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Unique Palermo and a photographic exhibition

Posted by Suzanne on 16 May 2014

As I made my way into the old centre of Palermo, just before midnight, on May the third, the road from the airport was quiet. At Capaci, we passed the tall memorial to the fearless Sicilian anti- mafia Judge, Giovanni Falcone, his colleague and wife Francesca  Morvillo and their three bodyguards-  murdered  by the  Mafia on May 23rd 1992.

I had just flown from Liverpool where I had seen a photographic exhibition of some confronting images documenting almost two decades, from 1978-1992, of the devastation caused by the internal battle of the Mafia in Sicily and the grief that it wreaked on the Sicilian people and their capital, Palermo.

The exhibition: “Breaking the Code of Silence’, was a collection of selected photos by the multi award winning Sicilian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia. Most were taken when she was the photo editor of the Palermo based newspaper L’Ora. They represent her defining work: the Sicilian Mafia.

Over three gallery rooms, Open Eye Gallery on the docks of the Mersey River had exhibited the work of one of the world’s most important documenters of the destructive force of the Sicilian Mafia.

The accumulative effect of these raw images, of the most bloodied period in the life of her ‘home town’, Palermo, was shocking. In these decades the Mafia eliminated many public officials in Palermo: members of Parliament, the judiciary and the police force. Letizia Battaglia not only photographed the corpses of politicians and the mafiosi during this violent period: rigid bloodied corpses, bloodstained faces, feet and hands protruding from under blankets, a young body with Christ tattooed on his back, funerals of slain lord mayors, she also documented the grief stricken families: mothers and relatives sitting by a corpse waiting for a judge to authorise the removal and, the poverty of her city.

Walking into the first gallery room the image of Rosaria Schifani, the young widow of Giovanni Falcone’s bodyguard, was both striking and haunting. The ‘chiaroscuro’ effect of the image hinted at a sense of hope.

Battaglia’s gritty honesty of this brutal period along with the outpouring of 'collective grief' of the people of Sicily, Italy and the world in response to the assassination of Giovanni Falcone was to give way to a new life for the besieged city of Palermo: a city that had seen its unique historic centre sacked and abandoned, its splendid Conco d’Oro full of perfumed citrus orchards, which stretched to the glorious Monreale in the mountains, concreted over and built upon with cheap Mafia constructed apartment blocks.

The "code of silence" was starting to break in the late 80’s and the early 90’s and, the people had the will to protest.

And to pass Palermo’s glorious uplighted opera house Teatro Massimo – its doors shut for nearly 25 years, from 1974 to 1997 due to the tentacles of corruption- a reminder that it is one of the many symbols of Palermo's renewal and strength.

Eating lunch the next day at Osteria dei Vespri, a restaurant tucked under the balconies of the splendid Palazzo Gangi, opposite Palermo’s Gallery of Modern Art, in the heart of Falcone’s neighbourhood, La Kalsa, the outdoor tables were full: tourists checking their guidebooks, noting what not to miss in this beguiling city, locals chatting and gesturing. 

To have seen Letizia Battaglia’s fearless documentation of the devastation wreaked by the Sicilian Mafia in the decades from the late 70’s to the early 90’s helps me to understand the enormity of the resilience of the people of Palermo as they continue the renewal of their mesmerising port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea. 





Edited 11/8/2015 & 25/8/2015: On review the sentence in the original blog referring to La Magione has been deleted. Suzanne

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