contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / October 2018

Nella clandestinità (Living clandestine)
Agnese Purgatorio

Courtesy Podbielski Contemporary Milano

Digital collage
Ink-jet on Canson Infinity Baryta, di-bond, framed
Edition 5 + 2AP
90 cm x 120 cm


The digital collage “Nella clandestinità” (Living clandestine) from 2013 by Agnese Purgatorio shows people standing on a map of Italy. This map seems to be a raft carrying the group, since it is surrounded by the foggy sea. Even the feet vanish in the mist and merge with the map. The people are concentrated on the main part of the Italian “boot”: from Apulia in the south – at the right of the image – to the Lombardy in the north – left hand from the pictures centre. At the western edge of the country on the region of Piedmont – in the centre of the left side – is an artist, a pregnant woman dressed in black, alone. She is the only element, which is lightly coloured. The people, map and sea are in black, white and grey shades. Besides the map, the other components are taken from photos. This intensifies the maps character as raft.

As the title suggest, the group of people is living somehow clandestine. In this case, they are immigrants, who have no permission of residence. Nevertheless, they are not the African or Western Asian refugees of today, but from Albania (1). This is a hint to Agnese’s origin at Puglia’s coastline, only 220 km away from Albania. Due to the economic collapse after the fall of communism, thousands of Albanese immigrants arrived here in the early 1990s. Her hometown Bari got in 1991 into the medial focus, because of the arrival of the cargo ship Vlora with between 10.000 and 20.000 refugees on board.

Standing in the fog, which underlines their concealed arrival, the migrants at the photo seem to be waiting for something. Some are looking directly into the camera; the view of others is directed to something vague out of the image area, perhaps into the past or into the future. For the instant, they remain in an uncertain present. Their status is unsettled, they are clandestine. In contrast, the pregnant woman looks purposive to the left image border. She is pacing into her viewing direction. Therefore, she seems to embody the future, underlined by her pregnancy and her coloured complexion. She could be seen as a person, who would lead the undecided group somewhere.

However, the pregnant woman is the Italian film director Alina Marazzi. She stands as a prefiguration of the artist. Agnese worked for years on the subject of the artists as clandestine. Artists have an undefined social role. (2) The artistic limits are varying between the personal objective and the different expectations of society. In a former version of “Nella clandestinità” Joseph Beuys embodied the artist. Inserted at the same position as Alina Marazzi, he is really standing, but is pointing at the image edge. This seems to be more visionary.

There are several preceding versions of “Nella clandestinità” and it is possible, that there will be successors, since the ultimate image is not existing. (3) By changing and adding elements, Agnese is slightly varying the connotation. In a version from 2008, there was an inflatable boat at the left horizon and the “leading” woman was not pregnant. Moreover, the map of Italy was missing.

In introducing the map of her home country, Agnese focus on it. It might be a reminder, that Italy is the aim for migrants since decades, as the hint to the Albanian refugees illustrates. With this way of reading, Alina Marazzi might stand for the hope to go further to another country. Nevertheless, it could also refer to the Italian migration to the rest of the world, especially to the west, where the pregnant woman is heading geographically. France could be meant, where Italians settled for centuries in the hope of a better life. In particularly, they came from the Piedmont, Liguria – the coastline south of the Piedmont, Sicily and Calabria. If so, it is perhaps the reason why these areas are unpeopled at the map. Alternatively, it might even point to overseas, where are huge communities of Italians and their descendants. In addition, the migration inside Italy could be as well subject. Since the industrialisation until today, many people from the south are moving to the north to find work and better living conditions. This might be exemplified by their occupation of the quasi-entire map in the image. As shown, there are hints to Agnese’s origin and work as artist in the collage. Today she is living abroad. In consequence, it even could be read as self-referential.

In 2015, the presented version of “Nella clandestinità” was for the first time on view in the solo exhibition “Learning by Heart” at Podbielski Contemporary, Berlin, Germany and at the MIA FAIR, Milan, Italy. Three years later, in January/February 2018, it was part of the group exhibition “New Perspective” in the Triennale di Milano. Currently, the image is part of the group exhibition “Moving Worlds II” at the Milan gallery of Podbielski Contemporary until 13th November. From the 5th November 2018 “Nella clandestinità” will be exhibited in the Galleria Nazionale (GNAM) in Rome, Italy. Furthermore, the digital collage is part of the Collezione della Farnesina of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Agnese Purgatorio

Born 1964 in Bari (Italy), Agnese Purgatorio started to study, but abandoned the university to travel Europe and Brazil instead. After a period in the Kibbutz Hahotrim, Israel, she returned to Brazil. In São Paulo, she frequented courses for engraving and photography and drawing at the Lasar Segall Museum. After her return to Bari, she started to intensify her relation to photography with Lisetta Carmi and Carlo Garzia, and participated at several workshops with renown photographers like Gabriele Basilico, Toni Catany, Martin Parr, Claude Nori, Mimmo Jodice, Cuchi White and Robert Frank.

Besides her work with the gallery Spazio Immagine, Agnese returned to university and she graduated in Foreign Languages and Literatures. This gave her in 1990 the possibility to go to Lisbon with the European Socrates/Erasmus program. Here she frequented courses in literature, art history and image history at the Universidade Clássica de Lisboa. Besides, she cooperated with the Cinemateca Portuguesa. Also in 1990, her first solo exhibition “Fata Morgana” was presented in the Fortino Sant’Antonio in Bari. Moreover, her works were shown at the Rotte Mediterranee, Biennale d’Arte Mediterranea Giovani in Tipasa, Algeria.

This was the departure for her fruitful artistic career. With her photography/digital collages, videos, installations and performances, Agnese participated in many group and had solo exhibitions in Italy and other European countries, but also Russia, the United States, Australia and South America. Her works were shown at Venice and Moscow Biennale, at Triennale di Milano and Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art – Yerevan, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, at the Manifesta 8 in Murcia, Spain and at the Rencontres Internationales d’Arles, France, where she was honoured with the European Panorama Kodak Award.

One of her recurring subjects is living clandestine. This might be regarding refugees, like in our artwork of the month / October 2018, but also concerning other social groups, like artists, exiled or prisoners. For her ability to represent forms of the human condition, Agnese was honoured with the Anima Award in October 2017.

Often, there are several versions of one image, reworked during years. With the transformations, she reinterprets her own oeuvre continuously. Frequently, these long-term projects are presented with her video installations. This and her general approach causes that the borders between the traditional artistic disciplines are blurring, with the result of poetic visual vocabulary.

Agnese writes in her biography that she lives and works in between Belgrade, Serbia and Beirut, Lebanon.