In the early 1900s Mark Rothko is forced to abandon his native Russia with his family to flee the pogroms and conscription in the imperial army. The United States become his new home. His story has been chosen as the paradigm of an existential condition faced by numerous 20th century artists fleeing racial, religious and political persecution, and which is still sadly current today.
In his country of asylum, Rothko was able to express his talent and make his representation of the world and of his tormented existence available to the whole of humanity, enabling us to lose ourselves in his expanses of colour. What would 20th-century culture have been without Rothko? And what if, among the refugees now arriving in Europe, there is the Rothko of the 21st century?
The Art Biennale 2019
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, presents Rothko in Lampedusa on the occasion of the 2019 Art Biennale in order to promote the creative talent brought by refugees and provide an alternative to the prevailing negative narrative by showing them in their full potential as unique human beings and bearers of resources for society as a whole.
The exhibition, curated by Luca Berta and Francesca Giubilei, presents the work of eight established artists with personal refugee experience or who have made forced displacement a central theme in their artistic careers and of five emerging artists who are currently refugees.
Though unknown to each other and having had very different life experiences, these thirteen artists lead the visitor on an original path that will shed new light on a very current topic. New light not just from outside, but also from within, since for once it includes the perspective of those who know what it means to be a refugee first hand. To give space to these voices means leaving the door open for art to help us understand the phenomena currently facing humanity. And it will do this in a way that is unpredictable, just as it was unpredictable that the boy who arrived in Portland in 1913 would one day become the Mark Rothko that we know today.