About the Project /Sul Progetto
From We Are 25’s Creative Director, Lisa Venticinque
[Se desideri che la descrizione del progetto sia tradotta in italiano, inviami un messaggio.]
The Mystery, The Story
Sometime in the not-so-distant past, a group of 25 men in poverty-stricken Southern Italy shared an experience so intense that their surnames became Venticinque, literally the Italian word for 25. What happened, exactly, is where the mystery comes in:
Was it a shipwrecked boat of laborers with only 25 heartbroken survivors?
A 25-man brigade valorously fighting for (or maybe against) a united Italy?
Some other story of courage and/or tragedy?
Since then, the original group of 25 has expanded to approximately 1,700, most still in Italy but also spread in pockets worldwide. (Including just over 200 in the US). We have carried this name-- and its mysteries-- for all this time, yet nobody has conducted a proper exploration or explanation of its origins. I am determined to uncover the answer to the question of how a group of people got a number for their name.
This project is leading me through an in-depth exploration of the name Venticinque: its origin and subsequent storyline, the people who have carried the name through time and space, and what it all tells us about the world we live in. I am calling this project We Are 25 because it is about the story that we, the descendants of the original 25, can tell together through the process of reconnecting.
In the autumn of 2018, I launched the first major phase of my project We Are 25, traveling through the South of Italy, specifically the areas around Naples and Calabria and then down to the small village in Sicily that is likely the epicenter of the Venticinque origin story. This southern region is the very land from which many Venticinques fled to escape the extreme poverty, disease, and fascism that was rampant at the time. While millions of Italians (mostly from the South) fled between 1880-1926, one of the unique opportunities that studying the distinctively-named Venticinque family presents is the ability to track them over time and space, and by extension to discover the ties that connect them.
For the past several years, I have been researching the history and steadily building connections with Venticinques throughout Italy and across the U.S. I’ve long been curious about what the individuals in the group know about its history and lineage; also, I've grown increasingly interested in the people themselves. We all share a common name, yet the vast diversity of our life circumstances tells a timely story about immigration and the spectrum between cultural preservation and assimilation. Now is the moment when I am ready to step into the next phase of my inquiry, when I can finally begin contacting members of the extended Venticinque family to make plans to meet them in person and to create a series of portraits.
Artistically speaking, for this project I will be using classical black & white portraiture techniques, stripping things down to the simplest form to create timeless images. My goal is to create authentic images that reflect the beauty of each subject, and also blur the lines between the things that so often divide: generations, continents, ethnicities, languages, races. Each individual portrait tells a story, inviting the viewer to imagine the history behind the subject's face; as a collection of images, they can show the very human way in which we can connect, regardless of the things that may seem to divide us.
In addition to meeting and photographing these distant cousins (who may or may not be related by blood), I will be conducting interviews and collecting stories. I am excited to speak with people about what they know of the meaning and history behind the Venticinque mystery and, even more importantly, about their own lives. Eventually I will compile these images and narrative accounts into multimedia presentations and public exhibition.
Why this project matters
• WeAre25 is, at its root, a story about immigration and its impact through the generations. Through research, recorded histories and personal stories, there is much to learn from a group of people who fled their homeland, as well as from those who remained. Considering that there is a worldwide struggle to manage increasing immigration, and Sicily itself is currently experiencing an immigration crisis on a catastrophic scale, this is a perfect opportunity to explore the layers underlying current policies and attitudes. In addition, Italy is currently experiencing a new wave of white supremacy ("Europe First"); this project is aimed at
• It's a story of culture heritage and how it has been preserved or forgotten. These days, many of the world's rich and diverse cultures run the risk of being engulfed and erased by a rootless construct of "whiteness". It is now more important than ever to resist this outcome by remembering and celebrating our diverse cultural roots, and this project is poised to illustrate that in a compelling and engaging way.
• It's a story about ethnicity & race: Southern Italians (and Sicilians in particular) are a genetic kaleidoscope when it comes to race, and their ethnicity is one of the most complex and diverse on the planet. Over the years, their land has been conquered and inhabited by a variety of people: Arabs, Greeks, Normans, Moors and more. Because of their complex background and ambiguous ethnicity, Southern Italians offer a unique look into the concept race and how it has been constructed.