Valeria Cherchi (b. 1986, Italy), raised in Sardinia, is interested in telling tangible character-driven stories themed around the meaning of the 'unspoken', motivated by the need of exploring personal memories that shed new light on history. In her soon to be published body of work, ‘Some of You Killed Luisa’ (The Eriskay Connection) Cherchi attempts to unveil the complex structure of the ‘kidnapping for ransom’ phenomenon that spread across Sardinia as they occurred between the 1960s and the 1990s.
This interview serves as an addition to the ‘talent portfolio’ of Some Of You Killed Luisa, as featured in the print edition of GUP#65 – EURO (June-August 2020).
Can you please explain the background story of your project, and who exactly is Luisa?
Luisa Manfredi was a fourteen years old girl from a small village in Barbagia, a central area in the Italian island of Sardinia. In 2003 she was shot dead on the balcony of her flat and no one was ever charged or convicted for her murder - which remains a mystery to this day.
I came across her story while researching the phenomenon of kidnapping in Sardinia. In fact, Luisa was the daughter of Matteo Boe - one of the last Sardinian bandits, and a kidnapper, who appeared on the very restricted list of the twenty most dangerous Italian criminals during the time when he was on the run between the years 1986 -1992.
On 26th December 2003, one month after Luisa was killed, Laura Manfredi (her mother) walked in front of the main church of the village where they lived and sprayed in red on a wall: SOME OF YOU KILLED LUISA. That Saturday evening, a conference organised by the city administration was taking place basically next to the church.
What made you decide to further invest, artistically, on this specific topic?
The project started in 2006, as I was reminded of another kidnapping that happened in my youth: in 1992, Farouk Kassam was just seven years old when he was kidnapped and I've always kept a vivid memory of that crime. 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 many children in Sardinia and Italy who were about the same age as Farouk at the time.
The media talked broadly about the terrible act. I remember that my parents tried to protect me from the cruelty of the news but at the same time, attempted to create solidarity towards the victim. One of the ways to show support to the young boy by the community was to lay white blankets outside the windows and balconies of our homes. These two occurrences, the ear and the white blankets, triggered an extraordinarily strong visual memory which stuck with me and this was actually revived when hearing of the Luisa Manfredi case.
For here is the link behind it all: Matteo Boe, Luisa Manfredi's father, happened to be connected to Farouk Kassam's kidnapping.
For the publication you combined a variety of materials: media archives, stills from your family's video tapes, and novel images. Why did you opt for such diversity?
In this work, I have been seeking a balance between images and text to talk about past, present and future in connection to the crimes in Sardinia, and I decided to talk about them both objectively and subjectively. To talk about the past, I chose to show fragments of video archives from the time of the crimes. I actually used my own family's video tapes for this. Within the text, I referred to sociological and anthropological sources as well as to my own memories.
Diversity was very much needed to talk about such a complex story, especially to fulfil both my curiosity and the sense of responsibility towards the characters, and everyone involved. It was needed in order to address these stories in as much reliable way possible.
While the story and my vision are complex, there is a simple key that could be used to read the book in its totality: The present is discussed via the local communities, the environment in which the crimes happened. Additionally, by me interacting with them and our transformation due to each other's presence, a more subjective perspective is introduced, to show from a personal vision how things have changed or oppositely, not changed at all.
So, it touches both on the respective events as they once happened and how I feel about them.
Diversity was very much needed to talk about such a complex story (...)
The VHS screenshots of people’s faces or gestures are particularly uncanny. What is their function in the series?
The screenshots function as the portraits that I never had the chance to take. I stopped the VHS at the moments that were, to my understanding, the most emotional. Working with VHS is a slow process that allowed me to go back and forth, paying precise attention to details – while remaining a certain amount of ‘noise’: the VHS pictures support both the historical and the more fuzzy subjective elements that are key to this work.
(...)The screenshots function as the portraits that I never had the chance to take.
When talking to people, I often get lost in the small details of their faces and bodies, gestures, reactions. It goes the same way with memories. I can often remember the precise details of my surroundings, things that were said and how they were said. On the other hand, my memory sometimes completely removes potentially relevant facts.
What would you say is the ultimate message of your project?
Be critical, your opinion matters, and if you think that something is wrong, do speak out. In many circumstances it is not easy, it takes some courage but it's possible. Speaking the truth is a great opportunity to make someone else's life easier, it gives one the opportunity to pave the way for justice, even when there is injustice within the local system itself.
Speaking the truth is a great opportunity to make someone else's life easier (...)
Silence, fear, censorship, abuse of power are all aspects that in Sardinia develop according to its culture and history. But they exist everywhere, they just appear in different forms.
You can purchase GUP#65 via our webshop. Additionally, on June 23, Cherchi will host an Instagram Book Launch @10x10photobooks and on June 25, she will be giving a Zoom presentation (in Italian) with Instituto Marangoni.