Bird in Flight Prize ‘20

Bird in Flight Prize ‘20 Finalist: Encounter

Project by Italian photographer Silvia Rosi shortlisted for Bird in Flight Prize ‘20.

Silvia Rosi, Italy

Silvia’s “Encounter” is a fictional representation of her family album, exploring tales of migration and diaspora through self-portraiture, performance and symbolism. Inspired by an image from her own family album, of her young mother as a market trader in Lomé Togo, Silvia retraced her parents’ journey of migration from Togo to Italy. This is a story that is both deeply personal and at the same time universal.

With her mother as source and muse, Silvia performs her family narrative recreating both visual and oral histories through the combination of photography, text, and video. She references the aesthetics of West African studio portraits through the use of backdrops and props. The act of head carrying, a skill traditionally passed on from mother to daughter, is central to the work, learned and performed by Silvia in an attempt to regain a tradition that has been lost through migration and her position as a European.

Self-portrait as my Mother in School Uniform (2019). She worked as a market seller from a really young age to support her mother. She would leave the house early in the morning with a tray of toothpicks carried on top of her head. She walked around the neighbourhood shouting loudly to attract customers' attention. After selling for about an hour she would go home, bathe, put on her uniform and walk to school with her sister.
Self-portrait as my Mother (2019). She arrived in Rome in 1989 to reunite with her lover and found a job straight away as a babysitter for a family. One day while she was cleaning their living room, she heard on the radio they were going to pass a law that would legalise every migrant on Italian soil. She was glad she listened to the radio that day.
Self-portrait as my Father (2019). He was an educated man from a good Togolaise family. He arrived in Italy with a few clothes, some books and the dream of finding a good job. A few weeks later he was picking up tomatoes in a field for a few cents a box.
Self-portrait as my Father on the Phone (2019). In Italy he could not find the opportunities he had dreamt of, so he decided he would leave. He picked up the phone and asked my mother to follow him to the Netherlands.
Self-portrait as my Mother on the Phone (2019). She said she couldn’t move, not again, not with a baby. She begged him to stay but he wouldn’t listen. When she got home that night he wasn’t there and his things were gone.
Still from video, angelique (2019). A woman walks around the garden on her way to the kitchen, holding a tray full of clothes. All of a sudden her phone starts ringing. She lifts the tray and places it on her head, she reaches to her pockets to grab her cellphone and she takes the call. She gesticulates and moves around, almost as if she forgot the tray, now an extension of her own body, is on her head.
Still frame video, mother and grandmother, sihin (2019). My mother and grandmother perform in the making of the fabric ring, used by head carriers in the market of Assigame to carry heavy loads.
Sihin (2019). In the video I perform the production of the fabric ring used by head carriers in the market of Assigame to carry heavy loads. The way I do it is as I learnt from village women on my residency at Thread, in Senegal.
Artist's voice narrating the scene: A woman walks on the road that leads to my grandmother’s house in Sanguera. She’s holding a bag around her harm and she’s wearing a simple dress. All of a sudden she stops walking. She takes off her bag, places it on top of her head and she carries on walking.

The project was originally commissioned through the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2020.