Valeria Cherchi (b. 1986 in Sassari, Italy) is a research-based artist working with images and words, freelance photographer and lecturer. Her work over the past years has been themed around the meaning of the ‘unspoken’, with a particular interest in using images and words to shed light on little known stories about lack of social justice.
Valeria, your series are always liminal, between personal and public, between memory and history. What are your favourite topics to work on?
My research focuses mainly on the theme of the “unsaid”, specifically in telling stories in which the absence of social justice is perceived by taking a universal approach. So normally I link personal experiences to something that struck me, I don’t focus only on subjective stories, but more on telling something that is relevant from a universal and contemporary point of view. Understanding the memories and the past in hope of understanding the story and by doing this being able to interpret the present.
When I look at your work, I always have the impression of looking into someone’s drawer. On a visual level, your images seem to question reality and the viewer, they proceed by attempts and powerful suggestions. Can you explain to us a little bit of your work process during shooting and editing?
The working process during the shooting and editing phase varies from project to project, however, on a visual level, I am certainly interested in spark an interest in the widest possible audience and then lead the viewer to deepen the theme and go beyond the image. In my opinion, the less caption the image has, the more this result is obtained. For this reason, I try to visually create suggestions by stimulating a curious approach. Actually, I think that’s kind of my general approach to life, not just to art and photography. Questioning about reality by questioning what is happening in the image.
In “O Lord, open our lips”, you explore a very important theme, the relationship between priesthood and femininity. Tell us about this project: what prompted you to talk about it and what did you discover?
I discovered the world of female priesthood while living in London as I had noticed there something completely different from the world of Catholicism in Italy, in fact in the Anglican church priesthood is also granted to women. Initially women could only be deacons, then priests and later on also bishops. The theme obviously interested me a lot having bring raised in a Catholic environment, this project also comes from memories of my childhood. I wanted to understand how this type of priesthood worked and the connections between priesthood and women, how relationships were lived, motherhood (in the Anglican church women can marry and have children). This project is quite a peculiar project for me, I approached it in a more journalistic way than the others, it lasted a year and a half and during this time I built relationships with four priestesses in the Anglican church trying to explore their lives and identities.
“Some of you killed Luisa” has seen you engaged for several years in the reconstruction of a historical, personal geography around an event that has shaped your conscience. Why did you have the need to talk about this memory?
The need probably arose from wanting to understand a phenomenon of which I knew little or nothing about – the kidnappings in Sardinia and the code of silence – although it was a very important historical phenomenon for the past but also for the present of my native land, Sardinia. Hence the idea of fully understanding it and being able to tell its story as objectively as possible by trying to explore the sources starting from my memories.
What did you do to work on this project? Was there a decisive moment or encounter in the creation of “Some of you killed Luisa”?
There was more than one decisive moment that pushed me to continue this research. It was long and intense. It developed on various fronts, I worked in the field trying to follow an “anthropological” approach while certainly not being an anthropologist, this means that I spent a lot of time with the local communities of Barbagia in central Sardinia trying to understand the territory and the relationships between these communities, the history of the place and the present environment and connect everything to the kidnapping phenomenon. These shots are both documentation of the territory, of the people but also of the set-up scenes (staged) that want to tell the stories by creating suggestions. On the other hand, there was the research on the archives, as I worked in the RAI Sardinia offices where I had the opportunity to view the original documentation footages of the abductions and the following trials and patrols. By original footage meaning the inclusion of all the cut parts that the public doesn’t have access to, this was a privilege in this sense. In addition to the historical RAI archives, I also worked partly on my family’s archives to try to bring to light what happened to me in the period in which Farouk Kassam was abducted, in the period of my childhood, but also the period of my adolescence when the murder of Luisa Manfredi took place. In any case, even though there were several decisive moments, the very important one was the meeting with Farouk, the young kidnapped whose memory of his abduction started the project and the meeting with his kidnapper Matteo Boe in Barbagia.
Are you working on new projects or what would you like to tell in the future?
Yes, I always work on new projects even if they are not necessarily in the shooting phase. The mind is always active looking for and seeing new possibilities. Right now, I have just completed a new residency project in the Garbatella district in Rome which includes an exhibition and publication, in the meantime I have also started working on the second chapter of my research on the “unsaid”. A few years ago a small part of the research has already been on display, and in 2023 I will certainly be able to tell some of these stories in a more complete way. These are always relevant issues related to the social question in Italy where I always focus on the absence or lack of social justice.