March 2020: the month of fire, hotter than the month of August. We were all tried by fire, and those who had not developed enough cold blood were the first to reach a boiling point. When the TV announced and confirmed the start of the pandemic – effectively triggering a sense of uncertainty and precariousness – people started attacking one another even for a roll of toilet paper. Paradoxically, the most calm and self-possessed people were those long accustomed to a life of uncertainty. For them, this was the inevitable outcome of the precarious and cracked society they had long come to know.
As for myself, I had personally experienced something similar – and much worse, indeed – once before, with the 1990s Balkan war. I was nine years old when the war started, and I know all too well what it means to become aware that tomorrow is something very uncertain; that there may not even be a tomorrow, so that your dreams and plans for the future don't go beyond today; or indeed, beyond this very moment. I can assure you, it's not a pleasant experience for a nine-year old. The pandemic has provided a small taste of this condition to anyone who has somehow suffered its consequences. In fact, I believe that by now the whole world knows what I am talking about.
My partner Lucrezia and I shared this experience together and in close proximity, and almost by accident we came to document it with a series of photos. I believe that many have dealt with this subject – thousands of photojournalists have been photographing hospitals and victims of the pandemic – but I wanted to highlight other aspects of this situation. Even at the time of the war that I experienced when I lived near Sarajevo with my family, I saw atrocious things being documented. Many took photos and filmed documentaries of the genocides that took place in the area. That war has long been over, but things in Bosnia have hardly improved. Indeed, they have not progressed at all. People no longer kill each other with guns, but there are still divisions, and terrible poverty. In those areas, people have long given up trying to dream of their future. There is no prospect for those remaining there, which is why at least one member of each family emigrates. This is no longer news, and nobody cares any longer.
But as I was saying, I wanted to focus on something different about this moment in history; something not so obvious at first glance, but of fundamental importance. Precisely because "the news" pass, and teach us nothing. You may have noticed that as soon as the Black Lives Matters issue emerged, everyone seemed to forget about the pandemic, and the very same people who had been begging citizens not to leave their homes in order not to worsen an already unsustainable situation, immediately began to join mass protests with hundreds of others. I believe that it is crucial to never stop learning and observing with some depth and critical thought what we are being served as the truth, to exercise one’s judgement and to avoid falling into line with a sentiment-driven society.
Exactly three days before the lockdown, we had the brilliant idea of opening an art gallery! We launched a gallery which was doomed to close just three days later. Yet I must say that a lot of people came to visit. And in that respect, we can even claim that for three days it was a "good start"! Shortly afterwards, the Government ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, and certainly a cultural venue was not considered one such. I was quite gutted, because opening the gallery was a long-contemplated and finally implemented decision, yet ironically we gathered up the courage to do it only a few days before the lockdown. Shall we talk of misplaced bravery?
A few weeks later, as my sense of humour recovered from the blow, I started joking about it, and treating the matter with a bit of self-irony. When someone mentioned our "bad luck" after hearing my story, I would reply that "the secret services had heard that we opened the gallery, and they wanted to stop the cultural revolution". I'm not sure if it came across as funny. In fact, I'm even afraid that someone may have actually taken me seriously. This wouldn't surprise me, with all the conspiracy theories circulating on the origin of the virus.
We were sort of getting used to the new routine, even though staying put at home all the time – in the city centre and without a garden or even the chance to breathe some fresh air – did cause a sense of anguish. Nobody knew how long the lockdown would last: one month, two months, a year? Such sudden crises in the community make it clear that most people are slaves to the thought of "I just want everything to be back as it was before". Slaves to the desire of reclaiming their everyday life, and the sense of safety provided by routine. In such a situation, the most difficult thing to achieve is maintaining one's capacity for critical thinking, and to not conform to the mentality and concerns of the mass. Accomplishing this, was somehow like triggering a revolution in the monotony of our four walls.
The photo "Resistance" portrays a true revolution in the female figure! We are not talking of the overused sexual revolution that did not do much for the woman in itself, but about a woman who is a worthy representative of the genre! My partner Lucrezia is a young poet of rare talent. Throughout these insanely precarious times she continued to write, and with sacred dedication she allowed herself to be swallowed by images in the form of verses. When I looked at her, sitting by the window with pen in hand, she reminded me of a feminine Che Guevara – the incognito general sitting at the table, writing a letter to his distant troops, spurring them on and promising to join them soon at the front! With this image before my eyes, I said “put on the mask” to her. In that moment, the first photo - “Resistance” - came to be.
All the rest originated as a consequence of this image. The photos of her in the bathroom were taken later, but I inserted them at the beginning to better introduce the "main dishes", to illustrate the shift from a daily life where the protagonist is a helpless victim of the conditions imposed by the pandemic, to a novel stage when she becomes an epitome of strength and endurance. Resistance here is not a form of violence, but the result of a true understanding of things. This dichotomy is represented by the pen and the mask of the poet in the photo. The two contrasting statuses coexist: even in times when the identity is constrained by a mask, the longing for the truth survives, and rises in the shape of poetry and writing.