"Hope", Adel Abdessemed. Photo: Gianluca Di Ioia

While at 57a. edition of the Venice Biennale avoids current issues, not far from there, one of the ex-curators of the show, the Italian Massimiliano Gioni, presents, in Milan, La Terra Restless, an extensive investigation into artists and works that address the issue of refugees, one of the nerve centers of European countries and the United States for decades.

The exhibition, on display in the Triennale di Milano building, brings together 70 participants, mostly artists, but also related works, such as the four photographers who received the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for images made for the The New York Times, the case of Daniel Etter, Tyler Hicks, Sergey Ponomarev and the Brazilian Mauricio Lima.

The presence of photojournalists raises the temperature of the exhibition, as its authors portray current scenes, as in the image of hundreds of immigrants accompanied by the police for registration at a camp in Slovenia, in 2015, made by Russian Ponomarev. That year, 764 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan crossed the so-called Western Balkans route, a record until then, closely followed by Ponomarev and Lima in a joint project.

Above, “World Map” by Alighiero Boetti, below “Dead Sea” by Kader Attia. Photo: Gianluca Di Ioia

On the other hand, Gioni also selected photographers today seen as “historical”, as is the case of the North Americans Augustus Sherman (1865 – 1925), Lewis Wickes Hine (1874 – 1940) and Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965), all working in the documentary record . Sherman portrayed immigrants arriving in the United States, Hine stood out for denouncing child labor and Lange for approaching migrants during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

With this, the curator gives a perspective to the refugee crisis, remembering that migratory flows are constant in human history, as can also be seen in the series of covers of the Italian newspaper La Domenica del Corrieri which, in 1901, illustrated the Italian migration to the USA, a constant theme in the Sunday edition of the diary.

La Terra Restless it even takes on a dramatic tone when you see the collection put together by Comitato 3 Ottobre, a non-profit association in Lampedusa, the Italian island south of Sicily. It was there that, in October 2013, a boat with 520 migrants sank, killing 368 people.

Created to provide legal and humanitarian support to immigrants seeking to enter Europe, the Comitato exhibits in Milan objects from the refugees who died in the shipwreck, as well as those belonging to 52 other victims of suffocation on a boat that left Egypt in 2015. showcases as pieces of art, however, these objects – cell phones, bags, documents – become too much museified, making it evident that another exhibition device could be less fetishizing.

But the display does not compromise the show, which brings together many works of art that address the issue of migrations and borders both in recent works and in already emblematic pieces, such as the World Map by Alighiero Boetti (1940 – 1994), made by Afghan weavers. at his request, with the following text embroidered in the margin: “Pakistan in the autumn of 1992 this unstable new world and even more rationed and pulverized”.

The historical work becomes more eloquent with the installation Dead Sea (2015), by Kader Attia, displayed in front of him and composed of dozens of clothes arranged, as if to remember the bodies that died in the Mediterranean in recent decades. , others more poetic, such as Static (2009), by Steve McQueen, a short film directed around the Statue of Liberty, the place where thousands of migrants arrived in the United States, or else Western Union: Small Boats (2007), a video installation by Isaac Julien who, ten years ago, approached Sicily as an immigration port.

Another of the most sensitive works in the show is the installation by Francis Alys, Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008), a collaboration with children on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, the channel that separates Africa and Europe by just 13 kilometers at its shortest point. In the work, children from Tangier, Morocco, and Tarifa, Spain, create plastic sandal boats with the aim of creating a human bridge between the two continents, an action that is more about hope than reality.

While tragedies like the deaths of the Lampedusa shipwreck follow one another, at least works of art are able to allow for some kind of optimism in the midst of the chaos of the early 21st century.

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