Current Feature: Letizia Battaglia
MUSEE MAGAZINE: Why do you believe that your community would benefit from learning about photography? What do you think the medium has to offer humanity?
Letizia Battaglia: I was saved by photography. I was a young, intelligent, desperate woman. My encounter with photography allowed me to express my thoughts, my rebellion, my social and political commitment. People both young and old who visit the center will experience beauty, based, very simply, on commitment and knowledge. I already know that the people of Palermo are anxiously waiting for the International Center of Photography to get started. Many people are already working on programming, communications, and the search for talent. It will be so damned complicated and laden with beauty, they are almost terrified. Truthfully, my enthusiasm frightens me to no small degree. But I am courageous, and I will overcome my limitations. Photography as documentation, but also as artistic creation, is culture, and culture is fundamental to the growth of a community. A culture that is free from outside influences, that is revolutionary, is as important as bread that nourishes the body.
MUSEE: Can you describe the current state of photographic culture in Palermo? Do you perceive that your museum will have immediate interest and clientele, or is this something that you hope to develop in the community yourself?
LB: Throughout the world there have been, and there are, wonderful photographers who come from Palermo, from Sicily. First among all these is Enzo Sellerio. Then Thomas Roma in New York, a photographer and university professor and winner of two Guggenheim grants. Then there’s Ferdinando Scianna from Magnum in Milan, and Santi Caleca, the most elegant and highly regarded Italian photographer of interiors and design, as well as Franco Zecchin in Marseille, and Shobha, my daughter, in India. And I too, even while remaining in Palermo, have received great recognition for my work, specifically in the United States: the Eugene Smith Award, the Mother Jones Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Cornell Capa Infinity Award. There are so many well-known and talented photographers and so many others who need to be appreciated and nurtured.
MUSEE: An article describes that your museum opening has been delayed due to “bureaucratic” issues. What in particular have been the challenges in opening a museum in Palmero?
LB: The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, who for years has been battling to free Palermo from a disease that has afflicted the city for centuries, immediately accepted my proposal to establish a center for photography. I was given a building in the La Zisa cultural district, a pavilion of industrial archeology dating to the early years of the twentieth century-- pavilion 18 to be precise. An amazing architect, Lolanda Lima, designed a very modern restoration, and she did it gratis. All this happened five years ago. And it took five years to move forward with the work, which sometimes came to a halt, sometimes slowly advanced. I don’t know why. You never know why. Things are like that in Palermo. But finally we got it done. There are still some small bureaucratic things to attend to, and the Center will open at the end of October.
MUSEE: Will your center focus on international photography or photography shot in and of Palmero, or both?
LB: I won’t have much money, I still don’t know if I will have sponsors and I dream about it at night because I still don’t know how to accomplish all this. The city will give me a small amount and, with this, I will try to program everything. Even if I live in Palermo, far away from the great cities of the world, I think our culture and our history has international, not just regional, significance. And so I am interested in important photographers from all over the world, but also those who are trying, with difficulty, to grow. The first show, which will inaugurate the opening of the Center, is curated by Giovanna Calvenzi, a Milanese curator and historian of photography. There will be 34 photographers who are engaged with issues of emigration, a very current issue in Europe. The show will have the wonderful title: Io Sono Persona (I am a person). Calvenzi is working so hard on this and she is doing it gratis, out of love for Palermo and for me. Melissa Harris, a curator, historian, and teacher from New York, has worked on a group show called Women Photograph Women. The exhibition will include eight photographers, including important American female photographers, as well as one Mexican photographer. Melissa is also doing this out of love. The expenses will be limited to the frames, insurance, shipping, and publicity. The photographers have also not asked for any money. I am truly moved by such generosity, and I hope that some day I will be able to have enough money to pay a fee to everyone who works for the Center, which is how it rightfully should be.
MUSEE: What effect, if any, do you think your documentation of the mafia’s brutality had at the time?
LB: I don’t think my photos have helped to upset and destroy the Mafia. It is still there, even if hidden, because the Mafia clearly is not involved with the mayor of Palermo. It is waiting for the right moment. Meanwhile, a serious and very threatening judge, Nino Di Matteo, working in solitude, has moved ahead with his case against negotiations that took place between a representative of the Italian state and the Mafia itself. Many Sicilians love this judge and are fighting against corruption. Here in Sicily, everyone has do to his or her part. Maybe, together, we can get it done.
To read the full article from our Issue Humanity, visit here