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Colonialism and its Images

15 November 2019
2:00 pm
San Francesco Complex - Classroom 1

The first joint research seminar between IMT School of Advanced Studies, Lucca and Sant’Anna School od Advanced Studies, Pisa includes the following presentations:

  • Art and Colonialism: the representation of African “otherness” in the Fascist Italy. Some food for thought - Giuliana Tomasella, Università di Padova

When did Fascism recognize the potential of art for propaganda in the construction of colonial imagery? What strategies were used to put figurative arts at the service of Mussolini's expansionist policy?

The seminar will seek to answer these questions through the analysis of some of the main colonial exhibitions organized in Italy and abroad during the 1930s. From the early Thirties onwards, the representation of Africa was made functional for a precise political purpose, as demonstrated by the important role played by the Office for Studies and Propaganda of the Ministry of Colonies in the organization of the exhibitions.

As colonists or workers of art, artists were called upon to make a specific commitment: to act as intermediaries - through images - to the rest of the population. Their illustration of Africa was carried out to promote overseas enterprises, to show the beauty of the landscape and to portray the people that had become their new colonial subjects.

The exhibitions in the Thirties reveal a significant increase in the number of artists and works, who would effectively qualify as exhibition machines, producing large quantities of art comparable to the most important national and international initiatives in the artistic field, such as the Quadriennale in Rome and the Venice Biennale. By examining the catalogues, press comments, and the films produced by the Istituto Luce, we see the transition to a propaganda strategy that had enhanced its communicative effectiveness. Artistic representation becomes an integral, organic part of this strategy.

Paradoxically, as the role of art grew within the exhibitions, permeating the overall structure, the importance of individual works lessened. In the end, these were reduced to pieces in a large mosaic, whose meaning arose only from the ensemble.

  • The colours of the novel. Alberto Della Valle illustrator for Emilio Salgari - Mario Coglitore, Università Ca’ Foscari

In the context of European literature, the novels written by the famous writer from Verona, Emilio Salgari, are the best representations of the spirit of an age during which imperialism had deployed its tragic effects throughout the world. Salgari’s vision is a counterpoint to the colonial conquest which had turned into a scientific exploitation of the “lands of others”.

Alberto Della Valle was one of the most famous illustrators of Salgari’s book covers. In his extraordinary illustrations we can find the very soul of Salgari’s writing. The East as it was imagined by the Western world shines through the elegant and sophisticated creations of the great illustrator from Neaples. The colonial iconography is certainly an integral part of Della Valle’s “vision”. He employs the camera in order to portray improvised actors, his relatives and friends, whom he places into fictional cinematographic sets. After being inspired by the pictures he then proceeds to create the single illustrations.

His works introduce us into the adventure told by every novel, even before we start reading the book. Della Valle’s powerful graphic description unlocks the doors of unknown realms which are full of fascination and mistery. If Salgari tells about amazing adventures and fascinating characters by means of his words, Della Valle brings them alive in our imagination thanks to his powerful representation by illustrations.

  • Images and Imagery: Intersection between Photography, Colonialism and Anthropology in Italy (1861-1911) - Agnese Ghezzi, Scuola IMT Lucca

    This presentation aims to analyse the entangled history of anthropology and colonialism through the analysis of photographic materials. Pictures are not considered as illustrative sources but as active objects that shaped both the anthropological discipline and the colonial propaganda.  The study considers the first phase of Italian colonialism, from the Unification in 1861 until 1911, right before the Libyan campaign. This colonial phase was characterised by a strong connection with exploration campaigns.  The anthropological and geographical communities, gathered around newly founded institutions such as the Società Geografica Italiana (Rome), the Società Italiana di Antropologia ed Etnologia (Florence), the Museo Preistorico-Etnografico (Rome) played a crucial role in supporting the organization of expeditions and fostering the Italian colonial culture. These institutes considered photography a reliable and objective recording tool to close the space between geographical peripheries and scientific centres of interpretation and soon began developing important visual collections and archives. The pictures accumulated in these archives were produced and exchanged within a mixed environment, characterized by the interaction of travellers, colonial settlers, navy officers, amateur photographers, studio professionals. Pictures were produced with different aims, spanning from commercial to documentary, from military to administrative, from artistic to scientific interests, and they all contributed to nurturing a shared geographical, anthropological, and colonial imagery. The presentation will analyse this imagery, looking on the one hand at the development of a diffused visual canon and on the other hand at the variety of photographic images, with the attempt to build a multi-layered and non-monolithic reading of colonial visual culture in the XIX century Italy.


    Giuliana Tomasella - Università di Padova
    Mario Coglitore - Università Ca' Foscari
    Agnese Ghezzi - Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca