Monday, 2 September 2019

Guest post: Making things public through exhibitions - 'Our' Cosa Nostra, by Foteini Kopiloglou

Palermo, Sunday morning, sun was long up before Sicilians, and there I was toiling endlessly up the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in the historic centre, pushing my feet obediently onto the pedestrian area following the recognition of Arab-Norman monuments as a World Heritage Site. Walking around Palazzo Gulì again and again, I found myself standing in mute astonishment and dumbfounded disbelief (how could I not see that?) in front of a NO MAFIA MEMORIAL. I suddenly felt grateful for abandoning my normally “prudent” expedition since the holidays began, and I plunged into the challenge of investigating a socio-political exhibition, in a setting outside the traditional gallery.

I already knew Palermo has been the scene of Mafia violence – Godfather introduced “Don Corleones” around the world in a rather romantic and unrealistic manner – but I didn’t know yet that Palermo has also been "a crucible for ideas, meetings and activities which have marked a turning point in its history". As it would turn out later, since 1977 the No Mafia Memorial has become a space “for the generation of ideas and ways of securing liberation from the Mafia, and from the network of complicity which has allowed it to grow in strength without fear of punishment”. It is a project on which the Sicilian Documentation Centre “Giuseppe Impastato” has been working for many years. The Centre was founded by Umberto Santino and Anna Puglisi after 1977, and it was named after Giuseppe Impastato, a left-wing activist murdered by the Mafia.

Testimonies and archival material on mafia and antimafia movement offered at the bookshop of No Mafia Memorial, Palazzo Gulì, edited by Sicilian Documentation Centre “Giuseppe Impastato” (April 2018) (Image of the brochure cover, taken by Foteini Kopiloglou)

What would the visitor of such an exhibition trail on Mafia and Anti-mafia expect to see and experience? The collation of political, economic, historical and sociological data, the research methods, the promotion of cultural initiatives against the Mafia, the development of a specialized library on the various forms of organized crime, the engagement in educational work as well as in acts of solidarity, of democratic participation and human rights are only a few examples of what an exhibition could include in order to engage its visitors in mutual dialogue. Even with the simplest of its interpretative means, the exhibition succeeds to transform the No Mafia Memorial from a space of representation into a space of encounter. It is surely more than a place that simply represents facts, and that is of primary importance for the local community.

Children standing next to a corpse. The tension between childhood innocence and the danger of everyday violence is a way to engage viewers. Archival exhibit at No Mafia Memorial, Palazzo Gulì, Sicilian Documentation Centre “Giuseppe Impastato”. (Photo taken at the exhibition by Foteini Kopiloglou)

By fully exposing the living conditions in Sicily that led to the Mafia rise, the illegal slaughter of animals that the Mafia manages and the worldwide drug trafficking in which it takes a primary role in its recent history, the exhibition becomes a place of experience and thinking, an environment that generates communication.  In sum, by making the affairs of cosa nostra public, it encourages viewers to stop in front of the exhibits, let affect invade them, and then reach their own conclusions.      

Note: The exhibition is open for the public in Palazzo Gulì, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele 353, Palermo. Entrance is free)

Foteini Kopiloglou is a Greek museologist and curator.

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