Silvia Rosi: Encounter

17.12.2020 | Blog | BY:

Exploring the artist Silvia Rosi’s interpretation of the family album in her project Encounter, created for the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2020 in London.

Looking through a family album feels like going back in time. Nostalgia is mixed with false memories and the feeling of being old.  Do we actually remember those distant memories or are they distorted and transformed into fixed moments, contained within each image?

In Silvia Rosi’s series Encounter, created for the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2020, Rosi plays with the aesthetics of vernacular photography to explore her family history.  Though performative self-portraits, she reimagines images of her mother and father, in an attempt to bring those past memories to life.

2016, Studio Portrait

Rosi explores two characters in this work: her mother and her father. But these versions of her parents exist in photo albums, created before she was born.  Her ‘practice involves looking at [her] family album and imagining different situations that happened in the past, recreating them and adding more elements that are absent in the original photos.’ In Self Portrait as my Mother, Rosi is wearing a pink and green dress, holding a radio on her head. In Self Portrait as my Father, she is sitting on a box, covered in pink fabric, surrounded by sculptural looking piles of tomatoes, balancing three books on her head.

In Self Portrait as my Father on the Phone, she is wearing the same familiar suit, holding a phone receiver to her ear, the base balancing on her head. In every image we see the same studio backdrop, reminiscent of West African studio portraiture.  The props, clothes and pose changes from image to image but we always see the cable release in her hand and she always holds our gaze. This locates these images within the studio, reminding us that they are staged but more than that, they remind us that Rosi is in control of these images – that this is her reimagining of her family history. 

2016, Studio Portrait self portrait of myself as my mother

These photographs explore personal and family identity. Through the use of objects and text that accompanies each image, Rosi tells the story of her parent’s migration from Togo to Italy.  This is, in Rosi’s words, “a process of identification with my mother and father who went through a journey that built my Afro-European identity.”

Each object connects to the text in the image, hinting at the story Rosi is recreating and confirming her carefully crafted narrative. The text accompanying Self Portrait of my Father reads: ‘He was an educated man from a good Togolaise family. He arrived in Italy with a few clothes, some books and the dream of finding a good job. A few weeks later he was picking up tomatoes in a field for a few cents a box.’

This is a common story of migration and one which many people have experienced. Rosi’s work becomes not only a personal story of her own family history but a representation of this shared experience of migration – the disconnect from what is imagined to the reality. 

Although Rosi’s work could be considered performative, she sees it more as mimicry.

2016, Studio Portrait

“I’m not interested in any practice or convention in particular. My work is very instinctive and personal. I’m interested in storytelling, myths and legends. I like to hear stories, repeat them and make them my own.” Through this act of storytelling, Rosi has created myths based on her own family history. But isn’t that the case with all family albums, aren’t they always slightly fabricated, a perfectly performed selection of images to represent an ideal family life? In this case, we don’t know what is truth and what is performance. But Rosi has made her own version of the family album, which is one that has shaped her own story and Afro-European identity. 

The Jerwood/Photoworks Awards support photographers, or artists using photography, to make new work and significantly develop their practice. The Awards particularly seek to encourage artists and photographers exploring new approaches to photography, and/or whose practice is experimental.

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