Spazio Disponibile at the Mackenzie Art Gallery

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A slab that reads “La Questione Italianna.” But what is the Italian question? Maybe that’s the question… jorah bright

Internationally acclaimed African artist’s exhibit critiques European colonialism

Art is ever-changing, ever adapting, and perceived differently by all. When viewing art, the experience of one may not be the experience of all. It is constantly up to the viewer’s interpretation what message a piece or exhibit is trying to give out.

The Mackenzie Art Gallery here in Regina is currently hosting an exhibit called Spazio Disponibile by Dawit L. Petros. Petros has a master’s degree in Visual Art and has had exhibits all over the world including Oslo, Norway and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Currently, Petros works in Illinois at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Photography as an Assistant Professor. His work focuses on “a critical re-reading of the entanglements between colonialism and modernity,” pulled from his own life experiences. He is originally from Eritrea but also lived in Ethiopia and Kenya prior to living in Canada. According to the Mackenzie Art Gallery website, “[t]he overlapping cultures, voices, and tenets of this constellation produced a dispersed consciousness, global and transnational in stance and outlook.”

2) What rock bottom looks like.

Spazio Disponibile is about history; the term being Italian for “Available Space.” In addition to investigating the ideas of countries forgetting pieces of their history, the exhibit is about “the colonial gaze that viewed the lands of Africa as ‘available’ space to occupy and exploit.” It explores the connection between Europe and East Africa and Italy occupying both Ethiopia and Eritrea, two places with personal significance for Petros. The exhibit features photography, video, historical pieces, and sculptures.

On one wall of the exhibit was a series of images of an empty theatre. The photographs were on a black accent wall, meant to emphasize the darkness of the empty theatre. An empty theatre holds so much in it. Theatres are places of joy and happiness, where people go to have fun and experience a film. As someone who once worked in a haunted theatre, these photographs perfectly capture the feeling of a haunted theatre: the feeling of the air going just a bit colder; the glance out of the corner of your eye at something that’s just not right. These feelings come to life in Petros’s pictures.

Another feature in the exhibit was prints from a magazine called Rivista Coloniale. The Rivista Coloniale ran from 1906 to 1943 and was published by the Italian authorities. The goal of the paper was to “inform Italians about political, economic, legal, and social aspects of the colonies.” This section, “Preoccupations,” was subtle, yet powerful. Even the number of prints in “Preoccupations” had significance. Petros used “[s]hips, figurines, and other motifs” to show how Italy changed and fell into “[f]ascist ideology.”

3) Things aren’t always black and white but these photos are.

My personal favourite piece in the exhibit is called Spectre (La Teleferica). This piece is dark and reflective. You can see the outline of yourself in the art. The piece is named after the Teleferica, a “cable car, extending 72 kilometres and climbing 2,325 metres.” As you stand and stare at this cable car that “was built by the Italians as a demonstration of the colonizer’s technical superiority” you also have to stare at yourself. You have to come face to face with your own thoughts about the exhibit and the pieces in it.

There’s plenty more to see at Spazio Disponibile, and I’m not going to spoil all of it. I recommend that you go to the Mackenzie Art Gallery and see it for yourself. The exhibit is fascinating and moving. Spazio Disponibile by Dawit L. Petros is at the Mackenzie Art Gallery until April 3.

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