Looking back on’ California College of the Arts Summer Abroad: Italy’, and our collaborative project ‘Environmental Dialog’ with ‘Città della Scienza’ in Naples, Italy.
You know there are a hundred ways to revisit an extinguished thing. We did it like this: from Northern to Southern Italy. In two weeks we traveled to three major cities: Venice, Milan, Naples. With our instructor, Mariella Poli, at the head of the operation racing us across the country. Everything was new, and I wanted to touch it and feel it and bring it all back with me to California - my photographs didn’t do it justice. The history of the country was fascinating, and was apparent in the structures of the homes and churches and cobblestone pathways. The art was new and exciting and waiting around every corner. The awe that weighed my shoulders seemed greater than my fifty pounds of luggage, but it was an uplifting kind of weight. We adventured from the Guggenheim to the Venice Biennale to the Milan Global Expo, all in one short week. And then, finally, we settled for our last week in the welcome arms of Naples.
The Spring before we set off to Italy, our teacher Mariella said to us, “On this trip we will see the worst of each other and we will see the best of each other.” I remembered this often when I was tired and my feet didn’t want to venture another step. I remembered this when our group got cranky and exhausted of the never-ending alleyways and relentlessly humid June at the end of a long day. We indeed did see the best and worst of each other. But it wasn’t until we arrived in Naples and met with ‘Città della Scienza’ that I really saw the best in me. It was all building up to Napoli. Here we met up with the people working at ‘Città della Scienza’ (City of Science), who had been victims of arson two years prior. ‘Città della Scienza’ sits on the ground of a former large industrial complex, which is being reconverted to other uses, in particular to scientific research and museums. In the spring of 2013 the interactive science museum, similar to San Francisco’s Exploratorium, was intentionally burned to the ground. We went to Napoli to work on a project intended as a response to the destructive action of the arson, collaborating with a group of students from Università di Napoli 2.
Bricks remain under smoke, waiting patiently for recognition. The structure blackens and holds its breath. “When the fire happened, it was very emotional for the people of Napoli,” Ruwani Perera, a local Neapolitan and a member of our ensemble, said to me. I was moved to see how important this place of education and creativity was to the people of Naples. It was a fire that only strengthened the community, uniting them to find ways to bring back what they held so dearly despite the loss they suffered.
Our body of work was part sculpture, part film, and part performance. I joined the performance group. On our first day we met with Fabio Cocifoglia, a director of the Naples theatre group ‘Le Nuvole’. In mere few days Fabio created an ensemble out of us. We focused on the ways immigration and femininity affected our lives. I didn’t really get to know whom I would be working with until Fabio dragged us all onto the stage. It didn’t feel like working. We were all laughing and dancing and playing games, but this was how Fabio broke down the discomfort of our language barriers and opened up discussion for the serious issues our performance would be dealing with.
We were an all female cast, and we were all first or second-generation immigrants. My mother was born in Portugal. The rest of the ensemble was from China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Capo Verde, Lebanon, and other places around the world. All of us coming together in one room to share our stories was just short of miraculous. I performed a poem my avó (grandmother) wrote when she first arrived in America from Portugal with my grandfather and their six children. I recited in English, while Andreina Lopes Pinto, a member of the ensemble from Capo Verde, recited it in Portuguese. I was not new to the world of theater, but I had never had to perform something so personal. In translating and rehearsing the words of my avó I found a new appreciation for what my family had gone through to bring me where I am.
On the night of June 18th we held our performance in the garden of 'Città Della Scienza'. We all had performance jitters, wandering around fixing last minute touches to our hair and makeup and stage props. But as soon as the audience started trickling into the garden we all fell naturally right into our places - the show had begun. The words of my avó flowed through me, with Andreina by my side reciting in Portuguese; we became sort of call and response vessels for the poem to pass through. One short hour later we joined our film and sculpture team, exhilarated at what meaningful work we had produced in so little time - and for myself, the lasting relationships I had made with the people of Napoli.