On the 16th of June 1992 the upper part of a human ear is found by a priest on a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia, while a young boy, Farouk Kassam, is spending his fifth month in a hidden cave. He is held captive by a group of masked strangers. He is only seven years old and about my same age. Like most kids, I am also terrified of being taken away from her home.
Eleven years later, Luisa Manfredi was shot dead on the balcony of her flat. She was 14 years old and the daughter of Matteo Boe, Farouk’s kidnapper. No-one was ever charged or convicted for her murder, which remains a mystery until this day.
How to tell a story bound by uncertainty? How to talk about histories that are just partially ended and shrouded in silence?
Cherchi is one of the few artists to deal with this dark chapter of Sardinian history by exploring the parts of the story that appear reliable. After several years of field research, interaction with local communities, digging of media archives and her family’s photo albums, she presents a kaleidoscopic story mixing photos, video stills and a log of her research, where memories, sociological and anthropological observations wittily mingle.
The outcome of is a multilayered examination that states the importance of Cherchi as a witness of a community bound by the ever-present law of omerta.
O Lord, open our lips
The depersonalising perception of the figure of the priest is a common phenomenon carried out by both religious and non-religious people. It is the result of two widespread non-declared schools of thought which support the idea that priests are exempt from two features which are crucial in outlining an individual’s personality: interests and mistakes.
On the one hand, non-religious people are unlikely to imagine priests outside the context of the church or any other religious environment, almost struggling with the idea of a clergy person developing personal interests and passions. On the other hand, worshippers tend to discharge pastors from the common human fault, as though strengthening their faith by picturing the priest as a saint.
Being a priest is not only a vocation but also a job, one which requires a most powerful uniform: cassocks, white collars, mitres… are like potential labels, giving us the pretentious privilege of a straightforward knowledge of the individual who wears it. But how accurate is this knowledge? How much is there that we do not want to understand? How much easier is it for us to see the stereotype, compared to the effort we would need to make to understand the real essence of these people?
The two terms ‘woman’ and ‘priest’ are easily definable but difficult to understand in depth as both contain various codes, too complex to be decrypted. Two of these codes are femininity and spirituality, and they are the ones I have decided to explore in order to outline these women’s individuality. The purpose of the project is to stimulate a debate about who these women really are. What are they allowed to do? What not? Are they mothers? Wives? Lovers?
We open our lips to breath, to eat, to drink, to kiss. We should always open our lips to speak out, and we should always be listened. By building deep relationships with my subjects I aim to reveal details of their lives, details which operate as hints of their womanhood and priesthood, of their interests and their mistakes.
I used to
I often find myself thinking obsessively about the past. About heavenly childhood times and the fleeting adolescence. I am interested in the objectivity of time and how memories are inevitably altered by our feelings. This project is about the pleasant fright that moves me when a sudden scent travels through my senses, bringing back a repressed memory.
I imagined myself back in the places of my childhood, in Sardinia. Gradually I started assembling them to vernacular pictures of my family and images of my diary. As a result the memories are just partially true: they merge with the imaginary and with fragments of some beloved people’s stories. In this way they originate a deep but not true emotion: as a matter of fact someone else’s perception arises in addition to our own. I wanted this to happen in such an intimate way that it is not possible to tell apart my own memories from my parents’ and friends’ one.
While the work is about my self-knowledge and my relationship with memory, it is also a means to evoke the transience of time as duration. The images want to recall an important state of life by blending the conscious with the unconscious and altering the rules in favour of the instinct.