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The culture of the South relaunched in Otranto
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“You don’t know the South”

The culture of the South relaunched in Otranto
Bodini’s most famous line has been chosen as the title of a project to relaunch the South through its culture, an essential way of discrediting stereotypes and distortions.

After Bari, it will be Otranto’s turn to host Scianna’s precious photography exhibition
by Oscar Iarussi
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Assoro, 1998. Photo by Ferdinando Scianna

Tu non conosci il Sud” (You don’t know the South) is a short poetic explosion by the Apulian poet Vittorio Bodini (1914-1970). It illuminates the pathway of a cultural initiative which aims to stimulate encounters, stir thoughts and unleash emotions. This is necessary in the South, so often misrepresented as a gallery of grotesque caricatures or criminals, and while such figures do exist, they do in Italy as a whole. Stereotyped images from second-rate TV drama demean and damage the complexity and potential of entire regions. Politicians in primis have for some time appeared either indifferent to the South or occasionally attempt to turn it into a brand, as if the land – have you actually touched this land? – could ever be a matter of marketing rather than of choices, spirit and courage. “Tu non conosci il Sud”. Precisely, because here there is neither Gomorrah around every corner nor do we dance the pizzica all year round. “Tu non conosci il Sud” because it is not “a paradise inhabited by devils”, the myth – and the alibi – that best satisfies and reassures the public, even in the South itself.

Ferdinando Scianna’s “The South and Women” photography exhibition is part of this cultural initiative, founded in Bari a few months ago, and which has thus far proved itself a generous “messenger”. Following on from the foyer of the Petruzzelli theatre in Bari and the Casa Cava in Matera, named European Capital of Culture for 2019, it is now the turn of the Aragonese Castle of Otranto to accommodate the magnificent images of one of the most highly respected Italian photographers, a much loved and unconventional master. The female faces on display are not icons, but exercises in the reality of his rapturous beauty.

Moreover, the formula of “Tu non conosci il Sud” gathers diverse disciplines and languages ​​in order to fraternize towards a common purpose: to contribute to the honour and symbolic concreteness of the South. For Scianna as a young Sicilian photojournalist his meeting with Leonardo Sciascia was decisive, the writer revealed, thanks to his Le parrocchie di Regalpetra (Bari, 1956), which appeared in the innovative “Libri del tempo”, published by Vito Laterza. The same series also includes Contadini del Sud by Rocco Scotellaro, poet and modern intellectual, perhaps “younger” today than in 1953 when, misunderstood, he passed away at the age of only thirty (Scotellaro has been chosen as one of the tutelary deities of Matera 2019).

Sciascia and Bodini exchanged letters, ideas and dreamt of a Mediterranean collection of ancient and modern texts. Distant voices that, if you listen hard enough, still echo in the fortress at Otranto. Its original structure dates back almost a thousand years, and restoration will soon be complete that could revive it as a cultural centre. The ancient imago urbis of this town with its Cathedral of Martyrs and the sea therefore has one eye on the future, a town placed “between holy water and salt water”, to quote the apt definition of the Kingdom of Naples, coined by Ernesto de Martino.

Tu non conosci il Sud, le case di calce / da cui uscivamo al sole come numeri / dalla faccia d’un dado” (You do not know the South, the houses of lime / from which we went out under the sun like numbers / on the faces of a dice). Verses that sound like a dizzy gamble. There is a sign of the now well-known condition of being a “number”, for example as an insecure or anonymous worker. Therefore let’s start from the South – and in the South you can. The essence of Otranto bears witness to this: a frontier for the dawn, the tenacious east, the Mediterranean without rhetoric. It is simply destined for beginnings.

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