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Alessandra Ferini's Mead PhD Rome Residency Report

photographic collage on the wall
photographic collage on the wall
Fig 2. Alessandra Ferrini - Mead PhD Rome 2018
Written by
Post-Grad Community
Published date
23 September 2018

The Mead Awards have been generously supported by Scott Mead and The Mead Family Foundation since 2013. The UAL Mead Rome Residency extends the Mead Awards programme to PhD students, providing them with a 4-week residency in a studio at the British School at Rome (BSR).

In the summer of 2018, Alessandra Ferrinis, PhD student at Chelsea College of Art was 1 of 3 to be selected for the residency.  

Here Alessandri reports back on her experience.

To date, my work has explored the often-overlooked legacy of the Italian colonial past. Having moved from Italy to Britain as a teenager, my work is produced through the negotiations inherent to my position of both insider and outsider within the Italian context. The British School at Rome was thus an ideal location to advance my research.

My practice-based PhD project revolves around the production of a medium-length essay film, Gaddafi in Rome: A Screenplay that attempts to dissect a political event that caused a media frenzy in Italy: the meeting between Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi in Rome in 2009. Celebrating the Italy-Libya Treaty of Friendship and the signing of the Bilateral Agreements on migration and fuel trade, the event brought to the fore the controversial relations between Italy and Libya. Most interestingly, the meeting put a spotlight on Italy’s colonial occupation of Libya (1911-1943) as Gaddafi arrived in Rome with a picture pinned to his chest, a portrayal of Omar al-Mukhtar, the Libyan anticolonial leader, taken days before he was executed by Mussolini's army in the 1931.

While at the BSR, I was able to expand my research on al-Mukhtar through the exploration of contested and controversial archival materials preserved at RomaTre University’s Audiovisual Lab. I met several times with historian Alessandro Volterra, the Lab’s director, and together, we shot a short video exploring the images of al-Mukhtar’s capture and execution that are held there (Fig.1).

This piece has allowed me to explore Italy’s contentious relation to its colonial past and to reflect on questions of visibility and invisibility. This notion led to a breakthrough in my research and, subsequently, to a re-shaping of my PhD project.

black and white photograph
Fig 1. Alessandra Ferrini - Mead PhD Rome 2018

While in Rome I was also able to progress with the production of Gaddafi in Rome: A Screenplay by retracing the steps of the Gaddafi-Berlusconi meeting, through the filmic and photographic investigation of the locations where it unfolded. Being based at the BSR enabled me to visit them
multiple times and test various approaches to their documentation (Fig.2 & 4)

Moreover, during my residency I used the impressive studio space to host several studio visits with local curators as well as to focus on the development of the first practical output of the PhD – a performative lecture by the title Gaddafi in Rome: the Expanded Script - which attempts to test and perform the script for the film Gaddafi in Rome: A Screenplay (Fig.3). Lastly, I also took the opportunity to create a small stage to film an interview with the Italo-Somali actress Kadigia Bove for an off-shoot project investigating, more broadly, Italy’s anticolonial sentiments in post-fascist Italy (Fig.5). The natural, filtered lighting in the studio was ideal for shooting video without the need for artificial lighting.

Spending time in Rome, within a scholarly framework dedicated both to historical and artistic research, was an utter necessity for my work and allowed me to fully engage with the object of my study, in its context, and make headway in my PhD as a whole. Pivotal to this, were the expertise of the BSR’s staff who were able to connect me with like-minded researchers and curators in Rome, in order to discuss the event and my work. This was also extremely beneficial for the future developments of my practice, as it allowed me to build a valuable network.

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