Book: Some of You Killed Luisa by Valeria Cherchi
The phenomenon of kidnappings has devastated the Italian island of Sardinia between the 1960s and the 1990s. In her compelling photo-textual journey, Some of You Killed Luisa, Cherchi takes us through her beautifully problematic land, in an attempt to decode the complex structure behind these crimes and their impact on the local communities.
Cherchi is among the first and few artists to deal with this delicate topic that has been haunting her since her childhood. On the 16th of June 1992 the upper part of a human ear is found by a priest on a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia, while a young boy, Farouk Kassam, is spending his fifth month in a hidden cave. He is held captive by a group of masked strangers. He is only six years old and about the same age as Cherchi. Like most kids, she was also terrified of being taken away from her home.
Eleven years later, Luisa Manfredi was shot dead on the balcony of her flat. She was 14 years old and the daughter of Matteo Boe, Farouk’s kidnapper. No-one was ever charged or convicted for her murder, which remains a mystery until this day.
How to tell a story bound by uncertainty? How to talk about histories that are just partially ended and shrouded in silence? Cherchi deals with this dark chapter of Sardinian history by exploring the parts of the story that appear reliable. After several years of field research, interaction with local communities, digging of media archives and her family’s video tapes she presents a kaleidoscopic story mixing photos, video stills and a log of her research, where memories, sociological and anthropological observations wittily mingle.
The outcome of is a multilayered examination that states the importance of Cherchi as a witness of a community bound by the ever-present law of omertà. Below a Q&A between the editor, the author and the designer, as well as more practical details.
Federica Chiocchetti: How did you become interested in this topic and what impressed you most during your research
Valeria Cherchi: I’ve always had a vivid memory of Farouk Kassam’s kidnapping. The fact that part of his ear was mutilated and delivered to his family in order to get the ransom faster was certainly an impressive event, both for me and for most of my friends at the time. We were children just like Farouk. The media kept talking about this terrible event and I remember my parents trying both to protect me from the cruelty of the news, but also to teach the notion of solidarity towards the victim. One of the ways to show the community your support for the victim was to lay white blankets outside the windows and balconies of our homes. These two very strong visual memories (ear and sheets) are certainly the ones that triggered the initial interest in the topic.
I believe that for all of us there are events that, especially if experienced in childhood, become symbols of static moments in life, probably without ever being fully understood. Until the moment in which something happens that takes us back to them, to see them under another light and from a broader perspective.
So many things kept surprising me during the research, and this is also something that kept me going: always finding new inputs. If I have to choose the most surprising one, probably I would say my active role as a photographer with the several people involved from the local communities. How these people acknowledged my presence and my approach, and how I could change some scenarios through my work. As photographers and artists (but of course also as human beings in general) we should never forget our impact on society and communities. Our work is not only what we show to the public, but it’s also and especially what we do and how we behave to achieve it. I must say that in making Some of You Killed Luisa, what struck me so much, was the weight of my choices and their effects on the people involved.
FC: Could you tell our readers the narrative approach you followed in the creation of the materials that compose the book?
VC: Diversity was necessary to talk about such a complex chapter of history, especially to fulfil my curiosity and the sense of responsibility towards the ‘characters’, my audience and everyone involved. I wanted to tell a story which was as reliable as possible. While the story and my vision are inevitably complex, there is a simpler clue that could help read the book in its totality: in this work I am using images and text to talk about the past, the present and the future in relation to the kidnappings in Sardinia, and I decided to talk about them both objectively and subjectively. To talk about the past I chose to show some evidence that certain facts did happen. This has been possible through video archives from the time of the crimes, my family’s video tapes, and through referring to sociological and anthropological sources in my texts, as well as to my own memories.
The present are the local communities and the environment where the crimes happened, the lives of the victims, of the characters behind the stories. The present is me interacting with them and how we change according to each other’s presence. The new images are the present, I am using them to show how things have changed or how they have not. I am also using them to evoke my vision on certain facts and how I feel about them. Same purpose with the words, but within the text the present is less evocative, I want to give vivid details to make connections with the past and I want to give my opinion on facts.
The future can’t be depicted with precision, but it’s the message of the work itself. It’s discussing the role of ‘community building’ and the role of speaking out within it. The future is something open: it’s the reader being critical towards it while and after reading my work.
FC: It has been a challenging project and you have encountered omertà and censorship in the first place; what motivates you to never give up despite all the difficulties and what would you tell Luisa, if you had the chance to communicate with her, wherever she is?
VC: I would tell Luisa that it wasn’t her fault, that she has not been forgotten and that unfortunately justice is something difficult to achieve in so many circumstances, but many people still fight for it. What kept me going was the hope that by sharing these important and sadly true stories, people, one day, will reflect on the importance of speaking out against injustices. And maybe help someone else. But also the curiosity to understand such a complex phenomenon in depth and the sense of responsibility towards the people involved, to tell a reliable, yet appealing, story, in order to create social awareness on the issue of omertà, silencing and lack of justice.
The Photocaptionist, in close collaboration with the artist, worked on the structure, editing and sequencing of Cherchi’s words and images. We then approached designer Fabian Bremer and publisher The Eriskay Connection as they seemed the perfect fit given their past projects heavily grounded in research and in image-text books. Here’s a Q&A between the editor and the designer.
Federica Chiocchetti: What made you accept this project?
Fabian Bremer: Interestingly, I’ve come across Valeria’s work shortly before she got in touch with me. As far as I can recall, this was in August 2019, and when reading that she was working on ‘a longer research themed around the meaning of the “unspoken” within different social issues’ I was all ears. Valeria and I immediately noticed that we had a similar perception of which mood the book should set. Every new project I conceive the design for should in some way be a challenge, that is why I was so enthusiastic about starting to work on the book in the first place.
FC: What were the main challenges of organising such a multi-layered body of work?
FB: Certainly the challenge lay in finding a system or grid that is on the one hand consequently excercised and on the other hand gives freedom for composition and defining the right dramaturgy. From the view of a book designer it was really helpful to settle on the format in an early stage. When we knew that the size will be smaller and more intimate, I had a very different anticipation of what the layout should feel like. The content was a real challenge in many ways and I’d like to compliment Valeria and Federica for structuring it so well and for being open to many ideas. The exchange over the past few months was really enjoyable and prolific.
FC: Why do you think people should read this book?
FB: Some of You Killed Luisa is very different to the books I’ve worked on so far. While reading, I especially liked that in-between the researching, the recalling of events and the inner monologues, at moments I couldn’t tell what was fiction and what was based on actual events. I am keen on narratives that manage to draw loose connections and keep the associations open to its readers, not solely in a formal way, but also within the research where the lines between the personal, the artistic and the journalistic constantly seem to blur.
The book was printed during the pandemic of Covid-19 in May 2020 and was supposed to be launched in the real world at the many international festivals and fairs of photography that populate the summer. As this proved to be impossible, a virtual book tour was conceived instead, which starts with the Instagram live of the 10x10photobook account, called #INSTAsalons, on the 23rd of June at 7pm Europe time, and continues with a conversation between Chiocchetti and Cherchi in Italian on the Zoom account of the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence on the 25th of June at 6pm Europe time. More events will be announced here, so watch this space.
Valeria Cherchi, born and raised in Sardinia, Italy (1986) is an artist working with images and text. Her work over the past years has been themed around the meaning of the ‘unspoken’ within different social issues. She is interested in telling tangible character-driven stories that explore the relationship between personal memories and history. She has exhibited and published internationally and in 2018 she was named in The British Journal of Photography’s annual ‘Ones to Watch’.
The book is kindly sponsored by Fondazione di Sardegna.
Simon Baker, Director of the MEP in Paris includes it among his favourite books of 2020 on a number of occasions: for the BJP magazine, PhotoBook Store, Vogue Italia.
Lens Culture and PHMuseum.
In Italian: ATP Diary, Internazionale, Rolling Stone, Rivista Studio.