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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
An Interview with Awam Amkpa
La Pietra Dialogues
La Pietra Dialogues
March 4, 2010

The AfroEuropa: Incontri photography exhibition started out in New York City. The process of moving the exhibition to Florence - selecting images, developing a program, and choosing a name for the exhibition - provided some insight into the different language of immigration in the American and Italian context. I spoke to one of the curators of the exhibition, Awam Amkpa, about what that process was like.

What specificities of the Italian context did you have to take into consideration when moving the exhibition to Italy?

We were concerned that immigration had become a social and cultural problem in Italy and that African immigrants were portrayed exclusively as a problem and as victims. The positive cultural and economic contribution of immigrants was not seen. This bothered us. We felt that our role was not just to confront that victimization, but to propose a new image. We wanted to suggest that immigration is not a confrontation but is a series of ‘encounters’. There are different modes of interaction than those you see on TV and different images than those that the media portray. We wanted to help the public develop an intimacy with the subjects of the photographs. Because there is a real lack of intimacy.

So we focused on less threatening images - proposing safer images of people going about their business and scenes from daily life, showing how immigrants integrate while also celebrating their home culture. But we of course didn’t shy away from the more problematic aspects of immigration. So we invited some documentary photographers to compliment the portraits.

How is immigration perceived differently in the Italian context and were the images perceived differently in the U.S. and Italy?

The Italian exhibition was framed differently and was visually different from the U.S. exhibition. In the U.S. our focus was on resistance. We were trying to communicate the message that there is no point in asking immigrants to pack up and go home, our message was: these guys are here to stay, thus the title “They Won’t Budge”. There was a more militant feel to it. In Italy the focus was encounters. We used images of immigrants in their daily lives sharing their realities - it was not political. A more militant stance is considered negative, subversive in Italy. In the U.S. African migrants are part of the Afro-American community, which has its own history that is intimately linked to the Civil Rights movement. The historical affinity with Africa is celebrated in this community. In Italy and Europe it is not - the lineage of colonialism isn’t talked about as much, its still taboo. Our question was how can we repose the presence of Africans in Italy? The pictures are saying:

Can we actually see these people in their diversity, can we give them a chance to be human in their adopted homeland?

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