I AM: Italy
While Milan, Italy is recognized as a world fashion and design capital with a major influence on commerce, industry, sport, arts, and media, it, like other major European cities, faces issues of child poverty, social exclusion, and problems associated with the children of parents affected by physical or mental health difficulties and alcohol or drug abuse. CAF Onlus, a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by Ida Borletti, was the first center in Italy dedicated to the reception and treatment of child victims of maltreatment and abuse. CAF functions as a temporary home for children who have suffered physical and/or emotional trauma and are in need of an environment where competent and qualified individuals can aid in settling their traumatic experiences. The aim is to find a balance by constructing new relationships based on trust and respect before the child returns to his/her family or is placed in a foster or an adoptive family. The project was sponsored, in part, by S.O.S. Bambini Onlus.
Because the center addresses emergency situations and cares for victims of abuse, it was necessary to preserve the participants’ physical identities by avoiding facial photographs. What initially seemed like a hurdle in the project actually became a creative challenge, the outcome revealing, perhaps, even deeper stories told through posture and movement. Hands, feet, and shadows became the vehicles for expression and the subjects of the self-portrait images.
Nine children between the ages of six and ten participated in the three-day workshop. Using photography as a tool to capture moments of expressive play, ‘screen stages’ were designed to isolate hands and feet, and a larger, back-lit screen provided a space to create silhouettes and shadows. Through a variety of artistic processes, sensory experiences and media, an opportunity was created for each child to recognize the beauty and importance of his/her own form.
Success of the I AM: projects lie not in their aim of ‘treatment’, but rather in their ability to create a set of immediate experiences: an insular time and space dedicated to individualized recognition, spontaneous expression, and authentic play. Each hand, foot, and shadow photograph tells a story of the past but was conceived in an impromptu moment. Brought into a contemporary art context, the photographs present an interesting convergence between social relations and art therapy, authorship and intent, health and illness, and contemporary art and its processes.
An exhibition of the work opened on November 17th at Viafarini gallery in Milan, Italy. A round-table discussion with Sasha Sicurella (I AM: International Foundation), Pasquale Campanella (Wurmkos), Aleksandra Matakovic-Manca (Child & Adolescent Neuropsychiatrist), and Simona Camisani (Art Therapist) preceded the opening reception. Pane Arte e Marmellata, a non-profit group who promotes the interaction of children and families with contemporary art, collaborated with Sasha Sicurella to create a hands-on art workshop for forty elementary school children based on the works in the exhibit.
“I AM: Italy / I AM: Romania” Exhibition:
Larger-than-life photographs of children’s hands and feet deliver unyielding narratives – each a part unveiled, part secret story of moments leading up to now. Shadow images, one akin to a film-strip sequence, the other a broadly hung curtain, achieve layered meaning through the tone-on-tone silhouette effect that appears in each figure. Two small children engage in playful movement, freeze-frames revealing selves within selves. Hauntingly magnified, a seated girl raises a finger as if she has something to say, the curtain both a shroud for protection and podium for expression. These works propose to transcend the notion of censorship by embracing and reconfiguring imposed limitations on the subject. Through scale, magnification, lighting, and theatrical applications, the images convey presence of character and command attention even though ‘identity’, in its traditional sense, remains anonymous.