Your Military Museums will fade and rot, Your hallowed Battlefields will be dug up to build Shopping Malls and the Monuments to Your Glorious Past torn down by foreign Occupying Forces...
The awareness of time flow triggers multiple questions in sensitive minds. How much can the past influence the future? How consciously? What really remains of what happened centuries ago, if not the partial and incomplete testimonies of the few who, in words or figures, tried to document their present? Since when in Western Europe Latin was spoken, the way of protecting and saving historical memories, has been indicated with the term tradĕre, with the double meaning of "to pass on, to transmit", but also to "deliver to the enemy", and therefore to "betray". Therefore, from the same semantic root, do come today "traditions" but even "betrayals". All the paintings by the official British Army artist in South Africa, Thomas Baines, faithfully recount the facts of the battles he witnessed in person as a war painter, but they also depict the nature of the places and the customs of the population; but only from the point of view of the nineteenth-century colonizer keen on discovering exotic curiosities and rarities.
The artists Andrew Gilbert, Jarmila Mitríková & Dávid Demjanovič and Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers), who for the first time stage together in the colossal exhibition The Fate of Empires, request the visitors to look with today's eyes at the historical episodes, recorded only by the great official history, and to reinvent them through alternative narrations of forgotten stories.
It is precisely from the aesthetics of colonial artists from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century that Andrew Gilbert was inspired. The titles of his works on paper are raised as patriotic cries by the indigenous armies, which are seen for the first time as protagonists of heroic victories: the results of the battles of Isandlwana - which took place on 22 January 1879 in South Africa during the Anglo - Zulu War - and of Adua - which was held on March 1, 1896 during the Abyssinian War - sanction the most humiliating defeats suffered by the Europeans at the hands of the dominated populations.
Ironically pungent, the artist becomes the spokesman for the rehabilitation of those who have historically been considered the weakest. He/she performs such rehabilitation through satirical portraits of leaders, bird's eye views of military arrays, and the reproductions of propaganda posters which are the fruits of detailed studies on the original sources and of a free interpretation that does not lack references to contemporary international policies.
Shared by the other artists, is the intent of Umar Rashid, who claims the historical marginality of black culture through a narrative system he himself created, based on the history of the imaginary "Frenglish" Empire. From this neologism, which unites the historical enemies France and England, a series of episodes comes to life whose protagonists are persons of colour lined up against the "gargantuan" western empire. These persons can be identified through the tattoos they wear on their faces and they are all accompanied by a personal life experience written by the artist himself. The legend created by the artist for the exhibition introduces, in six works on paper, the love battle of valiant Guido, nicknamed "Dolomites" for his ability to fight in the mountains. It takes place in the Austro-Hungarian lands from 1782 to 1790, showing that past history can be rewritten today by imagining multiple parallel possibilities for the facts actually occurred.
Mitríková & Demjanovič, who work as a duo, come instead from a country of the former Soviet Union, where the control of the masses and the culture, which was exercised by the regime, coexisted with both Christian and pagan religiosity. The two artists move along the lines of tradition, mastering the technique of pyrography on wood used by local artisans to make souvenirs or to decorate objects of common use. With this peculiar artistic processing, Mitríková & Demjanovič act with respect to their roots, but at the same time they "betray" the typical subjects represented on the wooden tables, by operating an overlap between support and message.
In their works, personified animals and fantastic monsters, evoked by the Wilder Mann (wild man) mythology, alternate with popular actions, such as gymnastic training, hunting, or gathering under the greasy pole: all actions that have a strong ritual component while aiming to keep the community together.
There are also some ceramic sculptures on display, in which the two artists erect small altars in order to protect a lost culture.
The reinvention of history made by the exhibition artists outlines the destiny of both empires and totalitarian regimes, which inexorably collapse, leaving unhealed the wounds of the peoples. Thus, the most powerful weapon becomes the narrative, both real and fictitious, which claims to restore dignity to the people's stories, mixing up the past and the present with a view to depicting the future.