Twelve faces of migrants and refugees, men and women, expressions full of hope, smiles open to the world, shone below sea level in 2016, in the limpid water of Cala Croce , on the south-eastern side of Lampedusa. Their faces were the protagonists of StarS, an underwater photographic exhibition dedicated to migration and integration which inaugurated on the island, which is considered the symbol of migratory exodus in Europe.
StarS is a circular exhibition route comprised of twelve gigantic photographs set up underwater, on the sandy sea bottom of Cala Croce, at a depth of three meters. From above, the arrangement of these twelve “stars” recall the flag of the European Union.
The portraits, realized by photographer Salvo Galano, tell positive stories of migration and integration, faces of men and women of different ethnic backgrounds who, after having made a long, exhausting journey seeking a possible future, managed to find a place in which to begin living again. A unique exhibition dedicated to these heroes, protagonists of an imaginary “walk of fame” intended to give dignity back to all migrants and refugees, showing how, through integration, it is possible to restore their right to a “happy ending”, comprised of dreams and hopes.
The intention was to help elicit a change of viewpoint in the now stereotypical image, instilled by the expression “ immigration emergency”, which increasingly considers people fleeing from war, oppression and poverty solely as numbers instead of as human beings.
A few meters from shore, a buoy marked the center of the submerged visual journey, which made StarS accessible to swimmers, lovers of snorkeling and non-motorized boats, admitted within the marked-off sea area.
The gigantic, translucent portraits were printed on rigid plates and anchored temporarily to the sea bottom, with full respect for the surrounding marine environment. The movement of the currents and the inclination of the sun’s rays in the various hours of the day constantly modified the visual effect of the spectacle, which, on the evening of the inauguration was illuminated by underwater lights positioned below the images.
The StarS event, conceived by photographer Salvo Galano and by director Veronica Mengoli – founders of the South-East Cultural Association – on the basis of an exhibition format previously done on the island of Ponza in 2014, was realized in Lampedusa thanks to the collaboration of Mayor Giusi Nicolini.
The twelve protagonists photographed by Galano were singled-out through the patronage and participation of several of the most important non-profit organizations committed to supporting migrants and their integration: the Italian Red Cross, Emergency, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Project Arca Foundation and Soserm.
The exhibition remained underwater until October 3rd, the “Day of Memorial” in remembrance of all the victims of immigration. After this date, which marked the anniversary of the tragedy of Lampedusa that took place in 2013 when 368 migrants lost their lives, the exhibition was transferred to the center of the island.
All the realization phases and protagonists of StarS, from the photographer to the migrants immortalized in his pictures, to the operators involved in the commitment of welcoming and integrating the refugees, became subjects of a documentary produced by Rai Cinema, Cannizzo Produzioni and Onemore Pictures. The documentary tells the story of this unconventional project, born to overturn the cliché on the immigration issue.
Portraitist photographer, originally from Ponza, great lover of the sea and its depths. In his international artistic path Galano has originated a series of thematic projects, several of which have been published in books and the object of exhibitions, among these: “Sidewalk Stories” portraits and tales of the homeless of New York, and “l’Isola” (The Island), in which the men and women of Ponza were protagonists. The quixotic madness of Galano and his determination to resolve every technical installation obstacle drove the artist to realize his first underwater exhibition in 2014 in the waters of his beloved island, encountering the enthusiasm of Mayor Piero Vigorelli and a group of friends, visionaries like himself, architect Vincenzo Lauri and director Veronica Mengoli, with whom he founded the South-East Cultural Association that made the project possible. The success of the first edition encouraged Galano to re-propose the unusual format, analyzing a new theme, one strongly linked to the place of exhibition.
I think a photographer, a painter, a sculptor, an artist in visual arts in general, should, as their major objective, highlight themes that are important to them and try to share these themes with as many people as possible. My principle aim was to allow everyone, with no restriction of mental barriers, to observe the eyes of these people carefully, in silence through a primordial element like seawater, trying to give voice to those who, too often, are not treated as human beings but as numbers. For me, a portrait is research, the encounter between different spirits; a homeless person in New York, a fisherman with a fiery look in Ponza, or the migrants in search of freedom and a better future always narrate something to my lens that I can learn from. Those who are born on islands or whose roots are on one, whether large or small, know that the sea, and water in general, are ancestral elements which influence existence. For the protagonists of the exhibition StarS, seawater is also the last obstacle before the much-desired goal towards freedom. Thus I wanted to transfer to the sea of Lampedusa the dignity I found in the looks of the inhabitants of those distant countries. I wanted to narrate through portraits, the story of lives, of a people, of a sequence of events which must be resolved as soon as possible.