Art What is the Insubric Line?

What is the Insubric Line?

Anna Frattini

Last week, we had the opportunity to see The Insubric Line at Kunst Meran Merano Arte, the only space dedicated to contemporary art in the small town of Merano, a renowned spa destination in the heart of South Tyrol. The exhibition, curated by Lucrezia Cippitelli and Simone Frangi, brings together Afro-descendant artists with the intention of exploring the speculative image of the so-called Insubric Line—a 700-kilometer line that crosses the city of Merano. This line was formed millions of years ago when the African tectonic plate moved northward, colliding with the European plate and causing the disappearance of the Tethys Ocean. The exhibition is part of a broader program that will last until 2027, titled The Invention of Europe. A Tricontinental Narrative, which aims to offer a critical reflection on the monolithic idea of Europe, starting from Merano, where political and economic clashes have left a tangible mark on the history of the place.

The Insubric Line at Kunst Meran Merano Arte

Looking at the graphics accompanying the exhibition, designed by Montasser Drissi, the African identity of this collective is immediately noticeable, yet it doesn’t detract from the theme of the three-year program. Lucrezia Cippitelli, welcoming us during the final stages of the setup at Kunst Meran Merano Arte, clarifies the intent of this exhibition: to illustrate how the narrative of European identity and purity is “deconstructed starting from a geological reality: the orographic image of the line, currently visible as a scar, materializes the complexity of history, which began, in the case of the encounter between Africa and Europe, 65 million years ago,” as stated in the meticulously detailed exhibition brochure.

The exhibition

The artists on display are nine: Vashis Soobah, Alessandra Ferrini, the collective The School of Mutants, Binta Diaw, Francis Offman, Abdessamad El Montassir, Kapwani Kiwaga, and Liliana Angulo Cortés. There are two site-specific projects conceived specifically for the exhibition and dedicated to a curious theme: the daily consumption of food and beverages. Binta Diaw questions the colonial relationship that Italy established with Africa during the time of fascism, using Carcadè, a widely consumed beverage used as a substitute for tea. The artist uses it here as a dye on a particularly precious white yarn, considered a luxury item especially in Senegal. This fabric was used for special occasions such as weddings and ceremonial garments, and the most interesting aspect remains its origin: the Austrian factory Getzner Textil. The extraction of materials and economic dependence imposed by Europe are therefore the focus of Diaw’s site-specific works, which fill the air with the unmistakable smell of Carcadè.

Francis Offman also starts with a beverage: coffee, revisiting a very thorny issue, especially for us Italians. In Offman’s works, there are imperialist routes, the exploitation of resources, and all the relational maps linked to this beverage, the broken thread of the Untitled series, which return to the public the artist’s personal memories related to Rwanda.

On the other hand, there are the works of Alessandra Ferrini and Abdessamad El Montassir, who implement a different but no less interesting type of operation: that of critically rethinking history. The former with Sight Unseen—a very long research work on the case of Omar Al-Mukhtar, leader of the Libyan resistance against the Italian occupation—does anyone remember this episode?—a very painful chapter of Italian colonialism. El Montassir, with his installation work Trab’ssahl, instead tells the story of Western Sahara, which for a long time existed in the European imagination as a place to occupy.

Who is José Celestino Mutis

Liliana Angulo Cortés and Kapwani Kiwanga also emphasize the importance of archival materials. Their intention is to challenge the dominant codes of subjugation through the narrative of the role of botanical elements. Un caso de reparación remains one of the works that struck us the most. It is a true investigation into the expedition of José Celestino Mutis in the so-called New Granada (Colombia) between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a story full of discoveries that reveals issues not only linked to Latin America but also concerning the purchase and exploitation of Afro-descendant people reduced to slavery, serving the Mutis family.

The skill of the curators of La Linea Insubrica lies precisely in their selection of works by artists who tackle the theme of the invention of Europe by involving as many voices as possible, revealing an aspect particularly difficult to digest for those who consider themselves European. All this takes place in an extraordinary context like that of Kunst Meran Merano Arte, an almost familial setting that invites mature reflection without too many frills.

ph. courtesy Ivo Corrà ©

Written by Anna Frattini
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