A multimedia art project about the plight of migrants.
Interview with artist Serena Stelitano by Judy Mam.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I was born in the south of Italy and raised in the north. I love painting, cooking, and exploring the unusual. I'm an anti-fascist. I'm trying to become a good farmer, too!
I studied Fine Arts, but I have been using drawings to communicate ever since I was a child, after my family migrated from the south of Italy to the north and my accent got me in trouble. For me, art is the definitive tool humans have in order to connect at a deeper level.
Tell me about "The Way Home".
"The Way Home" is a multi-media art project about migrants featuring ten oil paintings, a travel diary with selected drawings, thoughts, and stories, an image-recognition app, and a recipe book. I plan to create ten oil paintings related to the immigration research I'm curating on the project's website. Then I'll work with local cultural associations in Italy to host "The Way Home" as a traveling exhibition.
My goal is to deliver a combined approach. A few months ago I discovered the CreativMuse app, which allows us to further explore the ten paintings I'm preparing to create. The exhibition will feature a combination of traditional art and augmented reality to help visitors learn about migrants through virtual sketchbooks, videos, visual conversations, selected insights, an open forum, and a food recipe section, all of which I hope will invite people to reflect and interact. I'm also planning dedicated menus for the exhibition openings.
It's a lot to take on! How do you feel about it?
I'm happily frightened! In my best scenario, I'll meet new collaborators and friends along the way, learn new things and eat good food… So it can't go that bad!
In my opinion, immigration in Europe is a matter of historical responsibility; nobody wants to pay for the sins of the fathers, and we safely wait from the other side of the Mediterranean, hoping that the mess unleashed by colonialism will resolve itself in the usual bloody 'tribal' war on the other side. The denial and ignorance of many Italians about our recent colonialist history are very frightening to me: society is rewarding the selfish and unethical; fascism is back. Historically, immigrants are the first and most obvious prey for fascists, that's why I decided to start my research with them. The government's recent Security Decree spurred me to jump into action.
"My country" by Serste at dada.nyc
How is food involved?
Food is one of my defining interests. After I finished my bachelor degree in Fine Arts I found a job as a dishwasher in a big restaurant, and the challenging world of professional cooking enticed me for the next ten years. I learned a lot about the power of food: meal after meal, I saw hungry and angry faces relax and get cheerful after just one bite of a tasty dish. Food is a great tool to understand the strange and unknown in people.
And to bring people together, like art. And the hedgehog?
The idea of the Inner Hedgehog comes from my panic attacks: I used to visualize an incubus on my chest, like in the famous painting by Henry Fuselii, and it was this big hedgehog with bright red claws, escaped from his usual place between my heart and my stomach. I associate the Inner Hedgehog with all fear-generated feelings, so I think he is a proper companion for this journey. Inner Hedgehogs usually live inside people's chests, sustaining themselves with ignorance and hate.
I hear people say things like: 'they should not leave their home countries in the first place, is not our fault if they die during the trip through the desert, in Libya or at sea'. I keep seeing this kind of cultural decline taking place in many levels of society. As Pier Paolo Pasolini wisely predicted, the fascist is king again, and I can't stand it. There are many historical reasons for today's situation and sometimes I think nothing can invert the trend, but I still feel the need to do something about this widespread ignorant pride, so fashionable in Italy these last years.
Art by Serste at dada.nyc
How are you involving people in the project?
I can only trade with what I've got: art! I'm looking for models from the ten countries on my list, Algeria, Benin, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia, of any age and shape, and I can offer them an original sketch or study portrait. I'd love to learn about people's migration stories, so I've set up an anonymous form in the project's website. People who respond will get free art and a big thank you.
Art by Serste at dada.nyc
What would you like people to take away from this project?
I would like people who support the project to enjoy the rewards I'm creating for them on Kickstarter, and anyone who experiences 'The Way Home' to gain a different perspective about migrants.