White tinted glasses: on the ‘difficult’ heritage of Italian colonialism (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 31)

This is the thirty-first instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH


White tinted glasses: on the ‘difficult’ heritage of Italian colonialism

By Alessandra Ferrini



On May 25, 2020, the Museum of Civilizations in Rome announced the foundation of the Museo Italo-Africano “Ilaria Alpi” (Italo-African Museum), re-housing the collection of the former Colonial Museum. Established in Rome in 1923, it was used as a propaganda tool, even after the end of Fascism and the fall of the short-lived Empire (1936-41) occupying Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Libya and the Dodecanese Islands. After its closure in 1971, its collection has laid in storage for decades.

Due to Covid-19 emergency measures, the Italo-African Museum was announced in a (poorly advertised) virtual press conference that did not allow for audience interaction or a Q&A session. Beside a statement by the Italo-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, the absence of specialists in the fields of colonial history, postcolonial and decolonial studies, as well as experts from former colonies, was made all the more worrying by the proposed inclusion of – and punctual reference to—Ancient Roman history, a foundational element of colonial and Fascist propaganda. This concern increases when considering the museum’s placement within the EUR district, built to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the dictatorship.

Until now, information on the re-exhibition of the collection have only been available at informal, confidential levels, which has made it difficult to craft an appropriate response to the project. Even the conference provides little data: it outlines a series of wishes and ideas without putting forward clear plans or disclosing how activities will be funded and managed, despite the museum being set to open next year. Nor were the formation of a committee or ethical board including members of the communities still affected by the colonial trauma inherent in the collection formally announced. In addition, no explanation on the name Italo-African Museum was provided, even though its Eurocentric posture, alluding to ‘neutral’, reciprocal relations, warrants one. At this moment, it remains difficult to ascertain the reasons behind such rushed press conference, or to evaluate its vague propositions, nevertheless, the whole operation appears intrinsically flawed, reflecting a collective colour-blind attitude that has become particularly visible in light of recent events.

Taking place on May 25, 2020, the conference coincided with the brutal assassination of George Floyd, which propelled protests, actions and debates demanding justice for black lives and the end of systemic racism. In Italy, support to the Black Lives Matter movement was firstly directed to the US context, ignoring the struggles of Afroitalians, migrants and enslaved agricultural workers (mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa), until more recently, when the #saytheirnames campaign has begun shifting attention to the previously disregarded victims of racially motivated violence in the country. Simultaneously, in the wake of similar actions happening in the US and Europe, demands for the removal of a statue commemorating the journalist Indro Montanelli (who, throughout his life, publicly defended having taken a 12-year-old Eritrean concubine during the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-36), are growing. Yet, so far, discussions on so-called ‘difficult heritage’ have mostly regarded Fascist monuments dissociating them from the regime’s ruthless racist politics.

Italian society has indeed long refused to acknowledge the implications of, and responsibilities towards, the colonial past and its legacies. In order to maintain the ‘colour of the nation’ unchallenged, blackness has been systematically erased from collective history, marginalised and demonised—portrayed as destitute and foreign. Such context has given rise to white solidarity practices decoupled from scrutiny of white privilege and accountability, which, similarly to discourses and operations related to colonial and Fascist heritage, have failed to recognize their rootedness in structural racist violence – ultimately reproducing the oppressive dynamics they pretend to oppose, disempowering the communities they proclaim to care for.


Alessandra Ferrini is an artist, filmmaker and educator. Her research focuses on Italian foreign and racial politics, questioning the legacies of colonialism and Fascism with a specific interest in the past and present relations between Italy and the African continent. She is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at LCC, University of the Arts London, with a practice-based project titled “Gaddafi in Rome: Dissecting a Neocolonial Spectacle”.
June 17th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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