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ENCOUNTERS. AN ARTIST’S PROJECT: ROME TO LONDON ON FOOT
Maria Teresa Gavazzi
4 May 2021
All photographs by Maria Teresa Gavazzi.
It seemed impossible to walk the 1300 miles from Rome to London, where I live. However, this is exactly what many migrants did at the turn of the twentieth century, to reach the UK from Italy. And even today, thousands of migrants travel thousands of kilometers all over the world, often on foot, to escape poverty and war or just to follow their hopes and aspirations.
So, I too set off on foot, following the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, walking in the opposite direction. Aware of my privilege – I was well equipped and without the urgency that leads a person to leave everything behind to venture into the unknown – I wanted to experience firsthand what it felt like to walk with the bare minimum, for days, weeks and months, until reaching a place to stay.
I conceived this journey as a performance, a journey of encounters… with the landscape, events along the way and with people. With my mobile phone I took pictures of paths, buildings, statues of madonnas, animals and more, encounters that aroused memories and emotions. I also collected stories that I call fluid migration, featuring people who have the courage to change, to leave for unknown places, but also people who, while standing still or moving only a few miles from their birthplace, are brave enough to challenge the limits and boundaries imposed by circumstance and society: people who reimagine and reinvent themselves. I sketched portraits which I then gave as a gift, a souvenir of our encounter. In return, I took a photo of each person holding the portrait in front of their face, in order to protect their identity.
Finally, this project is not just about encounters with people and things but, above all, it is an encounter with myself, my fears and insecurities, my being alone on an unknown path. It is a journey that led me, at the age of seventy, to revisit my life and, at the same time, to see for myself how borders, boundaries and barbed wire barriers cannot prevent the fluid migration of people. The only real barrier is the one we carry within us.
This project of mine, which started in March 2019 and ended in August 2020, has become a bilingual book (Italian/English) of 256 pages, with 221 images and 27 portraits, titled In cammino/On foot, Encounters on the via Francigena from Rome to London, published by La Vita Felice and it is been presented in a conference On Transversality in Practise and Research, with an exhibition online on On Transversality in December 2020.
It is not a work of literature, nor a guide for travellers, or a proper work of art. It belongs to a borderland, and as such I present it to you.