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Bearing Witness, from Lebanon to Ukraine war shots become art

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Bearing Witness, from Lebanon to Ukraine war shots become art

To tell “Bearing Witness” I have to retrace two fundamental moments of my professional life. The first dates back to 2008 when the race for the White House saw a very fast Barack Obama defeat every opponent, Democrat and Republican. “Guantánamo prison undermines the values ​​of our country and does not help national security. It is counterproductive in the fight against terrorism, this is not my opinion but that of the experts”, said the then future president of the United States. At the top of Obama’s government agenda was the closure of the fortress prison that stood on the island of Cuba, or rather on the portion under American control. Guantanamo is a US enclave on the island of Cuba, a sort of thorn in the side of the Castro regime where there is a large naval base transformed into a detention facility to house enemy combatants captured during the war on terrorism to then be tried by military courts . The story of the off-shore prison begins on 11 January 2002 when the first group of terrorists captured in Afghanistan is interned in the new facility. The peak in terms of prison population was recorded the following year, 680 prisoners, the vast majority of whom never had a trial. Too much time has passed since then for Obama, who says “the plan deserves impartial scrutiny even in an election year.” The 44th president of the United States felt entrusted with the task of “closing a chapter of history and learning the lessons of 9/11”.

The determination with which Obama proposed his plan to dismantle the prison for terrorists only and the military courts responsible for their trial (considered by many on the left as a violation of the rule of law and the legal system of the first democracy in the world) pushed the undersigned, in force at La Stampa for a couple of years, to go as soon as possible to the Caribbean prison, and closely study one of the most important pieces of the architecture of the war on terror set up by George W. Bush. It was an opportunity to make friends with Scott Fenstermaker, the lawyer of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of the FBI’s “most wanted”, convicted in 2011 for his role in the attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He was also known as “bin Laden’s cook” (a bad man always has a bad cook, one could tell by looking at the very recent war in Ukraine), because it is said that he had spent a period of militancy for Al Qaeda in close contact with the sheikh of terror by providing for his nutrition, a task that fell only to trusted jihadists. Gitmo had literally stunned me especially the surreality of a prison in the middle of the Caribbean with alleged terrorists, most of whom were there without trial because they were linked to Al Qaeda. Seeing these people in orange overalls who prayed five times a day and alternated moments of asceticism with phases of great violence provoked a question in me: why people who have such a strong bond with Allah and religion, then carry out acts like 9/11 or cut the throats of journalists and foreigners? Fenstermaker himself gave me the answer: “To understand what moves these people you have to go where they live”. In the end Gitmo was never closed due to the legal jumble that somehow always decreed its inviolability, but a few months later I was in Afghanistan “embedded” with the American troops in Kandahar. It was my baptism of fire. I haven’t stopped since then, conflicts and crises have become my “core business“, my professional passion, my object of study and practice, in a certain sense even a lifestyle.
[[(gele.Finegil.Image2014v1) Bearing Witness, da Guantanamo all’Ucraina gli scatti di guerra diventano arte_semprini03]]
The second moment to retrace dates back to 2013 and refers to distant Kazakhstan, where I went to interview Alma Shalabayeva, the wife of the Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, arrested with her a few months earlier in Casal Palocco, in the suburbs of Rome. The police were looking for her husband, a former minister in the government of then President Nursultan Nazarbayev and who subsequently moved to the opposition: he was the subject of an international arrest warrant and a trial in the High Court of London for events related to when he was still in his country. The woman was taken to the CIE (centre for identification and expulsion) of Ponte Galeria in Rome and forced to leave the country immediately after her together with her 6-year-old daughter Alua, in a hasty and dubious manner. An intricate and gloomy story that required a trip to Almaty, where the woman had returned to interview her and learn her version of her facts. And right at Shalabayeva’s house, I meet Fausto Biloslavo for the first time. We had often spoken with him by email and telephone, he was already a kind of epic character of war journalism. His first mission dates back to 1981 in Lebanon, when he photographed Yasser Arafat almost being hit by the car of the Palestinian leader fleeing towards the port of Beirut. Her snap landed on the cover of Time Magazine. That day in Almaty a partnership was born on the “fil rouge” of the war which after a short time saw us together on the Sinjar plateaus, in the most extreme Iraq, to ​​recount the genocide of the Yazidis carried out by the Islamic State of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. From then we never stopped.Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and lastly Ukraine are among the many fronts shared with an immense production of testimonies which in part takes shape precisely in “Bearing Witness”.

Forty years of live conflicts told by the front lines of the front lines of the whole planet, always touching the desperation of the last ones. This is the most intimate essence of the photographic exhibition which brings together the shots of Biloslavo and, for the most recent part, those of the writer. From Africa bloodied by post-colonialism and internal feuds, at the crossroads of Asia to the damned Middle East, to then return to Europe with the conflicts in the Balkans and Ukraine. “We too are the eyes of war, journalists, photographers, video makers fatally attracted to conflicts of all sorts, forgotten or on our doorstep. We can’t stay away from it, because reportage and wars are not just a profession, but our passion and somehow also our way of living life”, explains Biloslavo. “Bearing Witness”, curated by Giorgia Rivera, is a way to retrace the salient features of the last forty years of history divided by the watershed of 11 September 2001. I visited those attacks on America with my own eyes and as a reporter I told how that tragedy thrust its way into the history of the conflicts of the New Century, with the war on terrorism, the Arab spring and the epic of Isis.

“Bearing Witness” will be on display at the Italian Cultural Institute, directed by Professor Fabio Finotti, from 25 May to 23 June with a multimedia exhibition which, in addition to shots by Biloslavo and myself, will see the projection of videos on our war missions. Our books will also be exhibited to give an all-round multimedia aspect to the exhibition. “We are proud to host at the Italian Cultural Institute in NY the photographs of courageous reporters who testified to the tragedy of war by putting themselves on the line”, explains Finotti who will preside over the inauguration scheduled for Thursday 25 May at 5.30 pm (11.30 pm in Italy) at the reception hall of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York.

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