history, borders and future projects!

Today 24th April 2016 is the recurrence of the 101 years Armenian Genocide. I have lived in Armenia and it is a country that is part of my artistic development since 2011.

In 2011 I walked along the borders of Armenia (east and west) as well as Nagorno-Karabagh , as part of my project Neverland, a series concerned with the concept of homeland. I have returned to Armenia, and I am currently developing 2 photographic series there. I am also hoping to return in 2017 to progress my projects.

image from my series "Neverland"

image from my series “Neverland”, produced thanks to the support of Arts Council England, Armenian Centre Of Social Studies ACOSS and European Cultural Foundation.

Armenia is a small country tucked in the mountains of the Caucasus, rich in art and culture. It’s culture, lifestyle and approach to art is very similar to that of southern Europe (I felt very much at home!). It’s history is tainted by the genocide of 1915, when almost 2million Armenian living in the Ottoman Empire were killed. It’s an history of survival and it is interesting how the armenian sense of identity is strongly transmitted through language and oral history. Although most European countries, as well as Russia, Canada and most South-American countries  recognise and condemn the genocide, Turkey remains in denial of the historical facts. Read an interesting article on the Huffington Post on how the US have so far not officially used the word “genocide” in fear of offending their allied Erdogan. The denial of history is bizarre – can you imagine Germany denying the holocaust? Of course not, coming to term with the horrible mistakes of your own past is fundamental for the development of  a modern nation. Today is remembrance day and the genocide is remembered all over the world: most notable the Pope, George Clooney and the Armenian band System Of A Down are taking part, just like the previous year.

This event is interesting for various issues connected to art and cultural representation: recently I was talking to fellow artists whilst discussing my work, and they all expressed their concern on how politics forcefully prevails on culture, for example how the musical project Aghet that comprises musicians from Germany, Armenia and Turkey has seen the support of the EU being withdrawn on orders of Erdogan.  I find this news particularly disturbing as this project is sponsored by the European Cultural Foundation, which has also supported my work (please note: the European Cultural Foundation is above politics and still fully supports the project!!). How can the EU dismiss cultural projects privileging political demands?!?

The borders of Armenia which I have photographed, are protected on the East side with the helpf of Russia, which fhas formed a buffer zone to prevent a turkish attack. Traveling along the borders of Armenia the locals’ the general opinion  was that they wanted to be in good terms with Turkey, but to achieve this it was necessary to have recognition of the historical events. To the west, I walked along the borders and stopped for sometimes in Chambarak, a small town in which the majority of the population was born far away and was subject of a forced population exchange: the majority of the inhabitants were expelled from Azerbaijan at the fall of the Soviet Union, a period in which Azerbaijan systematically begun to attack it’s own citizen of Armenian ethnics. Forced population exchanges were carried out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in that period. I then travelled to Nagorno-Karabagh, a self declared Republic with a peculiar history: as a self-confessed border geek I am passionate about Nagorno-Karabagh, also knows as Artshak!

image © paola leonardi photography

image from my series “Neverland”, produced thanks to the support of Arts Council England, Armenian Centre Of Social Studies ACOSS and European Cultural Foundation.

Nagorno-Karabagh is a little gem, with breathtaking mountains and a bizarre history:

Nagorno-Karabagh has always been a territory inhabited by a vast majority of Armenian ethnics, with minorities of Russian, Kurdish and Azerbaijani. However Stalin – with his crazy ideas – incorporated it into Azerbaijan, so Karabagh became an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. At the fall of the Soviet Union, Karabagh demanded to be Armenian and Azerbaijan refused, and a war broke out. Despite being outnumbered, the civilian resistance and the Armenian army managed to win and become independent. There has been a fragile truce for over 20 years till few weeks ago Azerbaijan violated the treaty and launched an unprovoked. It was horrible to hear that friends were bombed, civilians targeted and children and elderly people were among the victims. It is also very sad to see how little is knows about this conflict in Europe, and the few articles I found in newspapers were often misrepresenting the situation.

The will of the people of Karabagh to affirm their identity  is based on the right of nations to self-determination, and their resistance, often a civilian resistance, resonates the stories of the italian resistance that my grandmother used to tell me.

At this stage of my artistic development I have completed various projects connected to concepts of human geography and self-determination of identity and how borders affect our concepts of home and belonging. As much as I try to stay away from politics, this proves sometimes impossible  as the line on the map is hardly ever established by the common people; often borders are established with disregard of those who inhabit them.

 

 

 

“Privet Germania”

an interesting photographic project by Ira Thiessen published on The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2016/mar/30/ira-thiessen-privet-germany-russia-people-caught-between-in-pictures the project is titled “Privet Germania”

“…Ira Thiessen’s photographs explores the complex issue of national identity and belonging. Inspiration comes from her own experience: in 1990, when Thiessen was seven years old, her family moved from Kyrgyzstan back to Germany, the home of her ancestors…”

I finf Thiessen’ exploration of identity very interesting as it depicts the transcultural and transnational idea that my project is based upon

divided villages, divided lives

I’m planning two summer trips to continue the project, the first idea is to travel to Iasi, near the Romania-Moldova border, where I am in contact with a local cultural association and I would like to photograph from Iasi down to the delta of the Danube, criss-crossing into Moldova.

The second would be to follow the border of the Baltic Countries, photographing Estonia-Russia, Latvia-Russia, Latvia-Belarus (I have been along this border briefly last year) and Lithuania-Belarus. I am looking at travel options and artist residencies. Whilst researching online I have found this interesting article “Lithuanian-Belarusian border: Divided villages, divided lives” discussing families and villages who have been cut in half by border changes.

here some snippets:

“…visiting relatives just a hundred kilometres away is more troublesome than spending a weekend in Paris or London…”

“…a border guard patrols near a similar green container. He says he must be watchful, as packets of cigarettes start flying over the fence the minute guards are away…”

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project development

hello folks!

long time…in the previous year, due to family problems, I have had to limit my travels and I have not been able to update this blog. I have managed short trips to the Poland-Belarus as well as Belarus-Latvia border, of which I will try to scan and prepare the images soon.

Recently I have started collaborating with a project called “EU Border Care” : EU Border Care is a comparative study of the politics of maternity care among undocumented migrants on the EU’s peripheries and I will be collaborating as photographer. The project has been initiated by the European University Institute/Robert Schuman Centre For Advanced Studies in Florence, Italy. I am very excited about this opportunity as I will be working with very interesting and experienced researchers. Check them out here

Whilst I will continue my “borderlands” photography on my own, I see the collaboration with EU Border Care as an opportunity to embark into researching something new and branching out my project into a new chapter.

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Copenhagen Photo Festival 2015

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

 

very excited to have my work on display at Copenhagen Photo Festival 2015  (cpf2015)

My series Borderlands: The Edges of Europe has been selected for Copenhagen Photo Festival 2015 as part of The Censored Exhibition. I am very proud to have been part of this as I am aware the festival, one of the biggest in Europe, receive a high number of applicants.

I visited the festival and it was a great experience, lots of good feedback, image sold, a great experience and a good occasion to talk to other artists. It’s exhibition space, in the disused brewery of Carlsberg, it’s a great space and the work on display was very interesting

 

I hope we will be raising a glass of Ouzo soon…

…”Europeans are pretty generous on the whole, maybe Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron are the exception. There are 500 million people in the EU and actually, it wouldn’t cost each person much to just sort it out ourselves. I’m confident the people of Europe will get this campaign and some time soon we’ll all be raising a glass of Ouzo …”

check out https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/greek-bailout-fund/x/11277167#/story

As I stated various times my photographic project “Borderlands: The Edges of Europe” is not motivated by any sort of political ideology, however dealing with borders, their history and the relations between countries always ends up involving some aspects of politics. My interest is focused on the european cultural identity and its trans-national and trans-cultural aspects, how european people relate to the territories they inhabit, territories which are removed from the capital cities which are the centres of power.

In the recent months more than ever the EU has been under scrutiny: in the UK where I live the recent election won by the Conservatives will result on a referendum as to stay or leave the EU. Meanwhile the greek economic crisis has reached a new low, and Greek will have soon a referendum on whether they want or not to accept the bailout conditions. The greek referendum is seen by many as a “stay or leave europe”.

How can Europe even exists without Greece? Greece is the cradle of mediterranean culture. The idea that the grrek have to pay up or agree to financial conditions that would put a huge burden on them, and would mean that their country is sold off…well, I find it fairly disgusting.

This situation leaves me saddened. I was brought up with an education that was very pro-europe, in school we were told how we had to be proud that Italy was one of the founding members of the  EU, which benefits it had and it was always underlined how with the EU european countries would be co-hoperating, how our cultures had common aspects, how since the EU had started there had been no wars…my grandmother, which had lived through 2 wars, always told me how in difficult times, italians had gone to fight to help the greek and spaniards against dictatorships, and how they had done the same for us.  So: a common culture, a will to get on together…

…move forward 20 years…all I hear is “money”. You have money, you are in. You can’t pay you are out. There are pro and cons to the debate, and I can see right and wrong on both sides of the argument. Interesting articles on The Guardian or – for those of you who read italian – an article that shows how other countries have been bailed out without so much fuss or an article in La Stampa  which highlights Tsipras mistakes. But I firmly believe that, at this stage, it’s a bit ridicolus to discuss who did what and who’s fault it is. A bit like, the boat is sinking and rather than getting to safety we are all arguing who’s fault it is.

I was positively surprised to see that and Englishman has started a crowfunding campaign. 

Every day I spend €10 or more on silly things. This morning I spent about €6 on an overpriced breakfast in Costa Cafe, and it wasn’t even nice. Every day I pay taxes for politicians I don’t even like and whose words are alien to me. Everyday someone in the House of Parliament will have a free breakfast with my tax money, and I am ready to bet it costs more than a tenner.Everyone I know has their like and dislikes and donate to a cause or the other…so why not donating a little bit to help the Greeks? I have donated €10 because I want to keep the hope that Europeans are able to have goodwill and empathy, and help someone in need without asking anything back.

(below, little flags in the town of Marasia, Greek-Turkish border)

flags in the garden, Marasia, Greece-Turkey Border

flags in the garden, Marasia, Greece-Turkey Border

 

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greek elections

I’m following online the Greek elections – admittedly I am an ignorant on anything related to politics, however I follow with interest because borders and politics go hand in hand. In my photography I have always tried to stir away from political controversy, but it is almost impossible as my main subject are political lines drawn on a geographical map. I am looking with interest and a bit of apprehension to the Greek elections, as I perceive the greek culture as a fundamental part of european culture. Below articles, on win english one in italian, which seems to almost say the opposite.

greek elections:

“Greece elections: outcome may put country on collision course with E.U.” (article in English, TheGuardian.com)

“Tsipras: Greece Will not Damage Europe” (article in Italian, on Repubblica.it)

In many articles that I am reading it sounds like a victory by Syriza would mean Greece leave Europe, sounds like an apocalyptic divorce in which the whole Hellenic peninsula detaches itself from the mainland. In fact, it may simply mean a detachment from the Euro and remaining in the EU. However it goes, the borders of Greece remain one of the most interesting for me, a meeting point between east and west.

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Scottish referendum & the EU

An interesting article (in italian only, sorry!) about the scottish referendum and the EU.

http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2014/09/18/news/scozia_referendum_ue-96030632/?ref=HRER3-1

This article talks about how some EU countries are against the EU referendum as it poses a risk to their own national sovereign, for example Spain fears Catalunia and the Basque countries will ask for independency, and also other countries fear separatist movements.

This article is a total contrast to one I read few weeks back in the british press, which talked about how EU citizen living in Scotland are allowed to vote and are pro-independency, as they are concerned the UK may exit the EU, whilst an indepndent Scotland aims to be part of the EU.

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