The inspiration for this exhibition came from the real-life experiences of my grandparents, Saverio and Giulia, my mother, my aunt and uncles, during their expatriation to Ethiopia in 1938; a time when the country was an Italian colony.
A diary, written by my grandmother, recounts their adventurous and thrilling journey during which they discovered a new world, full of hopes for the future of Italy, but which dramatically concluded with the Second World War.
My grandfather, an entomologist and explorer, who was sent to Africa as a fauna expert, found himself caught up in a war which resulted in him being imprisoned for 5 long years.
My grandmother, along with her five children and a baby, was forced to repatriate to Italy in 1942, taking part in one of the greatest humanitarian operations in history. Twenty-eight thousand Italian civilian refugees were evacuated back to Italy from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Women, children and elders travelled for fifty days on Red Cross ships; known as the “White Ships”, these vessels were overcrowded with people who had already endured much suffering, some having been held in British prisoner of war camps. Many children died. Records of these times were captured in the numerous letters that were written during the years of war in Italy, years during which my grandmother raised and protected her six children. Forced to be apart from her husband, she was fortunate to have the support of her loving family. Throughout this time my grandfather, who remained a prisoner in Africa, endured indescribable distress. News of his family was rare, their letters often taking six months to reach him.
I had the good fortune to have my great grandma Giulia until I was 30 years old. I loved her dearly. I often think of her and she is always by my side.
I remember her in her beautiful garden, caring for her flowers which she would then reflect in her paintings. She painted until the end of her days.
Her writings have allowed me to know her more deeply, to become acquainted with the more intimate and reserved aspects of her character, which concealed many dramatic stories. Through the piecing together of various sources there emerged a picture of the precious help of a large and united family and of a woman possessing immense inner strength, positivity, intelligence, love and faith; all qualities which accompanied her throughout her long life.
This story is about my roots. With the help of my aunt Maddalena, who lovingly cared for the diaries, letters and photos, the countless stories told by my mother, aunt and uncles, I was able to reconstruct an important dowel in the narrative arc of our family. Rediscovering my roots also allowed me to share them with my children, who were not born and raised in the land of their ancestors. In doing so, I hope I have been able to deepen their understanding of their family heritage.
I live the legacy of my grandmother in the values that she imparted and through the art of painting, to which she introduced me. I have a strong sense that I embarked on this work in collaboration with her; inspired by her moving stories and with the hope of prolonging the emotions that they have stirred in my heart. As I have travelled with her on this creative journey, I have felt her ever closer to me. Ultimately my wish is to pay her homage and to give continuity to her existence… and to mine.