I AM: Romania
Sighetu Marmaţiei, a small city with a population of 45,000 in northern Transylvania near the Ukraine border, was the site for I AM: Romania. Here, an orphanage, more akin to a foster center, is home to more than one hundred children ranging from toddlers to adolescents to children with disabilities. Sponsored and directed by SOS Bambini ONLUS, an Italian non-profit organization that aims to improve the living conditions of children from birth through adolescence, the center has made great strides since 2004, when president, Silvia Scialpi, committed to offering long-term, comprehensive support.
Because the orphanage addresses emergency situations, houses abandoned children and single mothers, 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.
Twenty children between the ages of four and fourteen 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.
Also unique to this project was the presence of Child & Adolescent Neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Aleksandra Matakovic-Manca, and Art Therapist, Simona Camisani. Dr. Matakovic-Manca had the task of performing clinical evaluations of select residents while helping to educate the social and health-care workers who interact with the children on a daily basis. Simona Camisani led a five-day art therapy workshop centered around the notion of identity with a group of adolescents and a separate group of staff members. Working in close proximity to one another, it was evident that we filled different, yet important, needs of the children.
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” Exhibit:
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.