Fotograf Magazine

Gigi Cifali

Images and Signs: Italy, 1969-89. Practices of Memory

The photography series “Images and Signs: Italy, 1969-89. Practices of Memory” by Gigi Cifali reflects on the mechanisms that regulate the transmission of Italian collective memory of the recent historic period known as the Years of Lead, still marked by concealed truths and therefore bereft of a socially legitimized representation. This incapacity and unwillingness to face the traumatic past maintains conflicting memories and compromises historical education.

The photographs show remarkable and unseen frozen signs of ideological left- and the strategy of tension of right-wing terrorism kept in courthouse basements, offering access to pieces of vidence full of symbolic and historical value, which become mediators of memory. At that time, Marxist-Leninist armed groups attacked against capitalism, and the Italian stay-behind unit intended for anti-Communist expansion operations destabilized the society, encouraging violent actions by neo-Fascist extremist groups.

Like with an archaeological exploration, the photographer could not predict what he would be able to bring to the surface. The past leaves traces, but then the present remembers. No memory is possible without knowledge, and in order to remember we should have access to archives. Selection, sorting and disposal are just as decisive as any act of collection and storage. Moreover, the evaluation criteria governing them might not be agreed on by future generations. Remembering, as much as not remembering, is a social act with an ethical side: forgetting is a crime. 

Lorenzo Migliorati, an Italian researcher in the sociology of memory: “These corpora delicti, or bodies of crime, are real practices of memory, substantiated by material culture, which become sediment in the narration of our (as a national community) memory. The corpora delicti will be dwelling in us and will inform our identity, even if we cannot see them until we name them and go through them. Cifali’s work is powerful also for this reason: it gives shape, name and substance to objects that we would never have seen.”