Hail the new Etruscan

Oona Grimes (Bridget Riley Fellow 2017–18) started 2019 with two solo exhibitions featuring work made during her residency last year. In this blog Oona discusses her Rome experience and the genesis of the work made. Oona also describes her adventures in film-making and what comes next. 

roman sKandals
Spray paint coloured pencil and collage on paper
75 x 110cm

I arrived in Rome on 2nd January 2018 with the sound tracks of Nights of Cabiria and Roma Citta Apertà playing in my head.

I was on my way to revisit the films of the Neorealists, films I’d watched as a child and misremembered ever since.

Day 2:  returning from a Cavallini eye fest I stumbled into Il Museo di Roma in Trastevere and met Toto…..Italy’s most loved and respected and irreverent comedian. 

Toto agreed to become my leading man. 

The giant story board began……..

June Mostra 2018
installation shot

He starred in a number of stencil drawings: drawings on black paper celebrating the flatness of frescoes, blackness of analogue film & badly restored conservation patches:

‘Toto & le tre sorelle Fontana’, ‘Toto meets San Bartolomeo’ & later ‘cinzano & cherry soda’ & ‘the lovely season’.

toto and le tre sorelle Fontana
Spray paint coloured pencil and collage on paper
75 x 110cm

Just Being on the streets of Rome I was surrounded by the cast, all in mid flow enacting their daily dramas.

I had arrived with specific Missions – visits to Cinecittà and plunderings of the archives at Centro Sperimentale; time to spend with the Etruscans and my love of their graphic flattist tomb paintings, all of which were topped and tiramisu-ed by anamorphic murals in Trinità dei Monti, underground scavi-scavenging in San Giovanni in Laterano – adventures from Mithras to Mussolini, Etruscans to E.U.R. toga tying, fascist fountains all the fascinating tangents that emerge from the kind of casual conversations that can only happen at the BSR.

Rewatching the films from Rossellini to late Fellini on their home pitch I wanted to understand the films more intensely, and my way of knowing is though drawing.

a spritz of grrrls #7
Coloured pencil on paper
29.7x21cm

Daily I would make A4 coloured pencil drawings from my mis-memories of films watched as a child; fast drawings ‘Not a Neorealist Storyboard’ and larger slower stencil drawings continually circumnavigating the left brain: ’the fumetti grrrrls’ and ‘ragazze e ragazzi romani’.  Filling notebooks in order to make sense of the overwhelming input and to ground myself in the sea of visual treats. The pile of books grew daily; the gestures & observations, colours and pattern, the folds & drapes of melty marble all subtly oozing into the drawings – a thesaurus of stolen characters.

The children #2
Coloured pencil on paper
29.7x21cm

Daily I would walk to Piazza Rotunda & beyond, just to Be in Rome, early before the crowds; to watch the roadsweepers and shopkeepers setting up, to see the light changing over the city.

Gradually those walks and those films wove themselves into my dreams and my drawings.

Surprising shifts began to happen.

Particular scenes began to haunt me, sequences with specific relevance to time and place. I began drawing singular actions and repeating them in order to comprehend them. Repeated actions, drawing them now physically, drawing myself into the film.

Umberto d.’  headlined the series, the scene where he is reduced to begging in front of the Pantheon. A deceptively simple action duplicated and filmed over 3 months as the skies changed and the tourists crept in.

i.phone rushes that usually end up on the cutting room floor. Rehearsals. I wasn’t acting I was drawing the moment.

They just happened, they happened by being there, by having time, by having no pressures or deadlines.

I saw them as studies, and just cut them together as if watching behind the scenes preparation.

Looping slapstick-like fragments, stretching the commedia dell’arte element by repetition and abstraction, a Sisyphean rehearsal for a never to be released film. Owning the discourse through mis-remembering, imitation and low tech re- enactment. 

mozzarella in carrozza
film still

The scenes from familiar films chose me, and following ‘Umberto d’, ‘mozzarella in carrozza’ from Bicycle Thieves emerged. Focussing on the excruciatingly painful scene in the restaurant Antonio and his son Bruno can’t afford – a scene of misplaced pride, disillusion and the vivid class divide between them and the diners.

Stromboli’s bucket
film still: poster

The studio became a mini props, production design & costume department. The planning behind Stromboli’s Bucket was perhaps more interesting than the final mini short : fabricating a glass bottomed bucket, negotiating hardware shops and perspex manufacturers, locating a suitable ‘Sea’ : the Laghetto di Villa Borghese which of course was chiuso on the day due to storms, so a nearby fountain quickly stepped in as understudy for the shoot.

Then ‘u.e.u.’ from Pasolini’s ‘Uccellacci e Uccellini’ filmed in Garbatella. Bird calls haunted me in the studio, their repetitive song & dawn chorus invaded my dreams. ‘u.e u.’ is a sublime dance of mis-communication, mis-translation, absurd jumpy hand gestures referencing both kinesics from paintings and everyday communication. Using 16mm film cut with iPhone clips I chased language – both the learning and losing of it – the omissions, the torn, the discontinuity, the patches, the bad repairs.

u.e u.
Film still

Walking, watching, hand gestures, sign language, language of hands, mis-translation, mis-communication, bird language, dance language.

Drapes and folds, pleats and drapes, fabric fashion folds all seeping into the work

Returning to London with a new-found confidence and focus I made 2 new films : ‘Oscar’s dance’ and ‘wheres Marcello?’ The latter shot on Holkham beach Norfolk a cross channel reflection of Sabaudia. ‘Angelo del fango’ now fulfilling her role and Cabiria dancing her dreams in Hackney.

angelo del fango
spray paint, coloured pencil and collage on paper
75x110cm

The one-day schedule remained, initially the time my cameraman came to visit in Rome, but appropriated to retain an element of rawness and rehearsal-ness, using costumes and props that were instantly available.

And I won a prize! My first film festival entry at The Swedenborg Film Festival with ‘u.e u.’ and a prize selected and presented by the wonderful and sadly missed Susan Hiller [1940-2019].


I.pad index : Matt’s gallery

All six films were shown at Matt’s Gallery London on mini i.pads. Hand held like reading a paperback book, one to one, sitting on the floor : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #2’ : 19-27 Jan 2019.


 Matt’s gallery installation

 And the giant story board is on show at Danielle Arnaud co art London : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ : 12 January – 9 February.

‘ragazze e ragazzi Romani’, large stencil drawings patched and collaged filling the Georgian house with Italian characters.

Next ………. A solo show at The Bower in Camberwell 5 June – 7 July 2019 and an off-site adventure at The Venice Biennale in May (contact Danielle Arnaud for details).

dirty sisters
Spray paint, coloured pencil and collage on paper
75x110cm

Oona’s exhibition ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ is open at
Danielle Arnaud until 9 February 2019 (123 Kennington Road London SE11 6SF, T/F: +44 (0)20 7735 8292), the gallery is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday 2-6 p.m. or by appointment. Oona Grimes is represented by Danielle Arnaud.

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Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership enjoys a second successful residential programme at the BSR

Sixteen Northern Bridge DTP doctoral students, drawn from across the Arts and Humanities, spent a week at the BSR on the second such residential partnership programme, which is put together between BSR staff and fellows and Northern Bridge academics. Northern Bridge is a consortium made up of Newcastle, Durham and Queen’s Belfast universities to support and fund the best PhD research in the North East of England and Northern Ireland. The aim was for the students to engage with a series of case studies in advanced research, and to be enriched by that most powerful of things, time in the BSR’s interdisciplinary environment to chew over ideas with one another and the BSR’s fellows in residence.

Stephen Milner [BSR Director] offered a warm welcome to the group and delivered an outstanding and wide-ranging session, covering current HEI and BIRI [British International Research Institutions] policy, thinking about careers, and the bioarchaeology of the book, an exemplar of the kind of interdisciplinary thinking we sought to showcase in the programme. Stephen’s comments underscored the depth of the BSR’s commitment to engaging across the research community and reminded all present of just how much the BSR does and can continue to do to support cutting edge work across the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Our wonderful cohort contained students from many fields not normally represented at the BSR, but from the moment they arrived on Monday morning, they soon found themselves at home. Our first trip out of the BSR was to the Venerable English College, a visit organised and facilitated by BSR Research Fellow Professor Maurice Whitehead, exploring the astonishing history of the college, its library, students, buildings (including the glorious chapels and most importantly its collection of rare books and archives).

Niccolò Mugnai leads a visit to the Forum and Trajan’s Markets.

Dr Niccolò Mugnai, another BSR Research Fellow, led a perfectly pitched tour of the Roman Forum and Trajan’s Markets, and the students were able to understand the archaeology and topography of the site from a real expert, as well as enjoy some sunshine. This followed a trip beneath the Lateran Basilica in which Professor Ian Haynes sought to explore not just the subterranean world of Rome, but also the potential of Digital Humanities. The students were wowed by the scale of the site and its obvious importance, and were able to think about the benefits of interdisciplinary and international research.

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One of the students’ favourite sessions on object-based learning was run by two of the Assistant Directors, Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill. After a presentation from Valerie Scott [Librarian] and Alessandra Giovenco [Archivist] , the students were put into small groups, encouraged to select an object, image or text and work together to write a museum label for it, thinking about how to work collaboratively to express their research to a general audience.

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Alessandra Giovenco with students looking at objects from the Library and Archive.

Given the strength of the BSR and the richness of research in creative practice, we were keen to expose attendees to work in this area. Accordingly, Martina Caruso kindly arranged for a special tour of the BSR’s studios, with artists in residence outlining how they were setting about their projects. The session was a resounding success.

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Studio visit with Abbey Fellow in Painting Dillwyn Smith.

One of the strengths of the programme is the way in which, as well as exposing students to the cutting-edge research being done in the BSR and by its fellows, Northern Bridge academics can also take part and lead sessions. So, the Northern Bridge director, Dr Annie Tindley, led a session around Britain’s nineteenth-century relationship to Roman imperial history. Dr Jon Quayle, a veteran from the 2018 residential and a superb addition to the team, was able to draw on his own experience both as researcher in residence at the Keats Shelley House and as an early career scholar whose PhD was funded by the AHRC to help raise students’ awareness of its holdings. The whole group spent a morning at the museum and were joined by the Curator, Giuseppe Albano, in a fascinating presentation. Professor Crawford Gribben, the Queen’s academic director for Northern Bridge, led a brilliant session exploring puritan apocalyptic visions of Rome through time, a session that folded beautifully into the visit to the Venerable English College.

When not fully engaged in this rich programme, the students were divided randomly into two teams, and were given time over the week to discuss their reactions and responses to the programme, the BSR and of course to Rome. Using the fine library resources of the BSR, their own skills and imagination, the students are to deliver projects on a theme of their choice on the topic of ‘UK and Italy’ to their peers at the Northern Bridge Summer Conference in June. They presented these as works in progress on the final evening, with one group exploring the creation of a ‘Museum of Curiosities’ to house their memories of the programme, with the other working on creating a photo archive on the idea of spolia, a theme which recurred over the course of the week.

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Northern Bridge DTP students in the BSR courtyard.

While there are always lessons to be learnt, the unanimous conclusion of all who participated was that this was one of the most exciting, energising and fruitful experiences of their research careers. Planning is already underway for next year’s event.

 

Annie Tindley (Consortium Director for the AHRC Northern Bridge DTP)

http://www.northernbridge.ac.uk/

All about Concrete: from the Pantheon to the Present

Last week we held the workshop All about Concrete: from the Pantheon to the Present, the second in the BSR’s series of interdisciplinary research study days in the UK on the historicity of materials and the work of the BSR. This event was generously sponsored by the Concrete Centre and hosted by the University of Liverpool in London. 

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The day, organised by BSR faculty members Vivien Lovell, MaryAnne Stevens and Marco Iuliano, comprised a series of presentations on the use of concrete over two millennia. Speakers highlighted the extreme versatility, strength and plasticity of the material.

Alan Powers (London School of Architecture) opened the day with a keynote presentation exploring ‘Cult Contrete’, which provoked lively debate.

The first panel session, chaired by MaryAnne Stevens, explored the history of the use of concrete. Presentations encompassed over two thousand years of use from ancient Rome to Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978). Janet DeLaine introduced us to the seven virtues of concrete in ancient Rome, while Joseph Rykwert touched on the Renaissance ‘rediscovery’ of ancient concrete techniques. Richard Murphy closed the session, bringing us forward into the twentieth century, with his discussion of Scarpa’s use of water in his architectural projects – an analogy for concrete.

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Giovanni Paolo Panini,
Interior of the Pantheon, Rome
c. 1734

After lunch participants were split into three groups and were treated to a study visit to to the Barbican Estate and Centre. These groups were led simultaneously by Catherine Croft (C20 Society), Dave King (Architect and Barbican Resident) and Vicky Richardson (Writer and Curator, of architecture and design). Even those who thought they knew the Estate well, were surprised to learn that there are over 100 different property types on the estate; that all of the concrete was hand chiselled (including the towers!); and that the water features were dyed to reflect depth.

We reconvened after the visits for the second panel session chaired by Vivien Lovell, which covered the contemporary use of concrete. Artist, Florian Roithmayr presented current work and described his process. Participants were able to see first hand concrete sculptures which Florian had on display throughout the day.

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Concrete sculptures by Florian Roithmayr

Following this, organiser Marco Iuliano was in conversation with photographer Helene Binet, discussing themes in her architectural photographs of concrete structures. Finally Jo Melvin introduced us to the concept of concrete poetry and how it is produced in contemporary art practice.

The afternoon was concluded by two readings. Organiser Vivien Lovell read a poem entitled ‘Times New Roman’ by Pele Cox (written especially for the event) and Vicky Richardson read a passage from J G Ballard’s ‘Concrete Island’.

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Concluding remarks were given by architect Eric Parry who succinctly synthesised the presentations and the interdisciplinary conversations of the day.

Text and photographs by Natasha Burbridge and Alice Marsh, BSR London Office.

2017-18: our year in events

This week we closed our 2017—18 events programme rounding off the rich programme of events curated by Assistant Director Tom True that we have proudly hosted here at the BSR over this academic year.  In this blog we look back over what has been a fantastic year, illustrated by snapshots that give just a taster of the varied, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary programme we have presented over the past year.

We began the first term with the workshop Digital Humanities and the Roman Campagna, a study day uniting scholars working on the landscape of Rome, focusing on the use of new digital technologies for research and publication. With presentations by BSR staff (former Director Christoper Smith, Assistant Director Tom True, Librarian Valerie Scott and Archivist Alesandra Giovenco), this lively workshop set the year’s focus on the importance of Digital Humanities and the challenges of transforming our unique resources into digital assets.

Friday 27 October 2017 saw us host Lost and Found: Places, Objects and People, a workshop that formed part of the international Being Human Festival. The workshop brought together experts from various backgrounds to discuss the importance of cultural preservation. Below are links to the video recordings of the workshop, a collaboration between the British Council, the British Embassy in Rome and the BSR.

In November BSR Research Fellow Emily Michelson (St Andrews) presented the paper ‘Walking Conversionary Rome’, which was all the encouragement needed for award-holders and BSR staff to hit the streets of Rome on foot, in the company of Emily herself and expert alumnus Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-3). Together we traversed the most celebrated pilgrimage route, the Giro delle Sette Chiese (link to blog written by Assistant Director Tom True), the route connecting the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

'The pilgrims'

As usual the term culminated with the December Mostra, the first exhibition showcasing the work of our resident artists and architect. This term we were even treated to a live re-enactment of the ancient festival of the Lupercalia on the steps of the BSR! The first mostra was a grand success and set the bar high for the forthcoming mostre.

The second term began with an inaugural lecture given by Director Stephen Milner, who became the BSR’s sixteenth Director in October. Stephen presented a paper entitled  ‘And did those feet in ancient time.’ Meditations on movement.’

The lecture perpetuated the themes of walking and movement in the forms of both literal and figurative feet, along with the associated practices of walking and narration, as a starting point for examining the generative power of movement in the production of culture. You can listen to Stephen’s lecture here. To listen to Stephen’s lecture click here.

It was with great excitement that at the beginning of February we welcomed Deborah Howard, Mary Laven and Abigail Brundin (Cambridge) to present their findings on on Domestic Devotions. The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, a special event to concluding their five-year European Research Council project. In the way of a three-part presentation comprising research from the Faculties of History, Architecture and History of Art at the University of Cambridge, this multidisciplinary presentation gave us a glimpse through the key-hole into the spiritual lives of Renaissance Italians.

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The term continued with a fantastic line up of a huge variety of events including Richard Wistreich from the Royal College of Music on fighting and singing in the Renaissance, the 2018 Felicity Powell lecture by BSR alumnus and artist Nicholas Hatfull, and conferences by John Harrison (Open) and Krešimir Vuković (BSR; Oxford), concluding with the March Mostra, a brilliant showcase of the second terms artists in residence.

As usual, Cary Fellow and director of the City of Rome Postgraduate Course, Robert Coates-Stephens curated a fantastic City of Rome lecture series. Over the duration of the programme, which saw eleven postgraduate students traverse and penetrate the topography of Rome, we were treated to six fantastic lectures on the ancient city.

 

Kicking off the City of Rome Lecture Series, was our very own Rome Fellow 2017–18 Fellow Krešimir Vuković (Oxford), a graduate of the City of Rome course himself! Kresho introduced us to ‘Early Rome: myth, history and the environment’,  providing the the ideal introduction to the early beginnings of the city.

The third term also saw the launch of our 2018–19 Architecture programme, entitled Brave New World: New Visions in Architecture. 

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This new programme, curated by Marina Engel (Architecture Programme Curator), will investigate the nature of some of the changes that are being brought about by the younger generation of architects and designers. The programme was launched in May by Reinier de Graaf who presented a paper entitled ‘The century that never happened’ . See below for Marina’s introduction to the programme.

June saw us host no less than four conferences and the end of fellowship presentations by our long term humanities fellows. Lavinia Maddaluno (‘Materialising political economy: olive oil, patronage and science in eighteenth-century Rome’), Niccolò Mugnai (‘Bridging the Greco-Roman Mediterranean: architectural, artistic, and cultural interconnections’) and Helena Phillips-Robins (‘Dante and medieval weeping: literary text and historical religious practice’).

 

On 15 June the last mostra of the academic year opened. The June Mostra as usual was a great success, a showcase of collaboration between our artists and the conversations between their works.

 

It is not possible to mention everybody in such a short space but thank you to every participant or visitor to each one of our events. More specifically thanks must to go Assistant Director Tom True for curating such a diverse and lively programme, and to all who helped with organisation of every event. We are already looking forward to a fresh set of events beginning in September! New programme coming soon…

Alice Marsh (Communications and Events).  Photos by Antonio Palmieri, Chris Warde-Jones and Roberto Apa.

A look back at the June Mostra…

In June we saw the final Mostra of our 2017–18 programme, in which our seven Fine Arts award-holders put together an exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of photographs of works from the exhibition. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

Josephine Baker (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

 

Oona Grimes (The Bridget Riley Fellow)

 

Yusuf Ali Hayat (Helpmann Academy Resident)

 

Damien Meade (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

 

John Rainey (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow)

 

John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

 

Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident)

 

Photos by Roberto Apa

 

Stanzas of recollection

This blog comes from Pele Cox the inaugural John Murray / Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Creative Writing Resident (October-November 2017; April-May 2018). In this post Pele shares with us the poem that she wrote and performed at the June Mostra.

I was asked to write this poem by Marta, Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, as a homage to the artists for the recent Mostra. I decided to write a collage, using snatches from the favourite poems that some of the artists sent me. These are interwoven with my feelings of loss and gain at my own departure from the British School at Rome, which is communicated as a series of rooms (stanze).

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Stanzas

I

Leave the door ajar.

Cicero says if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

But give me a studio and a courtyard.

Leave the door ajar and let me enter in

 

where

words can bloom

mid stripped walls, the blue guitar,

where the mosaic hours

burn

the music of gravel and of rain.

 

My love is of a birth as rare 

As is for object strange and high

it was begotten by despair

Upon impossibility.

 

Leave the door ajar

let me look inside

a sight within

where

words can bloom

mid thorns and scattered chair

 

 

II

I have a room of my own,

With twin steel nests, a desk, the curved chair with wings.

My knees to the books and back again,

the trees beyond and studios beneath,

and artist strange and rare.

 

You walk in. “This room is not going to last.”

We are caretakers of its ending: a shutter,

a camera, exposed.

I reach for the chair again

where I sat for Pushkin, for Sholokov,

where I sat for the things I knew would pass

on.

 

Lady disturbed in her bed-

your thoughts of it?

Light is it a body

 

Leave the door ajar

and let me enter in.

 

In the smoke after twilight

on a milk white steed

Michelangelo indeed

could have carved out 

your features.

 

where the mosaic hours

burn

the music of gravel and of rain.

 

 

III

When I put my hands on your body

on your flesh I see the history 

of that body.

 

Leave the door ajar

and let me enter in.

 

Not just the beginning of its forming 

in that distant lake

but all the way beyond its ending.

 

This room is not going to last

we are the inmates at

its ending.

 

And yet I quickly might arrive

where my extended soul is fixed.

 

It is finished now

this room,

a stanza of recollection.

 

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Text by Pele Cox, photo by Antonio Palmieri.

What do we really know about African art in European museums?

31462683605_ebc546dc0e_b (1)As part of the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018 former award-holder Zoe Cormack (Rome Fellow 2016-17), presents the exhibit ‘What do we really know about African art in European museums?’ An exploration of the arts and heritage of South Sudan. In this blog, in advance of the exhibition, Zoe shares some of the developments to her project since she left Rome a year ago.

(Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

I came to the BSR for a Rome Fellowship in 2016-17. My project was to study four nineteenth century ethnographic collections, assembled by Italians and now stored in museums across Italy, from the territory that is today South Sudan. Rome was new ground, as my previous research trips had been to remote parts of South Sudan. The time at the BSR gave me the opportunity to begin concentrated study of South Sudanese arts and material culture stored in European museums. This week, my research will feature in the British Academy Summer Showcase, an exciting opportunity to share my findings with a wider audience in the UK.

In Rome, the question I was most often asked was, how did these objects end up in Italy? There are many historical connections between Italy and South Sudan. When Sudan was incorporated into Ottoman Egypt in 1821, Italians were among the first Europeans to visit. Some came as traders, some worked in the Egyptian government, others undertook scientific journey of exploration. In 1864, Daniel Comboni (a priest, now a saint) from Brescia established a missionary order in Sudan, the Comboni Fathers, who still have a major presence in Sudan and South Sudan. The Sudanese saint, Josephine Bakhita, lived in Italy from 1885.

Of the collections I studied, one was made by Romolo Gessi an Italian soldier who was appointed Ottoman-Egyptian Governor of Bahr-el-Ghazal (a province in Southern Sudan). He is known in Sudanese history for recapturing part of the province from slave traders on behalf on the Egyptian government (the collection in now in the Museo delle Civilità in Rome).  The others were made by; Giovanni Miani, a trained opera singer from Venice who to Sudan to discover the source of the Nile (the collection is in the Natural History Museum in Venice); Carlo Piaggia, an explorer who lived at a Zande court in the 1860s (the collections are in the Florence Ethnographic Museum and the Archaeological museum in Perugia); and Orazio Antinori (of Antinori wines) who founded the Italian Geographical Society (whose collection is in the Archaeological museum in Perugia).

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A case of objects from South Sudan in Giovanni Miani’s collection, Museum of Natural history, Venice. (image courtesy of the Museum of Natural History)

My research has addressed both how these collections were formed, but also how we might understand and work with them today. These are complicated objects to study. Formed at the outset of European and Italian colonial projects, ethnographic collections were integral to the process of creating difference, of categorising people and their material culture into discrete ‘tribes’ and generating the racial hierarchies that made the ideology of colonialism possible. In Sudan, this process viciously intersected with the growth of a long-distance slave trade in the Nile valley, which remains a painful rupture in South Sudan’s historical memory.

I wanted to understand more about how collecting had interacted with this violent history, but I also wanted to investigate how these objects might speak to current concerns about heritage, memory and community relationships in South Sudan. I have always been struck by how – despite the violent circumstances surrounding their incorporation into museums – these collections are a remarkable and unique record of historic arts and material cultures from South Sudan.

Juba from the air in May 2018 (photo by Zoe Cormack)

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Juba from the air in May 2018 (photo by Zoe Cormack)

Since I finished my Rome Fellowship I have had several opportunities to address this question in more depth. On my return from Rome, I began work on an AHRC Research Network about South Sudanese arts and heritage in Europe. I have also spent about four months in Juba (the capital city of South Sudan), where with a Juba based organised called The Likikiri Collective – are doing amazing work using theatre and oral history to explore memory, ideas of community and the nation. More recently, I met Deng Nhial Chioh, who runs ‘Maale Heritage and Development Foundation’ in a displaced persons camp in Juba. For several years, Deng has been using images from online museum databases to build a curriculum about South Sudanese cultural heritage for displaced students.

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Presenting my research (with Prof John Mairi Blackings, University of Juba) at the Catholic University of South Sudan, Juba. (photograph courtesy of the Institute of Justice and Peace Studies)

Through the AHRC network we have also brought some of the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK into the research conversation. One comment about the museum collections, from a member of the South Sudanese diaspora in London, has stuck with me. He said “these things are important because they are about us. They are about people and a future that can be better than the past.”  As South Sudan grapples with a new civil war, which shows no signs of ending, these objects seem to offer constructive ways of thinking about South Sudanese identity.

Another development, which underlines the importance of the Italians collections, has been the decision in 2017 by the Government of South Sudan to put the former slave-station of Deim Zubeir on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites. Deim Zubeir is where Romolo Gessi fought with and defeated the merchant Suleiman Idris. Gessi subsequently took a ‘trophy’ from Suleiman (including his sword) and obtained other objects at Deim Zubeir. These are now stored in the Museo delle Civilità in Rome and the Musei Civici of Reggio Emelia. These museum collections could be used to build a better picture of the site in the nineteenth century and be put into a productive dialogue with heritage initiatives in South Sudan.

Zoe Cormack is now Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She has held postdoctoral research awards at The British Institute in Eastern Africa and the British School at Rome.

For an opportunity to see Zoe’s Summer Showcase exhibit, visit the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018, at 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH. Open: Friday 22-Saturday 23 June,11 a.m.-5 p.m. and open for a late-night view: Friday 22 June, 6.30-9pm. 

For more information on the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018 click here.