ASNADA is an experimental school in Milan, located within the Dergano Bovisa Library, providing educative (especially Italian classes) and socio-cultural activities to the foreigner members of the local community, and in particular to immigrants, refugees and displaced people. The construction of the relationship with the new language is supported by collateral activities, such as theatrical experiences and arts&craft workshops.
One of these initiatives, developed within the project “Ci vediamo tutti in biblioteca!”, promoted by ASNADA and the Dergano Bovisa Library and fostered by the contribution of Comune di Milano and Fondazione Cariplo, turned out as an opportunity for a thought-provoking exhibition offering different points of view on such themes of migration, displacement, sense of belonging, undercover lives and travels.
The lens through which these topics are presented to the visitors is place, narrated in its multifaceted forms and meanings, and depicted through the 179 models that were displayed from 25 to 30 June at Circolo ARCI Bellezza in Milan. These miniatures, realized with different and mainly recycled materials – paper, fabric, strings, nails, bottle tops, metallic and wooden pieces, sand, seeds, straw, etc. – are the outcomes of a six-day workshop: ninety among the students attending ASNADA activities, coming from twenty-eight different Countries, were asked to give a form to a significant place of their past, and a relevant place of their present lives.The works were organized in a big room with a central access: when entering the exhibition, the visitor finds himself located at the core of the setting, that is the Mediterranean Sea, as announced by the name written in blue paint on the floor. The installation was conceived in the shape of a map (visualized through the abstract atlas traced on the ground), not to guide the public to a predetermined travel – on the contrary, the structure of the exhibition invites the audience to a dynamic and personal exploration – rather to geographically refer the narrating pieces. Under the Mediterranean Sea (this is, in the left part of the room) the models of the people coming from Africa are gathered upon the name of their native Country, illustrating the places that are representative of their lives before migration. Upon the Mediterranean Sea (this is, in the right part of the room) all the models narrating the places where they arrived and settled are situated in Italy, and in particular in Milan.
Miniatures thus become the starting and arrival points of a journey through the Mediterranean Sea. The travel itself – mainly a real journey, but in some cases a personal transformation or transition – is depicted in the drawings hanging on the vertical margins, that are symbolically connected to the narrated places through woolen strings; by departing from the models, creating connections and finally reaching the walls, these strings generate a colorful plot of lines developing on the head of the visitors, representing the complex texture of the different stories of migration.
The representation of place is supported by a short narration written by the authors of the models, a sort of caption explaining the meaning and role of the depicted space in the story of the students; the most impressive character of these texts is the heterogeneity of the nature (from dramatic episodes to positive experiences) and the tone (from desperate to enthusiast, from disenchanted to naïve) of the narrated story.
The choice of the environments and/or objects selected to describe the place that has been and/or is particularly significant is a very interesting aspect of the exhibition: though circumstantially located – usually both timely and geographically – the concept of place is interpreted through the variety and the richness of the experience of each author, who subjectively attributes his/her sense of belonging to an object, a room, a building, a public space, a Nation (represented through flags, symbols or recognizable places e.g. Egypt is evoked by a model reproducing the pyramid archaeological site). This strategy in representing the identity of people who experienced migration is very eloquent in triggering fruitful considerations about the different ways, times and meanings of contemporary life.
Elena Montanari, Politecnico di Milano