The metaphorical sculpture of desiccated red clay symbolizes the crumbling and parched meandering Omo riverbed, deprived of its annual flood cycle by controversial Dam developments. Click installation image to enlarge.
MUSEO DELLE CULTURE (MUDEC) PRESENTS
IF ONLY THE RIVER REMAINS TO SPEAK — AN ART INSTALLATION BY STUDIO AZZURRO
WITH PHOTOGRAPHER JANE BALDWIN, IN SUPPORT OF SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL
If Only the River Remains to Speak at Future Geographies
Museo delle Culture (MUDEC)
Via Tortona 56, CAP 20144 Milan, Italy
October 1 – December 31, 2018
Open Everyday, See Website for Hours
We are our stories—stories that can be both a cage and an opportunity for freedom. Liberation, in fact, is always partly a process of storytelling, as breaking silence means carrying a legacy. Listening to the voices of the peoples of the Omo riverbanks will therefore lead the audience into a journey of discovery where they will be able to, by listening to their words and looking at their visages, absorb the reality of their fears and hopes.
— Leonardo Sangiorgi from Studio Azzurro
MILAN, ITALY — July 14, 2018 — The Museo delle Culture (MUDEC) Milan, Italy debuts a new media art installation entitled If Only the River Remains to Speak as part of the exhibition Future Geographies, opening to the public Oct. 1, 2018. The project combines the artwork of American photographer and educator Jane Baldwin (Kara Women Speak) with the creativity of the renowned Milanese art research group Studio Azzurro, founded in Milan in 1982.
The immersive art experience deepens empathy for tribal peoples’ lives, lands and cultures caught in man-made environmental and humanitarian crises between the Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley and Kenya’s Lake Turkana watershed. The project aims also to raise awareness about the vital work of Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples. In June 2018, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee officially inscribed Lake Turkana as a World Heritage "in danger" site.
The art installation, If Only the River Remains to Speak, tells a present-day story of a river and the people that it sustains—narrated mainly in the voices of the women. As visitors enter the darkened space, they are welcomed by the ambient sounds of flowing water mingling with the voices of women of the Omo River watershed, which changes in relation to where they are standing. At the center of the space, a metaphorical sculpture of red clay symbolizes the Omo River’s meandering course. Each participant follows the symbolic river and selects one of the many clay fragments from the sculpture—the red, desiccated surface of the river indicates the crumbling and parched riverbed, deprived of its annual flood by a controversial development project on which Italy plays a key role. The visitor approaches the external screen-walls with the clay fragment in hand to drop it into one of the protruding receptacles, triggering the start of a people’s image and story. Their photographs and stories gradually emerge in the shared space of the exhibition, interlacing and overlapping before diving back in the gurgling voice of the river, which eventually remains alone to speak.
“I use my art to focus our attention on the crises facing the indigenous peoples living in the Omo River Valley and Lake Turkana watershed,” states American photographer and educator Jane Baldwin. “After 10 years of travel (2005-2014) listening and documenting the stories of these women, it is my hope that this immersive installation and our collaboration will inspire empathy, evoke our humanity and raise awareness—becoming a catalyst for change.”
If Only the River Remains to Speak is a "sensitive environment" for the Omo Valley tribes, where each face-to-face encounter uses technology to simulate human interactions with the women—keepers of oral traditions through storytelling and song. The poetic multimedia journey honors the women of this region, the birthplace of humankind, and reveals the deep bonds between humans and their habitat, between other peoples and us. The installation inspires us to reflect on the value of safeguarding biological and cultural diversity for the future of humanity at a time when the global drive for limited resources continues unabated. As a Kara matriarch eloquently expressed to Baldwin,
“People of our village and other villages, we don’t want to lose this river, to lose our land, our forests. This is our original place. What would you think if someone came to your home area and said, ‘You go, I want to take your home and land for my own project?’ Would you like that if someone came and just moved you from your home, from your land? Would you like that? That is what is waiting us.”
Over the past ten years, the Omo River watershed’s ecosystem and the people it sustains have been threatened by complex environmental and humanitarian crises, generated by the construction effects of a massive up-river hydroelectric power project made in Italy and international land grabs for huge agro-industrial plantations to grow cotton and sugarcane––all for export.
“The tribes of Ethiopia’s Omo valley, like tribal peoples all around the world, are threatened by racism, land theft, forced development and genocidal violence” comments Francesca Casella, from Survival International. “We hope that the stories told in If Only the River Remains to Speak inspire exhibition visitors to join the fight against one of the most urgent and horrific humanitarian crises of our time. Survival International has been fighting against the annihilation of tribal peoples since 1969. We need support to make sure they have a future – for tribes, for nature, for all humanity.”
ABOUT FUTURE GEOGRAPHIES
Museo delle Culture, Milan, Italy, (MUDEC) presents Future Geographies, an exhibition that gives voice to contemporary explorers and is dedicated to the social, artistic and cultural exploration that has characterized the more recent post-colonial history. For more information please view translated press release.
Museo delle Culture, Milan, Italy, (MUDEC) is a center dedicated to the interdisciplinary research on the world cultures. Taking inspirations from the civic ethnographic collections and in partnership with our communities, MUDEC is a place where to dialogue on contemporary themes by the medium of visual, performing and sound art, design and costume. For more information or to acquire press credentials please visit http://www.mudec.it
PLEASE WATCH | EXHIBITION TEASER VIDEO
(Updated Exhibition Dates — October 1 - December 31, 2018)