From the heart of Italia

People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. Not Ivana Maglione. Her work as a freelance photographer means she’s firmly of the wall-breaking, bridge-building variety. Which, come to think of it, is probably what caught the eye of the folks behind Italian Festival Weeks 2010, the annual fiesta to help discover ‘the Italian in you’.

By Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 26 Nov 2010, 10:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:27 PM

The Italian expat’s works of the region — shot in Libya, Palestine, Iran and the UAE and titled ‘Medio Oriente’ (translated: Middle East) — are part of an exhibition at The Shelter, Maraya at Al Qasba that will show till November 29. A former cabin crewmember, her travels have seen her trot the globe to over 60 countries across six continents in the span of a few years. Throughout, however, she maintains that the people in this region have come across as “very welcoming” at all times. “They also seem to like Italian people a lot,” she grins. “As soon as I say I’m from Italy, they just seem to open up and smile a lot more!”

Ivana says she loves observing people — and how. In fact, sometimes she takes to the streets with nothing but ‘people-watching’ on her agenda. I can’t help it, she says. “I’m a people photographer. Every time I go out, I scout for people. I spot a face and I’ll just know I have to photograph that person because they’ve got so much story and character in their faces.”

She finds this especially true of people around the “Middle Eastern region,” but agrees a lot depends on being in the right place, at the right time. “It’s all about capturing the moment. People here have so much history and sometimes with a single snapshot, you can tell a great story.”

The approach Ivana takes to her work has often found her in the company of some very interesting people — such as the suited Libyan named Mohammed who could converse with her in perfect Italian, having studied in Italy himself.

Her work is not without its hang-ups, of course. Often, she’s had to respect sentiments of privacy and walk away without her shot. “Sometimes, the problem lies with being allowed to shoot,” she says. “I always ask permission, always approach the people and try to build a rapport with them. But I have had to walk away many times because people weren’t willing to have their picture taken.”

As an Italian who has fallen for the Middle East, however, Ivana has just one wish for visitors to her exhibition — that they “take a little piece of the Middle East back with them” and see it the way she does. And how is that? Well, the pictures say it all, don’t they?

The exhibition also highlights the works of Sharjah-based Italian painter Paolomaria, who is also a member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society. Aptly titled ‘Memoriale’, the artist has chosen to step out of familiar territory to use mixed media this time. The result? A series of powerful installations and paintings that is at once thought provoking and disquieting, a tribute to the many who have fallen, to victims of war and destruction and to those who’ve passed on.

“For some concepts the canvas is not enough,” states the artist. In many places, he observes, people are remembered through symbols: the setting up of statues, horses or heroic figures. Interestingly, Paolomaria chooses to use framed wooden boxes containing everyday knick-knacks instead: reading glasses, dried roses, candles, a broken light bulb and a comb… “I have visited many of these sites,” he says. “But I think when people disappear, it’s their objects or possessions that talk about them.”

And that’s when you start seeing it: the message between the lines, the telltale signs of loss in objects that are no longer ‘ordinary’. “My memorial is worthless in that it has no value,” Paolomaria says, of the works that took him almost a year to complete. “It’s a place without statues, horses or heroic figures, where it is possible to cultivate the memory by following different tracks, made of fragments, everyday objects and small things.”

But what of the coded numbers stamped across most works and looking seemingly out of place? “Those refer to the terrible bookkeeping of the victims. Many times those numbers are the only things we have, to remember. Many times the victims are just that, a number…” he says, ruefully.

The exhibition, says Paolomaria, is his way of trying to create a place where people will be moved to say: never again. “Never again [should we let this happen] — because it is only by remembering that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes.”

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