have in fact been asking: “Why are we so addicted to the past”? (…) His statue – and those of countless others who shared the same conviction – has nothing to do on a public university campus 20 years after freedom. The debate therefore should have never been about whether or not it should be brought down. All along, the debate should have been about why did it take so long to do so. To bring Rhodes’ statue down is far from erasing history, and nobody should be asking us to be eternally indebted to Rhodes for having “donated” his money and for having bequeathed “his” land to the University. If anything, we should be asking how did he acquire the land in the first instance. (…) Bringing Rhodes’ statue down is one of the many legitimate ways in which we can, today in South Africa, demythologize that history and put it to rest – which is precisely the work memory properly understood is supposed to accomplish. (…) Decolonizing the university starts with the de-privatization and rehabilitation of the public space. (…) It starts with a redefinition of what is public, i.e., what pertains to the realm of the common and as such, does not belong to anyone in particular because it must be equally shared between equals. The decolonization of buildings and of public spaces is therefore not a frivolous issue.»
(from Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive, written by Achille Mbembe with these intensions: “This document was deliberately written as a spoken text. It forms the basis of a series of public lectures given at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), at conversations with the Rhodes Must Fall Movement at the University of Cape Town and the Indexing the Human Project, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Stellenbosch. The nature of the events unfolding in South Africa, the type of audience that attended the lectures, the nature of the political and intellectual questions at stake required an entirely different mode of address – one that could speak both to reason and to affect”.)
“The restitution is neither a charitable gesture nor a voluntary action, hence returning African works to Africans is an obligation, the starting point of a new, global and unconditional regime of circulation of the common heritage of humanity”.
(A. Mbembe, La vérité est que l’Europe nous a pris des choses qu’elle ne pourra jamais restituer, in Le Monde Afrique, 1 dicembre 2018)
“Today, African countries have the dual task of rebuilding their memory and reinventing themselves through a new semantization and socialization of the cultural heritage objects, which must be reconnected to the current issues posed by contemporary societies. It is up to these communities to define their vision of cultural heritage, as well as the epistemological devices and the plural ecologies in which they want to insert these objects.”
Rapporto sulla restituzione del patrimonio culturale africano. Verso una nuova etica relazionale, Felwine Sarr e Bénédicte Savoy, 2008.
“The plastic of the body, the statuary of the immobile body, as still as possible, is a crucial element, an indispensable guarantee of morality”
(M. Foucault, The hermeneutics of the subject, 2003).
“A world compartmentalized, Manichaen and petrified, a world of statues: the statues of the general who led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cock-sure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the blackbones of those scarred by the whip. That is the colonial world. The colonial subject is a man penned in; apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world. The first thing the colonial subject learns is to remain in his place and not overstep its limits. Hence the dreams of the colonial subject are muscolar dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, and climbing. I dream I burst out laughing, I am leaping across a river and chased by a pack of cars that never catches up with me”
(F. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 15).
“What the rites lead us to ignore is just important as what they lead us to understand. The ritual in the Mussolini’s Forum obscured both the innate diversity and individuality, crossing the gap between the reality of these bodies and the imagined dominant race”
(M. Barbanera, Il corpo Fascista, 2016).
«If there is something like the memory of society, I will say that we will probably find it in the commemorative celebrations; but they prove to be only so as they are performative.; the performativeness cannot be thought of without a concept of habit; and the habit cannot be thought of without a motivation of bodily automatisms. All habits are emotional predispositions: a predisposition, formed through the frequent repetition of a number of specific acts is an intimate and fundamental part of ourselves, that such habits have power because they are so intimately a part of ourselves. Habit is a knowledge and a remembering in the hands and in the body; and in the cultivation of habit it is our body which “understands”. Every group, then, entrust to bodily automatisms the values and categories which they are most anxious to conserve. They will know how well the past can be kept in mind by a habitual memory sedimented in the body»
(Paul Connerton, How societies remember, 1989)
«Modernity, or at least that component of it represented by the economic expansion of the capitalist process of production, produces cultural amnesia not by accident but intrinsically and necessarly. Forgetting is built into the capitalist process of production itself, incorporated in the bodily experience of its life.spaces.» (Paul Connerton, How modernity forgets, 2009)
“During the period of the two world wars, under the fascist regime, Italy built a vast number of public buildings, housing and monuments that have shaped Italian cities and former Italian occupied cities such as Asmara, Addis Ababa, Rhodes and Tripoli. In the last years, these built structures have been celebrated and completely detached from the fascist, violent and genocidal regime that produced them. With the re-emergence of today’s fascist ideologies in Europe – and the arrival of populations from north and east Africa – it becomes urgent to ask: What kind of heritage is the fascist-colonial heritage? How do the material traces of the Italian empire today acquire different meanings in the context of migration from the ex-colonies? Should this heritage be demolished, simply reused or reoriented towards other objectives including reparations from Italian colonization?
(…) Researchers, associations, and individuals are invited to take part to the first plenary meeting of the “Coalition for re-use of colonial fascist architecture.” The coalition was established with the aim of producing research and planning interventions for the re-use of colonial-fascist architecture by, and for communities that directly or indirectly have been affected by past and present forms of fascism and colonization. The struggle of decolonization once primarily located outside of Europe, today has moved within its borders. What the media calls the “refugee crisis” is, in reality, the incapacity of Europe to come to terms with five hundred years of colonialism. It is not possible to understand today’s displacement of people and migration flows, nor contemporary fascism, without thorough knowledge of fascist-colonial architecture.”
(Symposium The afterlife of fascist-colonial architecture: the critical re-use of “Casa del Mutilato” in Palermo, 18-20 June 2018, Manifesta 12. A project by the Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Course taught by Alessandro Petti, professor in Architecture and Social Justice at the Royal Institute of Art – RIA in Stockholm)
Thinking about the feasible declinations of the relationship between body-power-disputed memories-public space for this call, we concluded that trying to “systematize” this open and complex field it is not possible nor desirable. There cannot be a linear “declension” of this question, covering all tenses and persons like a verb declension in linguistics. “Regular” language and thought actually follow the rules of a tradition or a canon, though they are not adequate to grasp the potential for subversion and liberation that this issue can arise.
This part should, indeed, be re-discussed since looks and languages have conspicuous limits and can easily fail to catch the full power of those languages and practices which, today, are contributing to the proliferation of radicalism in the western-centric world.
Therefore, it is a question of trying to compose a number of slightly delusional roots&routes and eventually abandon the established paths, following the pure experimental spirit of this magazine.
We would like this call to express the urgency to overcome the stumbling block of this “topic” which is constantly posing questions and bringing attention to a series of “facts” which are inevitably widening the contemporary scenario. These facts are really more some kind of “symptoms”, due to their being full of references, deja-vu, compulsion to repeat and by cause of both the actions and reactions they produce. We feel the urgency but we see the block as well, since attempting a shared and accessible opinion on these issues can make you lose your balance, in the continual attempt to figure out many perspectives from which one can look and hear. This issue cannot be investigated through a monocle or binoculars, you will need several pairs of eyes, hands and tongues instead. We would rather need a “multidimensional perspective”, that is, accepting to move the painting a lot, shake the whole picture and inspect any fragment. This call is meant to be quite un-declined, a place where the reader can get involved and participate coherently with his own judgment, yet having a poetic vision manifested through confused gestures, stuttering or radical statements (in their provisional nature). We are dealing with absences here; removal or even repression of bodies, speeches, words and lack of recognition. We are also dealing with powerful burst of actions-expressions-reflections-disputes that can produce meaning. We are looking at a real hand-to-hand combat with the body of the city, and with the colonial body of history. How can we convey all this, make it explode and resound, together with the very reflections it arises? We started from the little things we know, we made lists to write down the facts and, above all, the questions.
We are obviously very aware of presenting an incomplete, unsystematic and partial “article” in need of seams and patches, as well as some extra gestures and words to get its own consistency. This is what we actually expect from the people who will answer this call.
We would like to create a sort of public space for any argument, comparison or discussion, a living place made up of temporary unstitchings and mendings.
We would especially like to receive precious contributions from those researchers, artists and activists who are translating their contemplation into a series of urban space practices, or from those who are starting from experimental practices to conceive new senses and thoughts. A “call for projects” then, projects completed or to be carried out; a sort of moving, temporary and not exhaustive mapping of operations. Some active practices of de-colonialization, enclosing words that can smash the syntax of the world – as Calvino said – and reinvent it. Some real Molotov-Words, along with images, gestures, performances, sounds, actions and practices aimed at “overthrowing coloniality”.
F. Verges, Un femminismo decoloniale, Ombre Corte, 2020 (ed. or. Un feminisme décolonial, La Fabrique éditions, 2019).
R. Grosfoguel, Rompere la colonialità, Mimesis, 2017.