With this new website, we wish to offer an accessible and future-oriented open archive of multilateral artistic references in the Mediterranean.

Over the past twelve years, Villa Romana has built up a dense and cooperative network with artists from the Mediterranean neighbourhood. Numerous exhibition projects, researches, lectures and symposia have been realized together, partly in institutional partnerships. They range from an Italian artist who travelled Albania in the footsteps of his grandfather, to a Turkish artist who interpreted the terracotta orphans by Andrea dell Robbia, Syrian artists in Berlin researching on the history of publishing in the Middle East to investigations of the Italian-Lebanese relationship in current media iconography, to a performance speaking out the names and locations of over 90,000 drowned refugees in the Mediterranean since the 1990.

The Mediterranean Region has been ruled for centuries by historical empires: the Roman, the Byzantine, the Ottoman. Then it has been split up and ruled by European Colonial Powers and became a main battle field of the Cold War and Oil Industry. Hardly any region in the world is so rich of different historical cultures and their traces and at the same time so mute in exploring and sharing them. There are only very, very few programs, fundings and independent spaces which support an artistic exchange between the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region, the Balkans and Europe. Although this exchange could be one of the most interesting and richest one as it would bring together crossing routes of different histories, systems of knowledge, cultures, narrations and socio-political transformations and reveal that time is never a capsule but has a „long durée“ (Fernand Braudel). The Mediterranean today represents instead a gap of oblivion for the whole 20th century, it’s hierarchical Politics of Modernity and devastating fascist and colonial oppression. The sea is up to today used as a distance medium between so-called areas of comfort and areas of conflict.

Villa Romana, founded as an artists’ residency in 1905, is based in Florence, the so-called cradle of the Renaissance. Since 2008, the Villa Romana’s curatorial program has been engaged in a re-reading of urban archives relevant to the canon of Western modernism in various artistic-research formats. At the same time, these archives were confronted with other, repressed, excluded or forgotten narratives through the invitation of now over 50 guest artists from the southern and south-eastern Mediterranean countries as well as from Africa. 

In that the core-European northern Mediterranean countries collectively refer to a 19th-century archival concept, all other riparian states and cultures were excluded from this canon of knowledge in the (post-) colonial 20th and 21st century. The transfer of cultural knowledge – in the respective countries as well as in dialogue with Europe – fell victim to ruling political and economic interest zones.

The Broken Archive keeps the artistic research carried out over the years accessible in various texts, image and sound media, brings the generated knowledge space out of the temporal depths, structures it on a current multimedia surface and can thus generate rhizomatic references in the transcontinental Mediterranean. Different artistic media emerge like archipelagos from this sea and seek neighbourhoods, resonances, connections. The Broken Archive should work as an archive of possibilities, a tool that serves to explore, collect, disagree, mediate and update.

We are launching this website in winter 2021 – in a time capsule which is dominated by the world wide pandemic. Mobility is frozen, tourism stopped, migration obstructed, refugees remain unprotected.

The Broken Archive is an attempt of a restoration of a future: a world where sharing and collaboration would be the base for transformation – instead of separation, denial and oblivion.

The Broken Archive as it is launched now is a very first and very little step from a limited perspective to create a horizontal, accessible and movable artistic network in the Mediterranean region.

Please do contribute and share!

The Broken Archive is a cooperation between Villa Romana and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), funded by the German Foreign Office within the framework of The Whole Life. An Archive Project.

Video series: Lectures, discussions

European historiography has produced a romanticized image of Italy. The focus on historic city centers and the works of the Renaissance provides a very limited view of the present day. What new historical narratives do justice to the complex problems facing the Mediterranean region?

What is assessed as urban and scenic beauty arises from an historically and politically constructed perspective that is becoming increasingly brittle in the present. Researchers, artists and activists are increasingly attempting to revise such clichés. They correlate European historiography and its archives with current developments to attain a more complex picture that includes marginalized positions and addresses exclusions. How are the legacy of the Renaissance and the exploitation of resources in the Anthropocene related? What traces of African presence from pre-colonial times to the present day can be found in Italy? How do national populist image politics work? What stories do the immense archives of Italy tell and whose stories are absent in them?

Visual Politics of (Im-)Mobility

With Costanza Caraffa, Mohamed Keita, Armin Linke, Massimo Ricciardo, #everydaygolshahr (Reza Haidari), moderated by Elena Agudio

What role do images play in the production of meaning and the identity politics of nation states? In Italy, widely circulated tourism images are juxtaposed with photographs constantly reproduced in the media showing the arrival of refugees on Italian coasts. Their contents seem incompatible. In what contexts are these images shown, what is not visible and why were they made and reproduced?

Subjects from the Renaissance are fundamental to Italy’s national visual politics – and thanks to the medium of photography, these images are omnipresent. The tourism industry ensures that these same visual narratives of tourist highlights appear on the souvenir photos of the millions of vacationers in Italy. Tourists’ mobility, taken for granted as it is, contrasts the images in the media of refugees arriving on Italy’s coasts after months of life-threatening treks to then hold out in refugee camps with no certainties for the future. The migration debate has been politicized and polarized in the media discussions largely through these images, especially via social media.

In their conversation, the contributors will examine these visual politics and their instrumentalization: How are images linked with national narratives, memory politics, economic interests and populist exploitation? What strategies could circumvent these mechanisms? How can alternative visual narratives be developed?

The art historian Costanza Caraffa analyzes national visual politics and the mobilization of visual narratives. The artist Massimo Ricciardo presents silent testimonies to displacement from his collection Objects of Escape – Inventories of Migration and Reza Haidari from the #everydaygolshahr network tells of the unseen daily routine in a refugee camp in Iran.

Black Italy

With Ingrid Greenfield, Angelica Pesarini, Maria Stella Rognoni, Eike Schmidt, Justin Randolph Thompson, moderated by Angelika Stepken

Establishing and updating history is both a form of erasure and loss. For centuries, Italy has been a country of immigration; one fifth of foreign citizens in Italy today are of African origin. Yet the cultures of African Diasporic communities have been disregarded in the canon. How – and by whom – can history be retold?

Traces of the African Diaspora remain largely invisible – since the colonial conquests until today. If at all, they can be found in neglected archives from the colonial era. Their presence in museum collections remains silent. Thus, a canon is (re-)produced that permanently excludes countless actors and legacies of the past. How are archives, collections and museums involved in these processes?

Since 2016, the African-American artist Justin Randolph Thompson has built a network for Black cultural production with his Black History Month Florence initiative, which celebrates the diversity of Italy’s African diasporic cultures. With the project On Being Present: Recovering Blackness in the Uffizi Galleries, his research has now also involved the “canon” itself: The virtual exhibition project with the Uffizi analyzes the previously voiceless representation of Black Lives in the museum’s collection of paintings, thus opening up new access to a different historiography.

With other experts, he discusses the visualization of Blackness in the self-image of the Renaissance city of Florence and one of the most important European art collections. How can past and present open up new perspectives beyond colonial hegemony?

Archival Absence

With Bassel Al Saadi, Fehras Publishing Practices, Ghassan Halwani, United for Intercultural Action (Balint Josa), moderated by Marwa Arsanios

What remembrance practices do societies develop that possess no (state) archives or have no access to them? How is testimony preserved and remembered there? Does the public have a right to archives? What role do initiatives by artists, researchers and activists play?

As public institutions, archives can contribute to the development of collective memory and to the discourse on cultural and national identities. Such archival sites are often lacking in the countries of the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East: European colonial policy did not allow independent historiography in the regions, with far-reaching consequences up to the present day. Today, archives there are created and maintained mainly by private initiatives. But such collections are vulnerable and often subject to loss and destruction in the course of political conflicts.

The artist collective Fehras Publishing Projects offers insights into its collection practice and artistic engagement with archival materials. Ghassan Halwani uses his film Erased, ____ Ascent of the Invisible (2018) to tell how the memory of those missing from the Lebanese civil war is kept alive.The artist Bassel Al Saadi reports on an archive project meant to reflect the history of art and the loss of cultural heritage in Syria for the first time. Balint Josa from United for Intercultural Action Action speaks about the work on a list that has documented deaths of people in connection with European border policy since 1993.