Scorched Lands

EMMA ROPER-EVANS  |  29 MAY 2020  |  OXFORD MIGRATION CONFERENCE 2020

Every summer, for the past three years, I have attended an art residency in Atina, Lazio, central Italy, about halfway between Rome and Naples. Here artists, poets, and musicians explore the area and produce work inspired by the landscape and community. During my time there, two artists, Jude Cowan Montague and Maria Teresa Gavazzi, looked at the history of those from this region who had left for the UK seeking livelihoods during a very bleak period following WWI. Many of them had walked a good deal of the way, with no money or goods except their physical labour or musical skills to sell. At the time, I was talking to the local community and writing pieces about this history. I discovered Casa di Tom, housed in workers’ living accommodation, built by a huge paper factory that had been the main employer for the whole valley until the 1970s. Until recently, it was used to house refugees and teach them Italian. There are such facilities all over the country, as people from Asia and Africa have increasingly come to Italy over the last two decades. As I had previously conducted workshops with children and women in London, using performance and artistic expression as tools, I decided to do something similar in Casa di Tom. Thanks to the centre’s collaboration, I was able to run a workshop for residents entitled ‘Journeys,’ in which participants were encouraged to share their stories using pictures, words, and maps. The combination of this workshop, along with fellow artists’ previous explorations of 20th century Italian migration, inspired this video project, which seeks to explore the themes of migration in this century and the Italian colonial past. I saw circularity in the young Atinans leaving for London, and the young people in the centre coming to Atina, a century later, both seeking livelihoods and safety. 

 

All the people I talked to had been through Libya. Libya had been an Italian colony, and experienced brutal repression following local uprisings post-WWI, including the use of mustard gas to bomb cities. Today, brutalised by false US and UK claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction, invaded then left to its own devices, there is widespread violence. Many of the people I spoke to referred to this violence. 

 

In this project, I tried to capture these stories, while respecting the importance of anonymity and consent. Many participants wished to share their stories, however, they did not want to be named. Several agreed to be filmed, but only if they were not identifiable and/or their names not used. Since this was made, Casa di Tom has closed and many of the migrants have moved on. This film is a testament to them and their journeys, as well as a reflection on those who left Italy to seek refuge in my own country, the UK. 

Emma Roper-Evans

Winner of the Glimmer Train Open Fiction Award and the Füst Milán Prize for literary translation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She collaborated in  ‘Locus Criminis’.

Her work has been shown: The Fall of Rebel Angels, Castello 1610/A, Venice (56th Venice Biennale 2015),POP up FUCK off, Broadway Studios, London, UK, 2015, and Chinese Open - Year of the Sheep, Q Park, London, UK, 2015.

She took part in #51% Remember Her, a show organised by Rebecca Feiner in London, March 2017, and curated the literary side of Feiner’s 2018 #100RememberHer. She was also the Associate Literary Co-ordinator of Baltica!, held at the Biscuit Factory, London, January 2020. 

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