Omar al-Mukhtar (1885-1931) was the leader of the organised resistance against the Italian colonisation of Libya (1911-1943). He became the symbol of Libyan people’s resilience and has been greatly celebrated and exploited both by the Gaddafi’s regime and the armed groups currently fighting over the control of the Libyan territory. In Italy, his name remains unknown – yet, it briefly appeared in the media during Gaddafi’s first visit to Italy in 2009. Indeed, the colonel emerged from his plane in Rome, wearing an image of Omar al-Mukhtar in chains, surrounded by the Fascist Army as he was taken to his execution by public hanging. While researching this event in Rome, I met Historian Alessandro Volterra who narrates, in the film, a controversial history of concealment and appropriation around the memory and documentation of Mukhtar’s final days and spectacularised state killing.
Sight Unseen reflects on such history through the analysis of visual and material culture that has been subject to either manipulation or obfuscation in Italy. The core of the film is the most complete - but legally unpublishable - series of images of Mukhtar's capture and execution, which Volterra describes and show to the camera. Yet, as to convey the concealment and marginalisation of these images (and legal ban), they are never fully revealed: barely discernible, they are faded to black, blurred, shown for just an instant. Interwoven to this material, are other references that attest to the carefully orchestrated politics of visibility and invisibility that shape the memory of colonial violence in Italy: Mukhtar’s contested glasses; the Hollywood production The Lion of the Desert; extracts from Mukhtar's trial; and Monumento al Carabinire, a memorial to Italian armed forces in Turin.
Developed while in residence at the British School at Rome.
Featuring Alessandro Volterra and music by Marco Baldini and Luca Giorgi.
HD video, 2019, 18':47"