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Unruly Connections 

installation, 2022 (sound, prints on paper, pressed cardboard, acrylic, and polyester)

Unruly Connections analyses practices of resistance to colonial violence, weaving together three stories of opposition to the “iconographic silence” towards the repression of the resistance movements in Libya at the end of the 1920’s. Introduced by historian Alessandro Volterra in the video Sight Unseen, the term “iconographic silence” refers to general Rodolfo Graziani’s directive that prohibited photographing and circulating any documentation of the brutal repression of Libyan people at the hands of the Italians, which included the use of outlawed chemical weapons and concentration camps. Alessandra Ferrini draws connections between people and literary works that, across different times and locations, challenged the censorship of this genocide.

The exhibition revolves around the willingness to commission the first Italian translation of the novel The Conscript by Gebreyesus Hailu. Written in 1927, The Conscript was transmitted orally because of Italian censorship and was finally published in 1950. It Is the first novel in Tigrinya language and one of the first examples of anti-colonial literature, which has remained virtually unknown as it was translated into English only in 2012. The Italian translation, developed by historian Uoldelul Chelati Dirar, was presented in the exhibition in four consecutive stages: the exhibition space therefore also acts as a platform for translations, reading, publishing and in-depth analysis.


Within the exhibition, the translation of The Conscript will intersect with the stories of Danish journalist Knud Holmboe (1902 – 1931) and of writer, anarchist, and feminist Leda Rafanelli (1880 – 1971). After converting to Sufism, Knud Holmboe arrived in Libya in 1930, where he came into contact with the Senussi resistance in Cyrenaica, denouncing the atrocious violence of Italians in a diary and photographic series published in 1931 and titled Desert Encounters (initially censored in Italy and only translated in 2005).  In the same year, he was killed in Jordan - probably at the hands of the Italian government, although this has never been officially proved. Alessandra Ferrini tells Holmboe's story, comparing it to other documents related to his assassination that she mysteriously received via email and Twitter through an anonymous historian/journalist in August 2020.


Urged by her alleged North African family roots, Leda Rafanelli briefly moved to Alexandria in 1900, where she gravitated towards the Italian anarchist community and converted to Islam. Identifying herself as a "Muslim anarchist", her writings - which showcase a very strong interest for and solidarity with the oppressed - intertwine anarchist propaganda, feminism, romance novels and Islam. Despite the strict surveillance she was subject to during the Fascist dictatorship, in 1929 she published romance novel L’Oasi. Romanzo arabo (The Oasis. Arab Novel), in which a passionate love story acts as the background for a reflection on colonial violence. Set in Tunisia and published under the pseudonym of Etienne Gamalier, the novel draws a parallel with the repression of the Libyan resistance by the Fascist military. Romance is thus employed to disguise political protest.

Part 2

In addition to this, Unruly Connections will also reflect on the so-called “peaceful penetration”, which historian Roberta Pergher identifies as the settlement tactic connecting internal and external Italian colonialism, with specific regard to South-Tyrol and Libya. 

Similarly, “The Conscript” is further compared with instances of forced conscription in South-Tyrol during the occupation of Ethiopia in 1935-36, stressing the complicated relationship between the process of Italianization and the racial hierarchies that characterise European Imperialism.

Through a practice-based approach to historiographic research, Unruly Connections creates a constellation of marginalised characters and stories that emphasize similarities and connections among the peripheries of the Italian colonial empire. The act of editing iconographic materials and texts through different mediums and languages, among which the voice of the artist herself that offers a new potential reading of the resonances between such stories, provides a thoughtful reflection on activist writing and translating, but also on the ethical and political potential of artistic practice. 

Exhibition at ar/ge kunst, Bolzano, Italy. Curated by Emanuele Guidi.

With the kind support of:
Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano, Ripartizione Cultura
Comune di Bolzano, Ripartizione Cultura
Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Bolzano

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