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


Praise to the Sons of Noun

A four-week trip to the west African country of Niger, where I went to work on a documentary project about the eponym river, saw me travelling some five hundred kilometres along Africa’s third longest river, the Niger River. Drawing its source from Guinea, the Niger River runs through Mali, Niger, along the northern borders of Benin and finally through the length of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
My love affair with Niger began several years ago, following the screening of the 1989 documentary “Wodaabe, herdsmen of the sun”, by Werner Herzog. My real encounter with Niger later on, however, was to lead to a more profound communion with the great river, the land and the people.
At the first shaft of the early morning sunlight, Niamey, the country’s capital, quickly swells into a throbbing swarm of pedestrians and a myriad of vehicles, with all and sundry in quest of a good fortune or a few coins. And a good serving of “riz-sauce”, the national dish, is a worthy compensation. As the day wears on, Niamey’s endless stretch of red banco-brick houses and the immense Niger River bed in the horizon paint an enchanting backdrop.
The origin of the name Niger has proved enigmatic among modern researchers, and thus cannot be traced with certainty. The most accepted hypothesis is that the name derives from the Tuareg word: “gber-n-igheren” or “river of all rivers”. In the Timbuktu region the word is shortened to “ngher”.
Since time immemorial, the Niger River has been a meeting point and a place of exchange among various ethnic groups. A genius loci, the river has served as a depository of myths and legends, as well as being the abode of great deities like Ba Faro (mother of humanity) and the all-important Noun. The Niger River is a fountain of living waters and a breath of life. Today, riparian communities count over a hundred million people, from the highlands of Guinea to Port Harcourt in Nigeria.
As I traversed the country during those hot and hazy February days, a microcosm of characters and crafts unfolded before me as merchants, priests, butchers, tanners, gardeners, teachers, fishermen, potters, men and women continually renewed their alliance with the murky waters of the river. The encounter was natural, without a middle-man.
Beyond their occupations, individual psychologies and personalities emerged. And people’s trades embodied and shed light on their individual personalities. Along the river, from the western city of Ayorou via Tillaberi, Tera and Niamey to the banks of the lush and evergreen park of « W », I shared in bits and pieces of the daily grind of a country that rests on a fragile equilibrium, sketched by the waters of the Niger river, the desert winds and the influence of an increasing number of anthropogenic activities.
Whilst a harmonious and respectful relationship between man and his environment can be discerned through these portraits, the threat of drought, which threatens to deprive peasants of their already meagre resources, as well as the looming peril of desertification on riparian activities, looms. To save the river is to save the people, both guardians and custodians of Noun.

Nicola Lo Calzo

In Remembrance of Slavery: Tchamba Vodun

In West Africa, slavery represents a past that is difficult to accept, both morally and socially. Memories of slavery have not disappeared, and they have been incorporated into narrative forms that are different from the official versions of history promoted by governments. There are family memories inscribed in the everyday lives of people that were directly or indirectly involved in slavery and the European slave trade.

In the Gulf of Guinea, along the coast from the Volta River in Ghana, through Togo to the westernmost region of Benin, local populations (of Mina and Ewé origin) practice one of the lesser-known religions but which at the same time is among the most representative for the understanding of the history of modern Africa and the memory of slavery in Africa: Tchamba vodun, also called Mami Tchamba.

Tchamba is the name of a spirit considered to be amongst the most powerful and dangerous in the region. It is the spirit of the slaves, men and women who were deported from the north to the southern coast as part of local domestic slavery systems and, more broadly, the Western trade of enslaved Africans. Its worship is the living expression of a historical consciousness of slavery among the local populations.
The photographic series presented here is the result of two journeys between 2011 and 2017 in Togo and Benin, and it explores the complexity of this vodun religion, which is a unique pratice that embodies the ambiguities of the memory of slavery and its multiple meanings within local society.    

For the local populations, the word Tchamba is polysemic: above all, it refers to a geographical place, the village of Tchamba in the central region of Togo, from where – according to local oral accounts – most of the slaves were deported to the coastal region. It also refers to the ethnic group of the region, which, along with the Kabre, was among the main victims of the raids, wars and trafficking that haunted the territory under pressure from European powers. In addition, Tchamba gives its name to the vodun religion and the spirit that governs it: it is the spirit without peace of a person who died in slavery who was abandoned and deprived of the proper funeral rites. The spirit comes back to the descendants of his or her former master to demand offerings and ceremonies in its honour, the only way to appease its worries and restore order, peace and prosperity within the family.

Historically, Tchamba vodun was shaped in a territory where domestic slavery and the West African slave co-existed during the nineteenth century. Indeed, the transoceanic phenomenon of the West African slave trade fed the local slave trade, which was managed by some wealthy African (and Afro-Brazilian) families in the coastal regions. Following Great Britain proclamation of the abolition of the legal slave trade in 1807, the increase in illegal trade was accompanied by a gradual reconversion of the economy into extensive palm cultivation and the development of a new mode of production: domestic slavery.
The Tchamba worship is, in most cases, associated with women amafleflewo ("bought person") intended for domestic work and work in the fields. Unlike men – the majority of whom were deported to the European embarkation points on the Slave Coast and successively shipped to the Americas (Middle Passage) – most of women stayed in the service of local African masters. They became their mistresses or wives, thus joining their master’s family's clan and giving rise to a new lineage. Other times, there were men who were chosen to be employed in forced labor in the fields. When they died, their bodies were buried outside the village in an area bordering the forest (zogbé) that was associated with the world of the unknown, the irrational and the savage. The spirits of these slaves  joined the kingdom of "hot" or "nervous" spirits belonging to people or animals that died in violence (vumeku, literally "death in blood"). That is not by chance that the Tchamba religion is often associated with another important local vodun: Ade, the “hunter” and the deity of the hunting, who is also connected with the world of the hills and forests.   

Because of these unstable and painful conditions, Tchamba asks and demands to be respected and honoured by the living with prayers and ceremonies, without which, a family could be led to ruin, to sickness and, at worst, to death. The Tchambassi, the wives of Tchamba, are the followers of this religion, which in the Mina region is linked with the feminine, the female being and is also called Mami Tchamba or Maman Tchamba (like Mami Wata, the deity of water, rivers and seas). They live (partially or all day) in a vodun convent with a Tchamba shrine, under the guidance of a hounon (a vodun priest or a priestess).   Their most important symbol is a tri-coloured metal bracelet called a tchambagan. A person wearing this type of bracelet can be recognised as being affiliated with Tchamba and associated with slavery as either a descendant of slaves or slave owners.

These women have a "historical" relationship with their slave ancestor. Often, they are members of the families of the former masters that owned him or her during their life. That said, there is a certain ambiguity in the nature of this vodun. Because the domestic slaves were mostly women, who were then married to their masters, the Tchamba disciples can claim a double origin, being a descendant of both slaves and their masters. As Kokou Atchinou, the Supreme Authority of Vodun in Togo, says: "Not everyone can practice Tchamba. It is not like other vodun. If you have the money, you can set up any other vodun shrine at your home. But if you do not have an ancestor who was involved in this trade [of slaves], you cannot have the Tchamba shrine."

When there is a problem in a family (a business in crisis, a disease, a surprise death) the oracle Afa is consulted and the family learns that the origin of the trouble is a Tchamba spirit and the difficult past inherited by the family. At that moment, still with the oracle, the bokono (the diviner) tells them to create a Tchamba shrine, advises them about the ceremonies needed in order to appease the spirit and reveals to them which honoun can guide the family on this new religious path. This is a long and costly process for the family. Once the Tchamba shrine is built, it is obligatory to respect the spirit, to organise prayers regularly, to make offerings and to hold ceremonies in its honour.  

The ceremony – which varies according to place, family and oracle – is the most elaborate and complex aesthetic moment in the life of the followers. Strangers, like myself, must first consult with the Tchamba spirit hosted in the convent to have permission to enter the temple, to speak with the followers, to take part in the ceremony and to take pictures. The flexible nature of vodun, which constantly takes shape in space-time without ever crystallising into a system of dogma and always integrates new elements, making each ceremony singular and unique.

Through a complex ritual, Tchamba vodun highlights the power relationship between former master and his slave. This relationship makes me think of the Hegelian dialectic of the master and the slave, of which the Tchamba religion seems to be create a powerful representation.
This staging is realised through two fundamental moments: sacrifice and trance. With the sacrifice, the practitioners offer Tchamba spirits the animals and the food necessary to obtain their favour. Kokou Atchinou, the Supreme Authority of Vodun in Togo, says: "Now that they have returned, we must respect them, honour them, so that they make life easier. At that time, the slaves ate the leftovers of the master's food. Today, it is the opposite. Now that they have become spirits, they are the first to be fed during sacrifices. We eat after them."

This symbolic reversal of the master-slave relationship also takes place in the case of trance, the psychophysical condition by which the followers are possessed by the spirits of slaves. In a mimetic relationship with the enslaved ancestor, the followers – descendants of the former masters – eat, talk, dress and behave according to the presumed customs of slaves owned by their families. The “savage” and “irrational” north is the imaginary or real place from which the slaves are supposed to originate. The follower, possessed by the spirit of Tchamba, yields to its will, lets himself or herself  be guided by the spirit and submits to its orders. He or she becomes the "slave" and, in so doing, restores lost balance and harmony within the family.    

Followers become aware of themselves in the dynamic relationship of the present and the past. Thus, this vodun has a double-edged social function: on the one hand, reconciling the living with their slave owner or slave past, honouring the spirit of the slave and pay it respect. On the other hand, it has a practical function: to keep bad luck away, to ensure the prosperity of relatives and to affirm the prestige incarnated by their own slaving history. Indeed, the family history does not induce any real sense of guilt among the descendants. In most cases, on the contrary, the slave past is a proof of the former family wealth. Far from a Manichaean view of the world, peculiar to monotheistic religions, Tchamba vodun shows a certain opacity, ambiguity and polysemy, explains Kokou Atchinou, the supreme authority of vodun in Togo: "It was the Europeans who came to us and asked for robust people to go and work in their fields. Little by little, we started this trade to satisfy this demand [...] Not everyone had the money to buy. For us, we are proud to be the son of someone who participated in this trade. But we are also obliged to accept these spirits and pay them their due respect."  

In gaining this awareness of family history, the Tchamba followers reactivate the memory of slavery, share it and transmit it to future generations. They recognise a place for the spirit of the  person who died enslaved in the family pantheon and in the community. Tchamba leaves the restless world of the forest and, at least during the time of the ceremony, finds peace at the family shrine, the meeting place between the visible and the invisible world, between past and present, between ancestors and descendants, between former masters and former slaves.    

Nicola Lo Calzo       

Slavery past heritage in the French West Indies

The history of the French Antilles is linked to the European colonization and the colonial slavery, which the Spanish, the English, the French and the Dutch practiced for three centuries. Especially in Guadeloupe, slavery remains one of the founding acts of the society. After the abolition of slavery in 1848, the French monarchy, and then the new French Republic, made every effort to ensure that the new citizens of the French Antilles forgot their past linked to slavery. The education system played a major role in that action and benefited from the fact that the slaves’ descendants were hung-up by their origins. Since 1970, a process of reconstruction of the lost memory is taking place, as well as a reappropriation of the French antilles historical heritage.  

The notion of a Guadelupian identity seems to be indivisible from the commemoration of a collective slavery history, which is re-appropriated and transcribed from iconic events and figures, that are essentially chosen to symbolize the popular resistance to colonization. In Guadeloupe and the French Antilles, the “rupture of parentage” caused by slavery was followed by a voluntary or forced oblivion of the individual and collective memory.

Nowadays in Guadeloupe, the slavery memory goes mainly through the re-appropriation, or even the discovery of the past, through genealogy studies and the discourse carried by the movements kiltirel. The movements kiltirel or «Mas groups» - «Mask groups» in English - associated with the carnival, play a fundamental role in the recollection of the past and the reconstruction of the history. These groups, the most important being Voukoum (literally noise), Akiyo and Mas Ka Klé, have been working for 30 years to revive the symbols of the black resistance, through the developing of the Mas tradition. These groups, born in the Seventies, are linked to the movement of secession LKP and they are promoters of a political and ideological discourse. They chose to present a particular vision of the Creole society, by insisting on its link to the times of slavery but also by erasing the figure of the white man, which would stain the idea of the original purity.

It is a chosen vision, a selective historical memory. It is clear that the Creole culture was formed over the course of different contributions: European and African, but also Caribbean, Indian and American. The photographic essay (2012) shows the acuity of the slavery problem in Guadeloupe. There is little doubt that this event in the West Indian history is not a closed wound. The result of this research shows that slavery, far from being obliterated from the Caribbean memories, appears as a key period, sometimes occulted, sometimes rehabilitated, sometimes reinterpreted, and that really determines the relationship of the Guadeloupe citizens towards historical times.   In that sense, the Guadelupian carnival has become a place of dramatization of the identity and heritage, and proposes a local reconstruction of history and its heroes. The Carnival appears as a central issue of the various cultural and identity policies.

In this context, the mask groups propose a re-appropriation of certain elements of the cultural heritage, through a recollection of the past. The Mas are traditional elements of the Carnival, the symbols of disorder, linked to rural areas, the world of nature, of the earth and forest. It is the world of the maroon slaves, at the outskirts of society, a world at the fringe, outlawed. Whenever the Mas looms from the countryside to invade the frightened city, it carries the popular representations that systematically associate it to the savage, “uncivilized” men, the “maroon slave”, from whom it wants to keep the rebellious and defiant behavior.  

When they bring the Mas in town, these groups make an important transfer, since they push out a rural and popular culture that had to trick the colonial morality to survive, from the shadows and the night, to project it into the city lights. This symbolic shifting carries a huge emotional charge, since the Mas convey the wounds of a history as violent as its denial.

Casta: Race, Memory and Community in Southern United States

Intense emotions expressed around the world after the release of "Twelve Years A Slave" bears testimony to the significance of questions surrounding memory and race within the American society. The film, by British film director - Steve McQueen, strongly underlines the predicament of the legacy of slavery in the United States. Far from a done deal, this central element in the history of the United States of America remains a vivid subject, a century and several decades after its abolition. The passion aroused by the film reveals that while it is sometimes masked, restored or even reinterpreted, America's slave past is indispensable and remains at the heart of relations in the country. Alex Haley's "Roots", released in the 70's, prompted similar emotions and debates.

Aside from the neglect of African American communities, an underlying cause of the exponential increase of unemployment in New Orleans, the most significant situation that followed the devastating 2005 Hurricane Katrina was the discovery that the racial geography of the city had remained unchanged since its racial segregation eras. As the gushing winds and high waters of the hurricane tore through New Orleans, disembowelled abodes of the city's black community could not but expose the concealed ghosts of segregation and slavery: poverty and misery.

It is with this depiction of the situation at hand that I decided to undertake a research documentary project in Louisiana and Mississippi, to better understand the origin of this racialised geography. I also sought to wrap my brains around how the various racial categories shape memory, geographical heritage and economic, political and interpersonal relations.

The series presented here was undertaken in Louisiana and Mississippi, two former confederate states that share a common history: French colonisation, slavery and plantation economies, civil war trauma, reconstruction, segregation, economic decline and a recent redirection of the economy towards mass tourism.

Three of the most established communities in these territories appear in this study: Black, Creole and White. I, especially, tried to question real memories linked to the Antebellum (which preceded the American civil war and Black emancipation) and segregation periods by examining certain modern modes of memory transmission and the re-appropriation of past events.

The common denominator in the speeches and testimonies among people of these different communities, during interviews, is seemingly their constant references to the American civil war. The war, to them, is the gap between two worlds. While there is on the one hand the remembrance of slavery, which is vital to the African American narrative (see the activities carried out by the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, St Peter Claver church, Black Indians tribes, etc), there is on the other hand a celebration of the good old Antebellum days when Louisiana's White and Creole communities were among the richest in the country (as witnessed by virtue of Natchez Garden Club's activities, leisure tourism on former plantations and the enactments of the civil war).

The photographs, produced within a six-month research period (2013-2014), seek to explore the complexities and contradictions linked to collective memory in the southern parts of the United States, an area that has been affected by social injustice and racial discrimination. The project examines how and why the communities re-appropriate the past, the thought process among its racial strata and the ways and manners by which they are transferring this memory to the next generation.

Nicola Lo Calzo

The challenge of freedom in the face of revolutionary dogma: Afro-Cuban heritage caught between emancipatory practices and colonial memory

In Cuba, the word regla has multiple meanings. Above all, it is the name of the port city, Regla, located on the periphery of Havana and one of the most important religious centres of the country.  Regla also refers to the three major Afro-Cuban religions: the Regla de Ocha or Regla de Ifá, better known as Santería, the Regla de Palo, and the Regla Abakuá.  Lastly, in Spanish, regla means rule, precept or law, and, by metonymy in Cuba, the Cuban regime. Cubas has two faces. The first is seen by the general public. It is the face of the Cuban revolution. The face of myth and of the motherland…. 
And then there is the face of the other Cuba, which is underground and shrouded in silence and secrecy. It is invisible to most. This face is made up of singular subjects, ordinary Cubans, the working masses who – on their way home after their daily patriotic duties – leave the “us” of the nation behind and take up the “I” of their differences, their idiosyncrasies, their multiple and contradictory imaginations. 

This expression of the “I” owes much to Afro-Cuban culture, born in the heart of the slave plantation as a survival mechanism in the face of barbarity. In the course of its history, this African heritage, despite the violence of the colonial regime, has been transmitted from generation to generation within confined spaces, whether authorised or not: the barracon (the slave quarters on a farm), the palenque (a community of Maroon slaves taking refuge in the forest) and the cabildo (a legally authorised Black brotherhood outside of the city centre).

With the dismantling of the colonial system, the barracones and the palenques gradually lost importance in favour of the urban tradition of the cabildos, from which most of contemporary Afro-Cuban heritage is derived.  

This is how, 130 years after the abolition of slavery, the Carnival comparsas, the Regla de Ocha, the Regla del Palo Monte and the Abakuá secret society are all still very active religious and secular practices in Cuba. They are a social spaces of resistance and countervailing power that originated in the emancipation of slaves and the abolition struggles of the 19th century. Alongside the Afro-Cuban and Masonic mystics who have shied away from open discussions of identity or politics, the hip-hop movement, which was imported from the United States in the 1990s, is also participating in the creation of a new environment of liberty for the younger generations.  

Beyond the contradictions and discontinuities unique to each of these platforms of expression, the Regla project examines existing links between areas of self-expression in contemporary Cuba and the resistance and survival strategies employed by freed and enslaved Africans during the colonial era. Regla also seeks to highlight a historical perspective on the fundamental role played by Afro-descendants in the establishment of these marginal expressions of freedom, which continue to impact significantly on the definition of the contemporary Cuban society.

Nicola Lo Calzo

Haiti: Memory and oblivion of Haitian Revolution

The unique aspects of Haiti, whose date of birth coincides with the abolition of slavery and the birth of the first black republic in 1804, have been determined by its history. In Haiti, the memory becomes a unifying element, perhaps the only common denominator of a vertical society divided into castes. In all social latitudes, memories of the resistance to slavery acquire a value of identity and give a sense of belonging to the same historic community. But these are selective memories, which coincide with the memory of the Haitian Revolution and the Independence, while erasing both the colonial and the post-revolutionary period.

Unlike the removal operated by the Western world, these memories have been embraced by the different social groups living in the country, each in its own way, so that today Haiti has an exceptional heritage based on popular culture, even if largely unrecognized by the public institutions and the international community.

This series (2012-2013) traces for the first time the multiple experiences related to these key memories, the descendants of revolutionaries, the Voodoo pantheon, the "Poles" affair, the Carnival in Jacmel, the "relics" of national heroes, the question of the debt (or ransom) of Haiti and the new forms of re-appropriation of the past, to the impressively popular initiative of the "Movement for the Success of the Image of the Independence Heroes" (Mouvement pour la Réussite de l’Image des Héros de l’Indépendance d’Haïti).  

In Haiti, memory becomes a unifying element, perhaps the only common denominator of a vertical society divided into castes. Everywhere, memory of the resistance to slavery takes on a value of identity and a sense of belonging to the same historic community. But it is indeed a selective memory, which coincides with the memory of the Haitian Revolution and the Independence, while excluding both the Ante Revolution (slavery) and the Post-Revolution period (disappointment and the drift of the totalitarian regimes until today).  

In light of all this, the extraordinary experience of the "Movement for the Success of the Image of the Independence Heroes" is indicative of this selective memory taken to extremes. This association, founded in 2006 by Destiné Jean Marcellus, who plays Dessalines in public shows and celebrations, is based in Croix-de-Bouquets, a town located a few miles from the capital. The movement brings together twenty young men and women from the lower class of the capital, both unemployed and active workers, and university students as well.

This young people travel across the main cities, such as Jacmel, Port au Prince, Gonaives, Cape Haitian. They are celebrated and acclaimed guests during the celebration of the National Days (January 1st, the Independence day, November 18th, i.e. the day of the Vertières battle), and their shows attract big audiences, more and more loyal to the cause of the movement. Under the leadership of their founder, they bring back to life the main heroes of the Revolution, supported by elaborate costumes and complex acts, songs and speeches that take back to the revolutionary period. The claimed objective of each representation is pedagogical: they want "to teach the new generations, with no jobs and poorly educated, the glorious history of the Haitian Revolution." The line between the actors and the characters blurs in the eye of the public: Destiné demands to be called Dessalines. He is Dessalines! Truth to be told, his resemblance to the historic character is astonishing. The public hails him as a new messiah, "Dessalines, Dessalines!", they hug him, they call for him, they beg him.  

In a mixture of wildly different elements taken from history and mythology, the re-appropriation of this memory leads to its climax: the reincarnation of the Revolution. The past is coming back to live once again in the present time. People from the slums mutate into heroes, into conquerors and become the true protagonists of history, at least as long as the performance is ongoing.

Nicola Lo Calzo

African memories between private transmission and public appropriation

Over the last two decades the Atlantic slave past has received increased attention.
In the Americas, Europe, and Africa, emerging initiatives highlighting the memory of slavery in the public space largely resulted from the political struggle of social actors fighting for social justice or seeking to occupy the public space to obtain political prestige and economic profits.  

The work of memory conveyed through festivals, monuments, and local museums remembering slavery and the Atlantic slave trade allows recreating, reinventing, and rethinking this painful past. But public memory of slavery is not direct transmission; it belongs to the scope of postmemory (Hirsch 1997), to a transitional space where this past is relived, re-enacted, and re-experienced. Despite evoking the Atlantic slave trade past and the sufferings endured by enslaved Africans before their boarding for the Americas, most initiatives repeatedly convey simplified representations of enslavement. Even though these simplified narratives have been successful in attracting and moving local and international tourists, they persistently ignore the multiple dimensions of the experiences of the victims, by reinforcing various misleading stereotypes and omitting unpleasant aspects of African participation in the slave trade business. These multiple discourses emanating from public manifestations and local social actors, if they have the merit to participate in the debates surrounding the Atlantic slave past, they don’t have be confused with the local memories of slavery, directly linked to the private experiences of the descendants, both enslaved and slave merchants, oral traditions, rituals both traditional and Christian, historical sites and architectures. This unbodied and disembodied legacy of Atlantic slave past still remain to be recognized and valorized attending a real policy of information and valorization, avoiding any political manipulation.  

The first part of this series introduces the emergence of the public memory of slavery and slave trade tourism in West Africa. It sheds light on how North American and Western European conceptions of heritage and tourism were transplanted, adapted and transformed in West African countries, including Ghana, Senegal, and the Republic of Benin. The promotion of the Atlantic slave trade heritage was crucial for the development of a West African tourism industry. The public memory of slavery is built to fulfill the expectations of European, African American and Afro-Caribbean tourists, who were and still are the main target of projects focusing on the heritage of the Atlantic slave trade and African roots tourism.  

The second part focuses on the complex transmission of the slavery memories in west Africa, that still remain a local private affair. In Western Africa, slavery represents a past that is both morally and socially hard to accept. The narratives around these events are scarce as they generate much unease. Although the memory of those times has not disappeared, it has been integrated within alternative forms of narration, too complex to be included into a public memory policy.  

Through some memories and practices of the African descendants, both traffickers and enslaved, it is clear that if, despite a taboo about speaking of slavery, this memory plays an important role in the contemporary relationships between the descendants of African slave merchants and the descendants of African slaves: the stigma of slavery persist in the organization of the power in West Africa.

Nicola Lo Calzo

Caravana Reportage

Cum haec taliaque sollicitas eius aures everberarent expositas semper eius modi rumoribus et patentes, varia animo tum miscente consilia, tandem id ut optimum factu elegit: et Vrsicinum primum ad se venire summo cum honore mandavit ea specie ut pro rerum tunc urgentium captu disponeretur concordi consilio, quibus virium incrementis Parthicarum gentium a arma minantium impetus frangerentur.

Comeback to Kalahari

Comeback to Kalahari is a photo story about San People, improprerly known as Bushmen, one of the last indigenous communities, the last descendants of the mitochondrial Eve, regarded as the most remote ancestor of humanity.
 In collaboration with SASI (The South African San Institute), I had the opportunity to spend some weeks with Khomani and Kwé Bushman communities inhabiting the Northern Cape in South Africa. As a result of Western colonialism and South Africa apartheid dismantled only in 1991, San have undergone a double process of impoverishment, their land and their cultural identity. The political control of territory, led by governments of southern Africa and the major diamond companies, pushed the hunter-gatherers to adopt an urban and sedentary lifestyle. Comeback to Kalahari looks at this community, who, nowadays, inhabits the vast and hostile stretches land in the Kalahari desert: unemployment, illiteracy, isolation and high cost of  living jeopardize the preservation of its identity. I show this global frontier, where the sense of isolation and marginalization shape the texture of every day, with little promise of change. All the pictures were take in 2009. 


Morgante interweaves the personal stories of individuals linked by a common denominator: being dwarfs. Morgante, ironically nicknamed the Giant in the poem of the same name by Louis Pulci, was the most famous of the five dwarfs at the court of the Medicis in Florence. According to the codes of the time, the dwarf Morgante was portrayed as a monstrum. Thus dehumanized and stripped of his personality, he appears in paintings of Bronzino and sculptures of Giambologna. Progressively he becomes an idea, an archetype, and a looking glass through which the human family will regard diversity for centuries to come.
Using the literary and artistic inspiration, photographer Nicola Lo Calzo  has created Morgante, a moving gallery of portraits depicting the universe of little people, a highly marginalized category in some African countries. Often associated with witchcraft, people with dwarfism live in a semi-clandestine state, subjected daily to all kinds of psychological violence. Lo Calzo photographed his models in private situations, at home, at work or in the street.
In Lo Calzo's photographs, Fidel, Kwedi, Babel are not victims of their size. On the contrary, they are the primary agents of their lives, protagonists of the scene represented. In these terms, the photographer questions the conventional representation of diversity, self-esteem and self-acceptance: his models gaze directly into the camera as if intentionally searching the eyes of their viewers. They fully assume the role of actors and directors of their own lives. In some societies still deeply polarized around the concept of normal and abnormal, good and evil, tradition and modernity, Morgante is an invitation to break this archetype of monstrum and come to full recognition of diversity.

Maroons of the Guianas : from antislavery struggles to mass society

Despite having played a fundamental role in the anti-slavery struggle and identity construction of the African Diaspora in the Americas, Marronage is still poorly understood.  
is without a doubt the form of slave resistance that has most fed the imagination of Black communities in the Americas. Having equally had a great impact on the western intellectual sphere since its inception, as captured by William Blake’s iconic illustrations in the 18th century, Marronnage is today undergoing a heightened interest among artists, writers, researchers and activists. Marronnage created communities that wrested themselves free of slavery and proclaimed their sovereignty in the New World. These communities of runaway slaves were found throughout the Americas, from Louisiana, to Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Brazil, and the two Guianas, among others.  Some of the descendants of these societies continue to exist today.

They are the gatekeepers of a little known self-emancipation narrative. This is the story of the Maroons of the Guianas, also known as Businenge or Bushinengue.   Maroons were especially numerous in the Dutch colony of Suriname (and a small number moved into the western part of French Guiana during the mid 18th century), in part due to the extreme forms of brutality meted out to enslaved peoples on these colonial plantations.

Today, Suriname and French Guiana count six groups of Maroons: Saamaka, Ndyuka, Aluku, Pamaka, Matawai and Kwinti. Having evolved alongside Amerindian societies, Maroons are increasingly confronted with the complexities of the transmission of their heritage - mostly based on oral tradition - within a broader society that favours urban models of integration. The new societies in which they find themselves when they move to the cities, do not consider the specificities of their culture nor their claims as indigenous peoples. After abandoning their forest-nestled communities and migrating to urban centres, new forms of identity have come to the fore, as younger Maroons turn their backs on traditional practices in favour of new success-oriented societal values.

The Obia photographic project -- undertaken in the historical Maroon territories of Saamaka-Land and Maroni-Land, in both Suriname and French Guiana – seeks to interrogate the links between the exceptional magical-religious legacy of Maroon people and the new challenges that stem from modernity: the ongoing acculturation among new generations and the counterweight produced by deculturation. Additionally, Obia calls for a rethink of the connections between historical marronage and challenges pertaining to contemporary immigration and, not least, between the memories of the colonial past and accommodations with the postcolonial present.

Nicola Lo Calzo

Family of Man

The Other Family is a personal and autobiographical project started in 2006 when Nicola Lo Calzo moved to Paris. It is a tribute to the exhibition Family of Man, organized by Edward Steichen at Moma in 1955. The Other Family is an autobiographical and personal project, focusing on the idea of diversity and of the wider human family. This is a gallery of portraits of men, women and children that the photographer has gradually added to his entourage and which today is his intimate and personal universe . With reference to the tradition of portraiture, ranging from Diane Arbus to Mary Ellen Mark, but also to Italian Neorealism, to the universe Fellini and to Pasolini's work, Lo Calzo offers a representation of the diversity as a a fundamental value of the person. From a biographical approach, the photographer wishes to question diversity in our society and its representation, whatever it is defined by class, gender or race. For Nicola Lo Calzo is the self-determination of the subject which guarantees the legitimacy of the photograph. His subjects are held as if all this is a ritual. The portraits of Ulrich of Vyva or Elie, like all the other protagonists of this series are a testimony of a multifaceted and complex reality, where the normality can be only the diversity.

Underground Railroad legacy in New York State

"Bundles of Wood" questions the Underground Railroad legacy in New York State, the clandestine network active up to the American Civil War, for the liberation of enslaved people from the slave South to the North abolitionist, in particular to Canada. The project was realized during the Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in 2017. New York State was home to many of the most significant events and participants in the great reform movements of the nineteenth century. New York City had one of the largest slave markets in US. Southerners who settled in Upstate areas brought slaves with them. In the early 19th century, religious revivals spread through the state, especially along the newly-built Erie Canal. This is the origin of the anti-slavery movement in New York. Many citizens, both black and white, helped fugitives (often called “Freedom Seekers”) escape to Canada. They were part of a secret network known as the Underground Railroad. Many homes and churches from Long Island to Buffalo still stand as landmarks to this secretive and illegal operation. Some are well-documented, like Harriet Tubman House in Auburn, the barn of Gerrit Smith house in Peterboro, the Site of the Rescue of slave William “Jerry” Henry in Syracuse and others are questionable. Many are lost - long ago torn down to make room for new development. To date, traces of this clandestine network are numerous but very rare are the traces left by the fugitives themselves. The photographs here below tell
the memories of the UGRR through this dual perspective, the abolitionists on the one hand and the fugitives on the other, showing for the first time some unique items, such as the faces carved into the rock by fugitive slaves in the base of Wesleyan Church in Syracuse, or the hands carved by a fugitive slave as a tribute to his liberator, as part of the Madison County Historical Society.
collection. How the memoires of the UGRR live nowadays in the territory and how their reappropriation can deal with the marketing and tourism logics?

Nicola Lo Calzo

The Promising Baby : childhood and albinism in Cameroon

Myanmar : Challanges and contradictions of a fragil democracy









Burma Reportage

Cum haec taliaque sollicitas eius aures everberarent expositas semper eius modi rumoribus et patentes, varia animo tum miscente consilia, tandem id ut optimum factu elegit: et Vrsicinum primum ad se venire summo cum honore mandavit ea specie ut pro rerum tunc urgentium captu disponeretur concordi consilio, quibus virium incrementis Parthicarum gentium a arma minantium impetus frangerentur.





The Caravan of Freedom, Cuba - 30th November - 4th December 2016

Burma galerie

Interview Guyane La1ère

Fréjus - A French town under the far-right National Front party, 2017

Festival Allers-Retours Interview


Au-delà de la destruction, de l’abandon des quartiers inondés et de l’augmentation exponentielle du chômage, le fait le plus significatif de l’ouragan Katrina en 2005 a été de dévoiler au monde entier, non sans un certain embarras, que la ville de New Orleans était restée la même depuis l’époque de la ségrégation raciale et, même plus loin, de la société esclavagiste. Les fantômes du racisme et de la ségrégation se sont matérialisés face aux images des maisons qui, éventrées par la force de l’ouragan, ne camouflaient plus la pauvreté et la misère qui y régnaient. Et dans ces maisons habitaient surtout des Afro Américains.

Promising baby Reportage

Cum haec taliaque sollicitas eius aures everberarent expositas semper eius modi rumoribus et patentes, varia animo tum miscente consilia, tandem id ut optimum factu elegit: et Vrsicinum primum ad se venire summo cum honore mandavit ea specie ut pro rerum tunc urgentium captu disponeretur concordi consilio, quibus virium incrementis Parthicarum gentium a arma minantium impetus frangerentur.

Promising baby galerie



Self Publishing
Textes de Nicola Lo Calzo

Soft cover English
23 cm x 32 cm
75 pages - 45 photographs color ills.
Paper 80mg mat Fedrigoni

March 2017

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Self Publishing
Text Nicola Lo Calzo

Soft cover English
23 cm x 32 cm
32 pages 23 color ills.
Paper 80mg mat Fedrigoni

June  2014
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Kehrer publisher
Texts Simon Njami, Françoise Vergès, Jean Moomou

Hard Cover
French / English

19 cm x 24 cm
96 pages - 69 color ills.
Paper 170g
semi-matt Luxo

June 2015
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Self Publishing
Text  Nicola Lo Calzo

Soft cover English
23 cm x 32 cm – 76 pages 57 color ills.
Paper 80mg mat Fedrigoni

June 2014
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Cham 2011

Cham 2011

Self Publishing
Text Nicola Lo Calzo

Soft cover English
23 cm x 32 cm – 58 pages 50 color ills.
Paper 80mg mat Fedrigoni

September 2012
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Regla / En

Regla / En

Kehrer publisher
Texts Ivor Miller, Papà Humbertico, Nicola Lo Calzo

Cloth Hard Cover
English / Spanish

19 cm x 24 cm
144 Pages 81 color and 3 b/w illustrations
Paper 170g  semi-matt Luxo

October 2017
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Self Publishing
Text Nicola Lo Calzo & Christophe Wargny

Soft cover
English / French
23 cm x 32 cm -58 pages 50 color ills.
Paper 80mg mat Fedrigoni

September 2013
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Inside Niger

Inside Niger

Kehrer éditeur
Texts Laura Serani & Sami Tchak

Hard cover
French / English

21,5 cm x 31 cm
116 pages 50 color ills.
Papeer 170g / semi-matt Luxo

November 2012
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Fratelli Alinari éditeur
Texts Laura Serani

Soft cover Italian/French
24 x 22 cm 40 color ills.
Paper 150g semi-matt

June 2011
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Bundles of Wood

Bundles of Wood

Lightwork publisher
Contact Sheet 203
Texts Mary Lee Hodgens

Soft Cover

23,5 cm x 26 cm
48 pages

August 2019