AtWork Venice “Where is South?” – On the waves of Poseidon

AtWork Venice "Where is South?" participants with Simon Njami

The new AtWork Venice chapter, “Where is South?”, dedicated to young refugees and implemented in partnership with UNHCR, has come to an end. The notebooks produced by the participants are now on display at Palazzo Querini, together with the illustrious works of “Rothko in Lampedusa”.
The workshop took place at the Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation’s Palazzo Giustinian, where 18 refugees and their Italian peers discussed their idea of “South”. The theme of the workshop was the starting point of a deeply emotional and cognitive journey, and one of critical thinking and debate.
As workshop participant Liryc Dela Cruz writes in his introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue: “The impetus for this project is the search for the South. A riddle we encountered upon our arrival in Venice. Are we sailors? We arrived in Venice floating in its incessant water, lost in its canals, the powerful waves of Poseidon (Simon Njami) tossing us back and forth. Day after day, we heard stories of loss, dreams, escape, yearning and displacement. Stories that many of us are mortified to tell or remember. Our journey in search of the South has led us to become naked and reconnect with ourselves again. Poseidon sculpted us to confront our truths, fears, shames, maladies, memories and layers of impositions that have been preventing us to free our mind and soul. The process was never easy. We have been shaken and destroyed. We have become sailors navigating in an ocean of knowledge and nothingness in search of meaning, under the violent rain of confusion, alienation and disconnection. In the end, we have found the shore (…).”

Hina John during AtWork Venice workshop

Landing on the shore and building AtWork in Venice was not an easy task. It required sensitivity, delicacy, commitment, and at times an iron fist. Above all, determination on everyone’s part, first and foremost operators and social workers. Simon Njami has been able to gain the concrete trust of the participants through tireless listening, warmth and toughness, all at the same time. He spurred them on; provoked, accompanied, ridiculed and gratified. Moment after moment, day after day. An alchemic process, personal and collective, which not only transformed the participants but all of us, as always happens when real empathy is ignited.
Francesca Paiella, social worker at Il Volo Cooperative, and project manager of Atelier Trame Libere, says: “The path was beautiful and troubled, and has gone through many phases-as it should-including the initial refusal and then the total falling in love! I believe that Hina (John, participant) has explored a part of herself that was previously unknown, and for this has returned home with a very precious treasure. This is really priceless and rarely happens during the welcoming process for asylum seekers.”

AtWork Venice exhibition at Palazzo Querini

The AtWork Venice exhibition “Where is South?” will be open to the public until November 24, 2019, and is co-curated by the participants themselves, in the same context as the exhibition “Rothko in Lampedusa”, curated by Francesca Giubilei and Luca Berta for UNHCR, the initiative’s partner.

In addition to the Venice participants’ notebooks, there are also five notebooks from previous AtWork editions, including one by Mohamed Keita, the artist already part of “Rothko in Lampedusa”, which he created during AtWork in Modena in 2016.

We thank all the individuals and sponsors, including System Professional Italia and Tree, who made this project possible.

The workshop was made in collaboration with Nation25, Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation, UNESCO’s Italian Youth Association, Freel, Save the Children, Civico Zero (Milan and Turin), Trame Libere, Talking Hands, Il Volo Social Cooperative, SPRAR Itri.
Some of the participants will take this experience to enrich the second workshop phase, “B&W – Black & White, the migrating trend”, in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (MACRO) from 1 to 13 October, 2019.