Binidittu or The Invisible Man

The Binidittu series (2017-2019) adresses the condition of Africans migrants in the Mediterranean through the historical figure of Beneditc the Moor, an Afro-Sicilian man who became the first black saint in history, under the name Benedict the Moor.

Benedict was born in 1524 in San Fratello, a town in the province of Messina (Sicily), to African slaves – Diana, at the service of the Larcan family, and Cristoforo, who was property of the Manasseri family.After working as a pastor, at the age of 20, he began a hermetic life following hermit friar Girolamo Lanza, until 1562 when, by pontifical order, he joined the Franciscan order, moving to the convent of Santa Maria di Gesù, where his fame as a holy person and healer grew until his death in 1589.

At the time of his death, the veneration of Benedict had already extended through all Sicily and soon throughout Spanish and Portuguese colonial America where it still has a strong presence. In Europe, he grew to great fame in the seventeenth century (already in 1612, Lope de Vega dedicated a comedy, "The famous comedy of the Black Saint Rosambuco of the city of Palermo" to him), but he soon faded from memory. The worship of Benedict survives in Sicily, notably in the Italian cities of Palermo, San Fratello and Acquedolci, where the black saint is celebrated every year.
Indeed, since the beginning of the ‘migration crisis’ in Europe and the arrival of the Italian anti-migrant government headed by Prime Minister Salvini, the memory of Benedict the Moor has been growing beyond its religious dimension. By means of  individual initiatives, it is intersecting with the experience of African migrants, to whom Benedetto offers a revived symbol of universal citizenship and the fight against racism.

Apart from these initiatives, there seems to be a gap between the African diaspora and the native population, including devotees. Immigrant populations are confronted with isolation and exclusion from the political, economic and social body. Ghettos have emerged on the margins of large plantations, turning these men and women into invisible people.
The legacy of Benedict the Moor refers to a presence as well as an absence of a major historical figure, celebrated as much in Latin America as he is forgotten and erased in Europe. How was this erasure constructed in the West and what can it tell us about the process of making invisible the African migrants living in the Mediterranean region today?

Binidittu emerges as an allegory of our time: an encounter between the Mare nostrum and the world, between oblivion and memory, between racism made commonplace and our shared humanity, between the Sicilian people’s aspirations and African migrants’ hopes of freedom and dignity as they drift towards Europe’s shores.

Nicola Lo Calzo, November 2019