Gabriella Ghermandi is an Ethiopian-born storyteller and vocalist based in Bologna (Italy), who writes in Italian, sings in Amharic, and articulates her works around the (removed) memory of the experience of Italian soldiers in Ethiopia. Gabriella and I visited the 2015 Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art. The exhibition, held every two years, is particularly interesting when seen through the lenses of Ghermandi’s work, for it started more than 120 years ago as a celebration of (Western) nation-states, and it still carries that heritage. However, for the 2015 edition, Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian art critic and curator, was selected as the main curator of the exhibition, making him the first African person to be appointed to this position. His promise to put together a “postcolonial Biennale” inspired our visit and, as a result, it produced this contribution in the form of a conversation. Our preliminary hypothesis was that Enwezor’s original ideas had to come terms with national interests and the cultural politics that lie behind such big events. Therefore, we decided to use the 2015 Venice Biennale as a space to discuss several issues: Ethiopian history and its connection with Italy; functions and values of traditional art and music; the business of world music; Ethiopian diaspora and Italian cultural identities; stereotypical representations of Africa; and the role and the image of women in contemporary Africa. What emerges is a reflection on the reasons, limits and motivations of singing and music-making, where the works of art symbolically represent the backdrop of an investigation into the practices and the life of a diasporic performer.
Gianpaolo Chiriacò con Gabriella Ghermandi 2018, “Today you have day off”: un’artista etiope-italiana e il mondo dell’arte postcoloniale”, in From the European South, n. 3/2018, pp. 99-114.