Biggest drama of our era and we're still talking about corrupted misogynist judges in North America and non-sens Brexit all day in our newspapers... 

This situation drives me crazy. 

I've been to some of the biggest refugee camps in the world, in Northern Kenya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Central African Republic, and... in the mess of Calais, in the Roya Valley, Ventimiglia, Palermo & Trapani where the Aquarius used to station, and in informal camps in here in Paris. As a reporter mostly, then as a communication specialist for NGOs / international organisations. Or as a simple citizen volunteering. I've been to protests, to group's discussions, I've signed petitions..

I've reported on it, interviewed people who know what to do, how to help... 

And we can still not find a proper policy to face this crisis though it has decreased. 

I'm beyond anger, beyond disappointment. 
Cannot one of the wealthiest government come with a start of a gesture?

Here is another crying call:

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE 'Aquarius'? 

Interview on board


Interview by the French daily Le Monde

L'Aquarius a peut-être mené sa dernière opération de sauvetage de migrants, en Méditerranée. Son pavillon panaméen lui est désormais retiré, et il ne peut pas prendre la mer sans. Notre journaliste Julia Pascual, actuellement à bord de l’Aquarius, en Méditerranée, a interrogé Nick Romaniuk, le responsable des opérations de sauvetage. Dimanche 23 septembre, l’Aquarius a répondu à l’appel de détresse lancé par une embarcation de migrants. Cinquante-huit personnes ont été secourues par le navire, qui est la dernière embarcation ad hoc à secourir ceux qui tentent de traverser la Méditerranée. Malte a accepté d’accueillir temporairement ces migrants - dont 18 enfants - avant qu’ils ne soient répartis entre quatre pays européens : le Portugal, l’Espagne, l’Allemagne et la France. Cette mission pourrait cependant être la dernière pour l’Aquarius. Le Panama a annoncé qu’il révoquait son pavillon, ce qui lui interdit de naviguer dans les eaux internationales.


'Bad Girls'

As women, it's sometimes a little though to work in this professional world of harsh, unemotional men, treating us like PAs or simple wardrobes.

Sisterhood helps on every level. Huge gratitude to my women on this journey. But also to men, friends, bosses and colleagues who only have respect for our equal interest and investment in our common work.

Surely, it does help to have inspiring women artists in the neighbourhood, yet...

As I've really loved and been deeply moved by M.I.A's documentary film, seen on its release date last Friday, she is the core soundtrack of the week.

M.I.A. - 'Bad Girls'

Thanks to all the "bad girls", being unapologetically who they are!

To all the Pandoras

Themes of the week: Freedom, magic, autonomy, breaking free and women's power. 

Thanks to all the friends who make my time England so much more valuable than anywhere else...

Musical theme: Tori Amos - 'Pandora's Aquarium' 
"I'm not asking you to believe me"...

Tori Amos - 'Pandora's Aquarium'


Pandora's aquarium
She dives for shells
With her nautical nuns
And thoughts you thought

You'd never tell 

I am not asking you to believe in me 
Boy I think you're confused
I'm not Persephone 

Foam can be dangerous with tape across my mouth these
Things you do I never asked you how 

Line me up in single file with all your
Grievances Stare but I can taste you're still alive below the waste ripples come and
Ripples go
And ripple back to me Pandora

Pandora's aquarium
She dives for shells
With her nautical nuns
And thoughts you thought
You'd never tell
Line me up in single file
With all you grievances
Stare but I can tast
You're still alive below the waste
Ripples come and ripples
Go and ripple back to me

I am not asking you to believe in m

Boy I think you're confused
I'm not Persephone
She's in New Yourk somewhere
Checking her accounts
The Lord of The Files was diagnosed... 

As Sound


"Art Post-Brexit": Let's meet in Belfast

I'll be there of course.
More soon!

Art Post-Brexit
An AICA-Ireland Discussion

AICA Ireland is hosting a discussion on Brexit and its implications for visual artists, curators, critics and publics. While media coverage has focussed on the economic and political uncertainty that the referendum has caused, the wider cultural and philosophical contexts have scarcely been addressed. Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of what is now the EU, is supposed to have said, ‘If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture’.

The practical implications for the post-Brexit cultural sector in Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe is potentially enormous. Artists and academics will be severely affected. While taking account of this, this discussion seeks to look beyond the pecuniary. What does being part of the EU mean to its citizens in cultural terms and in terms of their identity in the contemporary world? What does leaving the EU and becoming a citizen of a ‘great global trading nation’ mean? What role can pan Ireland organisations like AICA Ireland play in this new scenario? 

For some the EU is a deeply flawed organisation but it remains the most significant and imaginative template for a common European identity, for freedom of movement and peaceful co-existence of its citizens into the future. Brexit throws up significant questions about the resurgence of nationalism, about cultural integration, about missed opportunities for Ireland, North and South, but also potential for change and for new directions including alternative models of exchange. 

This discussion seeks to probe these questions from a range of historical and philosophical perspectives from writers and artists living in Ireland, the UK and the rest of the EU. 

Confirmed speakers:

Pat Cooke, School of Art History and Cultural Policy UCD. 
Riann Coulter, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge. 
Colin Darke, artist and writer, based in Belfast. 
Gavin Murphy, Centre for Creative Arts and Media, GMIT

The discussion is chaired by Róisín Kennedy, School of Art History and Cultural Policy UCD.  

All welcome.
Belfast City Hall 
Thursday 1 November 2018


Out Of The Comfort Zone

Hello people, back in England this autumn, I'm finishing with the band the last edits on my book on Massive Attack and the Bristol scene. With updates on the story and probably a few photographs this time.

We'll be able to announce the definite release date soon, it should be early 2019.
Thanks to you all for your patience...

 Out Of The Comfort Zone: 
From Bristol Came Massive Attack...
And a group of revolutionary artists

As little introduction, here is my column for Classic Album Sunday:

The Uniqueness Of Massive Attack – Melissa Chemam

Over the past four years, as a freelance journalist, I have been travelling between Bangui (Central African Republic), Paris, Istanbul, Calais, Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), the South of France and Ventimiglia in Italy, London and… Bristol. I have mostly been covering post-conflict issues and the refugee crisis for different European radio stations and magazines. So I went to Bristol to write about a brighter, engaging and inspirational story. To explore the culture of England’s West Country, retrace the history of my favourite music, a fascinating journey through an artistic and social explosion.

I decided to write about the band Massive Attack when I read they were travelling to Lebanon, in July 2014. They were about to perform at the Byblos International Festival and to visit Palestinian youth they help, in a refugee camp in Burj El Barajneh, in the southern suburbs of Beirut. I contacted a friend who is a writer and music journalist to convince him I could write a book about them…

I had always loved their music and I know all of their albums by heart. Their engagement suddenly seemed very authentic to me; it completely stands out in the current music business. I started to think of a way to reach out to them, especially to 3D, also known as Robert Del Naja, the heart and soul behind Massive Attack’s writing process and social involvement. After months of preparation and once he agreed to meet me, I packed my bag for Bristol in February 2015.

I immediately liked the journey from London (where I had lived for two years) to the West country, the murals in Stokes Croft, the contrast between Saint Pauls and Clifton, the way art and music are present all around the city. I first stayed in Saint Pauls, walking everywhere, writing at the Watershed’s welcoming café and helloing Banksy’s famous ‘Mild Mild West’ and naked ‘Well Hung Lover’. 

After meeting with 3D, I contacted a snowballing list of Bristolians: some of 3D’s co-workers including sound-engineer and co-writer Neil Davidge, talented instrumentalists, rappers and vocalists like Mike Crawford, Sean Cook, Andy ‘Spaceland’ Jenks, Krissy Kriss, Mark Stewart and, six months later, Adrian Utley, Portishead’s guitarist. 

I also spent a lot of time in venues and art galleries, in Bristol – spending a day with Inkie or listening to Roni Size at the Hamilton House. In London too, in Paris – where I interviewed Tricky and met Nick Walker, then in Dublin and further, to see Massive Attack on stage. All these meetings and events helped me recreating the key moments that made possible The Wild Bunch then Massive Attack and the scene that followed.

My book therefore retells the story of a rare group of unconventional and politically aware musicians and artists. The story starts with Massive Attack’s first album, the remarkable and inimitable Blue Lines, then goes back to their first influences. The Beatles, reggae, punk, soul music, hip-hop, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the graffiti stars of the film Wild Style. These include their very own hometown’s history, from the slave trade to recent riots… Then the book evolves until Massive Attack’s homecoming show in September 2016 and their coming projects.

Massive Attack and Portishead in Bristol in Feb. 2005

It digs into the making of their groundbreaking albums, especially Mezzanine, which turns 20 year-old this year, described by many critics as the best thing that ever came from Bristol… It follows Massive Attack’s evolution as extraordinary performers, whose shows rival with the best acts in the world, and 3D’s artistic transformations, collaborating with Banksy, United Visual Artists and Adam Curtis. This very rich and fascinating path took them around the world, from Japan to America, Mexico and Turkey, Lebanon and the Congo…

Writing about them and about Bristol’s music and art scene, led me to write this parallel history of British culture, with underground origin, always pushing boundary and keeping an aware and open gaze on our fast-changing world.

Out Of The Comfort Zone: From Bristol Came Massive Attack... 
by Melissa Chemam 
will be available in early 2019.


Sortie livre - Grey Anderson : "La guerre civile en France, 1958-1962"

Grande secousse intellectuelle dans le paysage historique français... Venant bien sûr de l'extérieur, en l'occurence d'un étudiant américain, en post-doc à Sciences Po récemment:

Grey Anderson

La guerre civile 
en France, 1958-1962

Du coup d’État gaulliste à la fin de l’OAS 

Mai 1958, c’est le début d’une séquence insurrectionnelle où le sort de la France s’est joué à Alger, c’est la fin de la IVeRépublique et le retour au pouvoir de de Gaulle savamment orchestré par le cercle des fidèles, c’est l’arrivée aux commandes d’une nouvelle équipe qui va construire et faire accepter une Constitution encore en vigueur après un demi-siècle. Bref, mai 1958, c’est un moment fondamental au sens fort du terme.

D’où vient donc que, s’agissant de commémoration, ce moment est éclipsé par rapport à mai 1968, toujours célébré, toujours commenté y compris par ses adversaires ?

Les chapitres de ce livre donnent la réponse : 

si mai 1968 est un moment joyeux et solaire, les quatre années de guerre civile qui s’écoulent entre la prise du gouvernement général à Alger le 13 mai 1958 et la fin de l’OAS au printemps 1962 n’ont rien que l’on aime se rappeler : une haine et une violence extrêmes, l’usage généralisé de la torture, les exactions policières contre les Algériens révoltés et ceux qui les soutiennent, le mensonge officiel qui présente le retrait d’Algérie comme une victoire et le complot initial comme le triomphe de la démocratie…

Écrit par un universitaire américain, ce livre dévoile les mécanismes du refoulement de cette réalité douloureuse qui a façonné durablement l’État français et ses institutions.

Sortie : 12 septembre 2018
368 pages — 15 euros
ISBN : 9782358721677 

Grey Anderson est un historien et essayiste américain. Titulaire d’un doctorat en histoire de l’université de Yale, ses recherches portent sur l’histoire politique et militaire de l’Europe contemporaine. Il écrit régulièrement sur la vie politique française pour la presse américaine.


Massive Attack's 'Mezzanine' reissued for its 20th anniversary

News from the Vinyl Factory:

The Vinyl Factory

Massive Attack releasing 20th anniversary edition of Mezzanine on 3xLP

In a heat sensitive box, with a previously unheard Mad Professor remix from the 1998 sessions 
Massive Attack are releasing a remastered limited edition version of their 1998 album Mezzanine on triple coloured vinyl, this December via Virgin EMI.
The triple coloured vinyl package comes housed in a heat sensitive box, with a book containing images by photographer Nick Knight and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja.
Mezzanine features remastered versions of the original album, along with 8 additional tracks, including a previously unheard Mad Professor remix from the 1998 sessions.

Earlier this year, the band also encoded Mezzanine into DNA to mark the album’s 20th anniversary.
In 2015, VF released 3D and the Art of Massive Attack – a 300-page visual history of the band, compiled and designed by Robert del Naja aka 3D.
Pre-order a copy here ahead of its December release.

Side A
A1. Angel (2018 Remaster)
A2. Risingson (2018 Remaster)
A3. Teardrop (2018 Remaster)
Side B
B1. Inertia Creeps (2018 Remaster)
B2. Exchange (2018 Remaster)
B3. Dissolved Girl (2018 Remaster)
Side C
C1. Man Next Door (2018 Remaster)
C2. Black Milk (2018 Remaster)
C3. Mezzanine (2018 Remaster)
Side D
D1. Group Four (2018 Remaster)
D2. (Exchange) (2018 Remaster)
Side E
E1. Metal Banshee (Mad Professor Mix One)
E2. Angel (Angel Dust)
E3. Teardrop (Mazaruni Dub One)
E4. Inertia Creeps (Floating On Dubwise)
Side F
F1. Risingson (Setting Sun Dub Two)
F2. Exchange (Mountain Steppers Dub)
F3. Wire (Leaping Dub)
F4. Group Four (Security Forces Dub)



From Belfast to Belfast, Journey of a Journalist...

Hello people, friends and especially British followers.
Just a note to inform who needs to know that I'll head to Belfast again early November, for the first time since my eye-opening visit in November 2016. 

I'll be reporting for the German radio, Deutsche Welle, as usual, and a few others. Because, weirdly, since I had to leave RFI, French media never had any space for any of my proposals, I need to say. France Culture even told me - after I worked for weeks to prepare a documentary p
roject in 4 episodes for them, encouraged by them - that "Brexit does not interest the French audience". 
RFI also said I could not work for them freelance because they have correspondent everywhere, all the time. 

Hard to believe though... 

I've been incredibly busy though, with other commitments, since I left RFI. I was replaced by a journalist in a permanent contract. But I have not been able to work for any French media. How interesting. 
This is an issue I'll need to properly address publicly one day... Because there is a lot to say about recruitment in journalism in France. 

In the meantime, I'll just share one of my articles from Belfast. Enjoy. 


My article on Belfast's street art scene:

Public Art Review

DECEMBER 14, 2016

Belfast: Walls Beyond Wars

Street artists in Northern Ireland turn away from the old angers

A mural by DMC. Photo courtesy DMC http://www.manchini.co.uk

by Melissa Chemam

BELFAST – Belfast’s walls have long been occupied by painted murals, mainly bearing political images and messages of protest. Catholics and protestants, feminists and conservative groups, anti-abortion and pro-choice movements used to fight with spray cans to own their territory.
But now, not quite 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement – which, in 1998, finally brought peace after decades of conflict – Belfast artists want to move away from the region’s tormented political legacy.
DMC, aka Dermot McConaghy, is a case in point. His portraits of sad blue ladies have helped to change the mood of Belfast’s walls. Missed Calls evoke human loneliness in the age of cell phones. He joins EMIC, Stephen Fagan (Faigy), Johnny McKerr (JMK), Kev Largey (KVLR), and Marian Noone (Friz) in this vibrant new street-art scene, which has developed over the past decade throughout Northern Ireland, and which the Ulster Museum recognized with a show in 2011.
“The country really changed a lot in the past ten years, socially and artistically,” says DMC, who, like Faigy, lives and works in Lurgan, south of Belfast. “Now a new, friendly net of connections makes things more interesting. And what makes the region special nowadays are its people, their sense of humor, an anger that has become an energy, and not its history anymore. That’s why I’m staying, anyway.”

International visitors
Belfast now has an annual event in October, Hit The North, during which artists from all over the world come to contribute: the famous Bristol-based street artists Inkie, Cheba and Andy Council have shown up quite a few times, along with Londoner Dan Kitchener, Irishman Joe Caslin, and Irish-born, now London-based Conor Harrington.
Some of the works that resulted allude to Belfast’s new spirit. Council’s Belfast Phoenix, which points to the city’s transcendence of its violent past, has become one of the city’s treasures; On Talbot Street, The Son of Protagoras, by French artist MTO, displays a dove of peace hit by two arrows, cradled in the hands of a young boy.
The man who has made the biggest contribution to the explosive growth of this artistic movement is probably Adam Turkington, who, with his Seedhead Arts group, negotiates access to walls and invites artists from Dublin, Rio de Janeiro, and all points in between to come to Belfast. Seedhead’s “Culture Night,” on the third Friday in September, attracts more than 90,000 people each year. And since January 2016, Turkington has been running a street art tour that takes visitors from Hill to North Street via Talbot Street and Saint Anne’s Cathedral.

Apolitical? Not exactly
Do the new directions in Belfast street art add up to a turn away from politics itself? Turkington doesn’t think so. “Artists refuse the narrative of the Orange and Green in this country,” he says, referring to the colors representing the two major political forces – Unionism and Irish Republicanism – and the two long-dominant parties, DUP and Sinn Fein. “By rejecting politics as it used to be here, they make a political statement.”
And political statements can take other forms in Belfast too. Joe Caslin did a very pro-LGBT artwork near the Black Box, a café and art venue on Hill Street. In early November, Robert Martin’s R-Space Gallery, in Lisburn, showed prints by Obey, the American master of subtly subversive street art also known as Shepard Fairey. Gary Rowe, aka Real1, an artist from Tottenham in London who also lived in Italy and Namibia before settling in Northern Ireland, redecorated the gallery’s exterior walls with a magnificent piece on Donald Trump, just a week before Election Day in the US – a hard-hitting set of images that became a source of inspiration for artists on the eastern side of the Atlantic as well.

Remembering Rachid Taha

Rachid Tara would have been 60 years old next week.
As I always say, musicians never die. They just leave this form...
Taha was a key and unique voice in France from the 1980s.

I was lucky to interview him in 2009,when he took part in Damon Albarn's Africa Express. And as usual, he kept it real...

En français:

Reportage sur la journée de concerts d'Africa Express à Paris, été 2009



Extract from the Africa Express show:

Africa express - Damon Albarn et Rachid Taha - 'Rock The Casbah'

Africa Express sur le parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville à Paris le 05/08/2009


May you rest in peace, Rachid.


Manifesta 12 in Palermo: Cultivate Your Garden - Circa Art Magazine

My piece for Circa Magazine on the 12th edition of Manifesta Biennial, in Palermo this year:

Orto Botanico, 2017. Photo by CAVE Studio, courtesy of Manifesta 12 Palermo.

Manifesta 12 in Palermo: 

Cultivate Your Garden

Manifesta is in Palermo for 2018: One city, 50 artists, twelve venues, palazzi, churches… A discussion between the urban environment, mostly temporary artworks… and the Mediterranean Sea. The Biennial opened on June 15 and will run until early November. Melissa Chemam was there in late July.


For a city facing the sea, capital of an island made up of multiple layers of history, marked by an incredible diversity of cultural influences, Palermo has excelled at keeping her secrets hidden and fostering surprises for those who persevere in finding out more. It is not an easy tourist destination, but it knows how to reward those who make the effort. Capital of the Province of Sicily, an island off the extreme south of Italy, Palermo thrives on its contradictions. It has been widely known in the second half of the twentieth century for its mafia – Casa Nostra – with its crimes or myths popularised by internationally-broadcast, polarising American cinema, and for its southern poverty. Yet, discreetly, in the past two decades, Palermo has also managed to fight back against the mafia leaders and to reinvent itself through solidarity, diversity and resilience.
All these elements make Palermo a surprising, almost odd choice for a European contemporary art biennial. But after Limburg in the Netherland in 2012, Saint Petersburg in 2014 and Zurich in 2016, this is the city the organisation of the itinerant art fair Manifesta picked as a radical and transformative choice. And a challenging, brilliant choice it is.
The Biennial was launched in the early 1990s. According to its founders, “Manifesta purposely strives to keep its distance from what are often seen as the dominant centres of artistic production, instead seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography.” Through innovations in curatorial practices, exhibition models and education, “Each Manifesta biennial aims to investigate and reflect on emerging developments in contemporary art, set within a European context,” adds the team. Taking place between late spring and early autumn, this year’s Manifesta coincides with the hottest season on the largest island of the Mediterranean Sea.
A “Planetary Garden” to “Cultivate Coexistence”
Full of forgotten ‘palazzi’, sumptuous palaces built from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, in a typically southern architectural style, with large rooms, high windows, balconies and courtyards, Palermo also displays singular forms of Norman, Arab, Spanish and Baroque architecture. It is both a port city and a place filled with gardens, just two of the amazing assets the Manifesta’s organisers and invited artists eagerly seized on. Another source of inspiration the artists engaged with fruitfully is an immaterial and costless one: the everyday life, in 2018, of the people living on an island stuck between Europe and Africa, between the west and the east.
The Manifesta’s selection board explained that the City of Palermo was important for representing “two important themes that identify contemporary Europe: migration and climate changes and how these issues impact our cities”.
With wit and an interest in understanding the location, most of the artists invited to produce art for the Biennial wanted to grab Palermo’s challenges and deep historical lessons by the horns.
In order to capture the essence of a place that seeks to reconcile nature and culture, mankind and its surrounding environment, the Biennial is centred on Palermo’s unique Botanical Garden. The garden is composed of a series of greenhouses, two main buildings at the entrance and various tree-filled or floral areas, including a pond with water lilies. And once in, you can but think of Voltaire’s well-known observation “that we must cultivate our own garden”. Situated a few streets away from the seafront, near the palazzi also chosen to display the art, the Orto Botanico has been invested by six artists, playing with the grass, ground, trees and plants at centre stage. The garden acts as a place to receive these creations and stand-in for the Palermitan population, literally nourished by centuries of Arab, European and African cultures.
Malin Franzén lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her specially commissioned Palermo Herbalfeatures natural prints using pressed plants, inspired by the botanical research of Sicilian botanist Paolo Boccone (1633–1704). They are on display in the garden’s buildings. With Palermo Herbal, Malin Franzén declared that she wanted to combines “Boccone’s nature printing method with modern systems of scientific imaging to depict plants capable of growing alongside toxic substances, such as the reeds or other plants found on the estuary of the Oreto River and in the abandoned park at Acqua dei Corsari in Palermo.” The results are elegant white panels featuring natural figurations in dark grey, exhibited in large scale on the walls of the main building.
In the central rooms, and in a similar way, Italian artist Leone Contini, presents Foreign Farmers, an installation that is “the result of ten years of collecting seeds and stories” in the shape of “an experimental garden where migrating varieties cohabit and are acclimatised”. It gathers a collection of fruits and vegetables imported to Sicily by immigrants from their homeland: legumes, gourds and pumpkins for instance. Here the theme of migration appears for the first time in the Biennial and will soon be followed by the artworks of other artists exploring not only the trajectories of vegetal species, but also those of the different peoples who have evolved along the Mediterranean Sea over hundreds of years.
Other artworks in the Orto Botanico include pieces from American artist Michael Wang, The Drowned World; a mesmerising video by Chinese artist Bo Zheng Pteridophilia (2016); a mixed media work Lituation by Lungiswa Gqunta, from South Africa, featuring glass bottles spread on the ground of a greenhouse; an installation by Palestinian artist Khalil Rabha titled Relocation, Among Other Things, gathering objects from daily life, including a watch, a radio set, and suitcases, reorganised in what the artist calls an ‘“experience of the trivial”; and, in the central Maria Carolina greenhouse, the drawings of Colombian artist Alberto Baraya.
Baraya’s drawings are among the most enchanting pieces of the biennial. Conceived as a “herbarium of artificial plants”, the set recreates “a symbolic collection of flora from Sicily and Palermo” with herbs gathered during the artist’s explorations of the island. Baraya has been particularly inspired by the votive shrines placed everywhere in the streets of Palermo and its surroundings, and wanted the greenhouse to look like a “symbolic place where cultures and flowers meet”. His drawings of herbs and flowers are for him a remembrance of these religious traditions. Placed, framed and vertically, all over the main greenhouse, they indeed look like orthodox icons on the walls of a cathedral.
“Culture For Change”
At the Manifesta headquarters, in the Teatro Garibaldi, the visitor is introduced to the Biennial and its projects. Most of them were thought as tri-dimensional creations and many travel back in time, and occupy the space. For instance, the ceramic tiles of the floorwork created by Renato Leotta, named Giardino, exhibited in the large entrance room of the Palazzo Bureta, offer a surface recording the traces of the fall of lemons from citrus trees onto the ground, thus using nature as a metaphor for human trajectories.
In the next room, the trio known as Fallen Fruit, an artistic collaboration between David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, delivered an installation in the form of a fruity wallpaper, covering the entire surface of the four walls, and baptised Theatre of the Sun. Enchantingly coloured with bright pinks, purples, yellows and greens, the wallpaper intends to represent the territorial expansion of fruits through their own growth but also via their trade. It is especially suited to a Palermitan palazzo as the city once made its wealth from its natural harvests, before the industrial revolution made the north of Italy the epicentre of the country’s expansion.
London based Swiss Uriel Orlow was commissioned to create a series of video installations baptised Wishing Trees fo which he filmed three Sicilian trees: one cypress planted by St. Benedict, the son of African slaves in Sicily, in the outskirts of Palermo; a giant Ficus Macrophylla in the city centre next to the former residence of judge Giovanni Falcone, assassinated by the Mafia in 1992; and an olive tree, under the shade of which the WWII armistice was signed in September 1943. According to the artist, they hold memories of significant events and people, and relate the public to Sicily’s history, its local conflict and anti-mafia activism.
In the Palazzo Forcella De Seta, planting seeds figuratively through videos and speeches, Kader Attia, born in Paris suburbs of Algerian parents, set out to capture the essence of a difficult postcolonial debate, a real taboo in France.
With the film The Body’s Legacies – The Post-Colonial Body, Attia centres his work on post-colonial issues, using the body as his central interrogation. alongside the film, Attia is also exhibiting Untitled, a sculpture made of a piece of wood traversed by a fissure held together with clips, in a metaphorical representation of human fragility. The film is composed of three interviews with French activists denouncing police brutality against Afro-European youth, in urban environments. The narration focuses on a specific event, the horrendous attack by the police on young Théo Luhaka, in a Paris suburb in February 2017. Attia wants to interrogate the way the bodies of descendants of slaves and colonised populations are treated in French society. His interviewees explain how police brutality specifically targets the second generation of immigrants. They have in common to come from former colonies, where, for decades, the French rulers used their forces to discriminate against the local population. The film exposes one of France’s most sensitive taboo, the perpetuation of a racist view of society, not way back during the colonial empire, but in today’s so-called democratic and equalitarian France.
The question of migration is obviously at the forefront of the Manifesta artists’ preoccupation in the current context. Since the last elections in Italy, the new government has declared a clampdown on newcomers. Viewed from Palermo, a place created and regenerated by wave upon wave of arrivals, century after century, such statements seem oddly incongruous.
Closer to Palermo’s city centre, near the crossroad named Quattro Canti, Via Maqueda, the Palazzo Costantino displays the work of two artists: Italian Matilde Cassani and Nigerian multimedia artist Jelili Atiku, as well as a series of videos.
Atiku creates drawings, installation sculptures, photography, videos and live art performances. For Manifesta, he performed Festino Della Terra, a processional performance ornamented with plants and sculptural objects, which was inspired by traditional Palermitan processions for Santa Rosalia and by Yoruba legends in Southern Nigeria. The footage of the event was projected on multiple screens set up around the procession’s main carriage in the Palazzo Costantino.
The processors were inspired by the ancient archetype of the “Green Man”, from Yoruba and West African traditional stories, myths and beliefs about earth. Surrounded by trees, there is a figure supposed to represent Osain, the divine Orisha of plants. Atiku’s performance and installation use this reference to divinity and spirituality as an invocation for our modern days, almost in a shamanic gesture re-imported through his art. Thought of as a form of modern ritual or a parade, ephemeral in nature it introduces a reflection on the representation of performances in the arts. His colourful and daring Festival of the Earth stands out in the biennial, both by its form and in its content: it brings a strong African feel to the palazzo, including sounds, movements, and brightness, exploding with liveliness and joy.
Other stunning artworks, among the many displayed at Manifesta, include the deeply insightful films by Melanie Bonajo, in the Palazzo Bureta, Fake ParadiseEconomy of Love and Night Soil, centred on a reflection about the place of Native Americans in the United States of America today.
Palermo: A place of constant change, and an example for other European cities
Taking over palazzi, churches and gardens, enabling artists to deliver some form of political statements as provocative as they wish, Manifesta 12 wanted to offer platforms to display an art that helps to position Europe in its contemporaneity and its relations with the rest of the world. Palermo itself comes out as the real gem of the event. The city has also been designated the Italian Capital of Culture for 2018, and it is a delight to wander its street as many venues, often left empty, are now displaying exhibitions. The city’s museums seem more interested than ever before in contemporary art and in the dialogue between art and social change, such as SISAL ART PLACE in Palazzo Drago and the Museo Riso, where can be seen an exhibition devoted to Gino De Dominicis.
Manifesta has also inspired the Fondazione Orestiadi in Gibellina, a small town in Western Sicily, founded in the 1970s after the original city was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in January 1968. The new Gibellina has since been filled with land art and the old Gibellina completely covered in the 1980s/1990s by a giant piece created by Alberto Burri, Il Grande Cretto. At weekends, the city’s cultural team organises a special tour taking art lovers to Gibellina, to the Cretto and to the Foundation. A captivating way to dig a little deeper into the island’s history.
Migratory, the European art biennial has never been as much so. For Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, hosting Manifesta 12 in the city in 2018 is “a moment for Europe to appreciate the significance of its Mediterranean dimension and identity.” He was one of the people who convinced Manifesta to give Palermo a chance. Now, a unique venue like the Palazzo Butera, enhanced by the event, is set to finally reopen fully next year.
Manifesta wanted to be an occasion to bring the Mediterranean closer to Europe, to remind the other Europeans of the context that linked them to the rest of the world, through North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. The choice of Palermo comes as relevant as the current European governments tend to privilege values of trade, productivity and economic growth over human connections, solidarity, shared values and the remembrance of a common history, made up of terrible wars and a fragile peace. A situation which surely weights on the mind of an increasing number of artists, in Europe and beyond, as art becomes one of the rare dimension where these issues can be addressed directly and freely.

Written by Melissa Chemam
Melissa Chemam is a freelance journalist and writer, based between Paris and Bristol, regularly travelling to Italy. Her book on Bristol’s music and art scene, Out of the Comfort Zone, will be out in the UK in January 2019.