Tolentino inaugurates the impressive pavilion of the Holy See at the Venice Biennale

(Vatican News).- To get to the Garden of theGiudecca You have to walk through a hallway with high walls on one side and bars on the windows on the other. There are lava stone bas-reliefs by artist Simone Fattal on which painful words are engraved: “I would like to isolate myself, curl up on my chest, there is no armor here…”. The pain in some sentences that seem to collide with the sun that illuminates the rows of lettuce, tomatoes and greenhouses, the result of the work of the inmates who even in caring for the land find a way to start over.

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Against this backdrop, the Cardinal José Tolentino de MendonçaPrefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, narrates the pavilion of the Holy See at the 60th edition of the Venice Biennalewhich winds through the rooms of the prison, once a convent of converts where prostitutes who had abandoned that life and entrusted themselves to the care of the Church were housed. “With my eyes” is the title of the exhibition, the result of a deeply human encounter between the artists and the women who serve their last sentence here.

De Mendonça: a pavilion that opens to humanity

“The artists have come here empty-handed,” explains the cardinal, “and have collected the life stories, the images, the cries of pain, the empty spaces and the desires that are born in these hearts that, with the help of the art, have become a great parable”. These prisoners, explains the director of the department, “with their stories have become the parable that tells all of life.” The pain and dreams are the same for everyone.”

Cardinal de Mendonça then highlights how The choice of the Giudecca was “destabilizing” even for contemporary art and possible thanks to the complicity of the commissioners and those in charge of the prison. “I changed the words when I saw the works,” he confesses, “because the human component emerged. With the help of art, we realized that the great challenge is to find new words, new visions of the world that do justice to what is human.” This is the path to counteract the “culture of waste” and open to a culture “that can serve the person with hope even in vulnerability.” Contemporary art, he concludes, can be an engine that marks the desire for new words, new paths towards fraternity.

“The artists have come here empty-handed and have collected the life stories, the images, the cries of pain, the empty spaces and the desires that are born in these hearts that, with the help of art, have become a great parable”

Claire Tabouret with paintings inspired by the inmates' family photos.

Giulia’s voice

Also the commissioners, Bruno Racine and Chiara Parisi, intervened, which illustrated the pavilion. She offered her speech to a letter written by Giulia, a prisoner, in which she recounts the work she has done, presenting the exhibition. Talk about excitement, enthusiasm and joy for what has been achieved, of “a unanimous and unison union” and of trust in the future because “nothing is created and nothing is destroyed” and this is a path that will have to continue because,” adds Giulia, “even a meeting like this transforms” women who have made mistakes in conscious resources”. These reflections are received with a stream of emotion and applause.

The eye, work of Claire Fontaine's collective

The latticed eye

The Italian Minister of Justice,Carlo Nordio, present with his colleague from Culture,Gennaro Sangiulianoalso focuses on the constructive experience of the inmates and on the work of Claire Fontaine, from the Franco-Palermitan artistic collective, a barred eye, a wrong or forbidden gaze, an impossibility of looking outside that thus becomes exclusion, but also inability of those outside to see that place from within.

Manuela, special guide

As the first groups form to visit the Pavilion, they begin to appear among the green garden dressed half white and half black with a brightly colored fabric flower. They are well-groomed and made-up women, smiling and very busy arranging the buffet tables adorned with pots of lavender. Others begin to accompany visitors and carefully explain to them who the artists in the exhibition are. “Do not film”: this is the order of prison officialsmostly young and very pretty girls.

Inauguration of the Pavilion of the Holy See at the Venice Biennale, with the presence of Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, Prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education

The guides are recluses, sentenced to life imprisonment. Manuela, a brunette and proud grandmother, is the most agile, and tells us that she has two years left before leaving Giudecca: a place, she explains, that offers new possibilities, hope and strength although “entering a prison at 50 years old is very hard”. “I’ve studied the lives of all the artists,” she adds with a hint of pride.

A rich journey

The exhibition begins from the outside with the façade of the church of Santa Maddalena and the work that covers it in Maurizio Cattelan. They are bare and dirty feet that recall Caravaggio and Mantegna, but also the artist’s childhood: the feet of a humble and hard-working father. Inside the prison, the photos, reviewed and rethought byr Claire Tabouret, are the poses most prized by the inmates, images of the past like that of a girl who begins to walk, it is Manuela herself – the guide – who has offered what she appreciated most. She with her mother who welcomes her in her uncertain steps. The tour continues in the deconsecrated chapel with the Brazilian artist Sonia Gomes that has hung the clothes of the inmates collected in colorful fabrics, there are in the cafeteria, the works of Corita Kent, an American artist also known for her past as a consecrated woman and therefore also known as the “pop art nun”.

Particular of a painting by Corita Kent

In the courtyard where the inmates spend their time outdoors, the inscription ” We are with you in the night”, a reminder that the outside world does not forget those behind bars. It is worth seeing, because intense and moving, the short film starring actress Zoe Saldanafilmed by her husband Marco Perego. Twelve minutes of black and white narration with prisoners as protagonists, faces marked by resignation, tattooed faces, expressionless and tragic faces. A shocking story that is understood as a work of relationship and comparison between different but not distant worlds. “We used to come home from filming,” Marco Perego tells Vatican Radio – Vatican News“always with many bracelets that the prison guests gave us and with many written thoughts.”

Work by Simone Fattal: Lava stone plaque with drawings and poems by the inmates.

“Come on”

From a window you can see the faces of some women, colorful braids, clothes hanging to dry, a voice asking for freedom because “prison is bad.” Upon leaving the place, many women who walk through the patio greet these unusual presences with joy. “Come on,” someone responds. It is the last voice that is heard as soon as the heavy gate of this reality that Art sublimates because it makes all women free in their hearts and solid in their dignity. newly discovered.

A detail of the work of Claire Tabouret

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