AtWork Venice Chapter 16


AtWork Venice Chapter 16

Venice, Italy
September 9 – 13, 2019





“Where is South?”


Simon Njami

“My South is ‘US’ – In this library there are people we can read to free ourselves and find new awareness.”

Lamin Saidy, AtWork Venice participant

AtWork Venice Chapter 16 has been implemented by Moleskine Foundation in partnership with UNHCR, as part of the initiative “Rothko in Lampedusa”. The workshop was made in collaboration with Nation25, Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation, UNESCO’s Italian Youth Association, Freel, Save the Children, Civico Zero (Milan and Turin), Trame Libere, Talking Hands, Il Volo Social Cooperative, SPRAR Itri.

The project was made possible thanks to the contribution of individuals and sponsors, including System Professional Italia and Tree.

It was the third leg of the AtWork Tour 2019 “Where is South?”.

Simon Njami comments on the topic: “The word ‘South’ may seem to designate a precise point, but upon reflection, we realize that this is totally inaccurate. Let us try to liberate the four points of the compass from any ideology, and reconsider them for what they are: directions. If we succeed in doing so, we will rediscover that South and North do not exist as such; rather, their meanings become activated through our way of thinking. No matter where we are, there is always a ‘South.’ Therefore, we hold the power to define its meaning: ‘South’ begins with us.”


The workshop took place in Venice on September 9-13, 2019, and was conducted by our advisor Simon Njami. Sixteen young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, together with 3 Italian peers, coming from different backgrounds, got together under the guidance of the leader to debate, critique and exchange about what “South” really meant to them. Tailors, fashion designers, film directors, photographers, psychologists, architects… met for the first time to enjoy an opportunity for discussion and mutual exchange. The creative outcome of these reflections was spilled out on a notebook by each participant. One of them, who had already participated in AtWork Rome (from the AtWork Tour 2018 “I HAD A DREAM”), took on the role of Observer for monitoring and assessment purposes. The notebooks inspired by their personal “Souths” will be exhibited as part of the final international exhibition of “Where is South?” Tour in 2020.

THE LEADER: Simon Njami

Simon Njami is an independent curator, lecturer, art critic, and writer. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of “Revue Noire.” Previously, Njami was the artistic director of the Bamako Photography Biennial 2000-2010, and co-curator of the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. He has curated a number of contemporary art and photography exhibitions, including Africa Remix (2004-2007) and the first African art fair in Johannesburg in 2008. In 2014, The Divine Comedy exhibition, created and curated by him, started a world tour at the MMK (Museum für Moderne Kunst) in Frankfurt, moving on to the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. He is the director of the Pan African Master Classes in Photography, a project created in partnership with the Goethe Institute; artistic director of the Donwahi Foundation (Abidjan, Ivory Coast); advisor to the Sindika Dokolo Collection (Luanda, Angola); secretary of the special jury of the World Press Photography Awards; artistic director of the first edition of Off Biennale (Cairo, 2015) and the 2016 and 2018 Dak’Art.

“The path was beautiful and troubled, and has gone through many phases–as it should–including the initial refusal and then the total falling in love! I believe that Hina has explored a part of herself that was previously unknown, and for this has returned home with a very precious treasure. This is really priceless and rarely happens during the welcoming process for asylum seekers.”

Francesca Paiella, Social Worker at Il Volo Cooperative, and Project Manager of Atelier Trame Libere.



The workshop took place at the Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation’s Palazzo Giustinian, where 18 refugees and their Italian peers discussed their idea of “South”. The theme of the workshop was the starting point of a deeply emotional and cognitive journey, and one of critical thinking and debate. As workshop participant Liryc Dela Cruz writes in his introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue: “The impetus for this project is the search for the South. A riddle we encountered upon our arrival in Venice. Are we sailors? We arrived in Venice floating in its incessant water, lost in its canals, the powerful waves of Poseidon (Simon Njami) tossing us back and forth. Day after day, we heard stories of loss, dreams, escape, yearning and displacement. Stories that many of us are mortified to tell or remember. Our journey in search of the South has led us to become naked and reconnect with ourselves again. Poseidon sculpted us to confront our truths, fears, shames, maladies, memories and layers of impositions that have been preventing us to free our mind and soul. The process was never easy. We have been shaken and destroyed. We have become sailors navigating in an ocean of knowledge and nothingness in search of meaning, under the violent rain of confusion, alienation and disconnection. In the end, we have found the shore (…).”


Landing on the shore and building AtWork in Venice was not an easy task. It required sensitivity, delicacy, commitment, and at times an iron fist. Above all, determination on everyone’s part, first and foremost operators and social workers. Simon Njami has been able to gain the concrete trust of the participants through tireless listening, warmth and toughness, all at the same time. He spurred them on; provoked, accompanied, ridiculed and gratified. Moment after moment, day after day. An alchemic process, personal and collective, which not only transformed the participants but all of us, as always happens when real empathy is ignited.

The message elaborated during the workshop will be shown at the Barcolana sailing race in Trieste on October 13, 2019, by the sailing boat Kleronia:

“In this historical moment where borders and walls are created to divide us, aggravate madness and fear, revise and/or erase history, we hope that sharing this experience with us will enrich you and spark new discourses that will fill in the spaces that separate us from seeing the world where we live in.”


Our journey begins on a blank page soon enriched by a sensation of confusion that shakes our minds. All of a sudden, the dance of doubts, expectations and frightening lies begins and we surf on the desire to grow. (…) We understood that in the space there are endless flying pages we can write on, we just need to choose ours and make it spectacular. This exhibition invites you to discover this round trip from our South.”

AtWork Venice participants


The AtWork Venice exhibition “Where is South?” is co-curated by the participants themselves, under the supervision of Simon Njami, in the same context as the exhibition “Rothko in Lampedusa”, curated by Francesca Giubilei and Luca Berta for UNHCR.

In addition to the Venice participants’ notebooks, there are also five notebooks from previous AtWork editions: four by Ibrahim Kondeh, Abdul Rahman Osuman, Loni Mjeshtri, and Francesco Gallo from AtWork Rome, and one by Mohamed Keita – the artist already part of “Rothko in Lampedusa” – which he created during AtWork in Modena in 2016 on the theme of “Heterochrony”.

A special catalogue featuring the personal “Souths” and the related notebooks of all the participants has been produced by the participants themselves.

Participants list

  • Victor R. B. Abbey-Hart

    Federico Alcaro

    Moise Emile Bilong Mbilla

    Enogunmwengie Bright

    Liryc Dela Cruz

    Lamin D. Drammeh

    Nosakhare Ekhator

    Kuete Franky

    Rebeca Giaietto

  • Usman Hamisu

    Hina John

    Morteza Khaleghi

    Felix Junior Omoigui

    Lamin Saidy

    Teresa Soldini

    Sharoon Victor

    Komal Wakash

    Wendorlink Zerpa


  • Partners: UNHCR – Giovanna Liperni, Barbara Molinario, Alberto Bobbio, Carlotta Sami

    In collaboration with: Nation25, Black & White project, Ugo and Olga Levi Foundation, UNESCO’s Italian Youth Association, Freel, Save the Children, Civico Zero (Milan and Turin),Trame Libere, Talking Hands, Il Volo Social Cooperative, SPRAR Itri



  • With the support of: System Professional Italia, Tree

    Workshop Coordinators: Elena Korzhenevich, Tania Gianesin

    Photo and video shooting: Raffaele Bellezza, Rocco Soldini

    Observer: Loni Mjeshtri