For the past six years Reggio Emilia has hosted Fotografia Europea, an amazing international photography festival, which runs for five weeks from mid-May to mid-June. Galleries, churches, museums, and many other public and private spaces from across the city host individual exhibitions. Photography is celebrated through events, lectures, theater, films, performances and readings. Each evening and on weekend afternoons people pour onto the streets and into the piazze, or town squares, in celebration of photography. I promise enchanting future posts about the festival. However, I must begin with unforgettable images of time and space.
One of the exhibitions was held in what was once Italy’s largest psychiatric hospital, Ospedale San Lazzaro. Though many of the buildings are now converted to commercial space one, Sezione Lombroso, has been restored and maintained as a tribute to the men and women who suffered there. The restoration exposes a painful history, a history not unlike other psychiatric hospitals of the time from across the globe. However, it also uncovered haunting and intimately Italian words and images scrawled onto the front walls of Sezione Lombroso.
Credere, Obbedire, Combattere (Believe, Obey, Fight), Mussolini’s branded fascist slogan, remains scrawled across the wall adjacent to the front door. Crude iconic imagery of wartime Italy reverberates against the walls suggesting the power of fascist ideology and the terror of war fused with the personal pain of the residents of Sezione Lombroso. The image on the upper left above the fuselage of the plane and below the slogan is a clear articulation of Mussolini himself.
The interior spaces cut a hole in my heart, while the inky black marks scrawled onto the classic ocher colored plaster walls chilled me to the bone. Even the Italian sun streaming into the portico could not warm me.
All photographs copyright: Jean Grow