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Interview: Alba Zari | Organ Vida

Since childhood, Alba Zari has led a nomadic life that brought her to live in different cities and countries. She was born in Thailand and lived there until the age of eight. In Italy, she lived first in Trieste then Bologna, where she graduated from the DAMS with a degree in film. She went on to study documentary photography at the International center of photography in New York, then continued her studies in photography and visual design at the NABA in Milan.

Her experience as a traveller influences and is reflected in her photographic practice, with the intention to explore social themes; for example, her visual studies of mental health centres since the Italian Basaglia Law, and of the widespread eating disorders in the American society. She has also completed projects on scenes from daily life in urban landscapes. She regularly collaborates with fashion brands and newspapers. Her style is distinguished by her very painterly use of the color of the material, and by her images featuring unresolved melancholic environments.

Her recent works include ?Places? (2015), a book and a photographic project executed with Sharon Ritossa (ElementWo) that deals with the analysis of the visual communication of ISIS propaganda; ?Radici? (2013), a documentary project on the vegetation of the Mesr desert in Iran; ?The Y ? Research of Biological Father? (2017), born out of a journey in search of her origins through the father she never knew. For ?The Y?, Alba Zari won the Prize Graziadei 2019, and her work has been exhibited at the London Art Fair, MAXXI museum in Rome, Festival Circulation in Paris. With ?The Y? and ?Occult? she is part of the FOAM Talent 2020. She was born in Bangkok in 1987 and now lives and works in London. Her work is now on display at Organ Vida festival exhibition – you can check it out untill 4th October at Museum of Contemporary Art in Zgareb.

How hard was it to work on projects that employ visuality and visual representation as tools for understanding, expressing, and coming to terms with personal experience?

I find working on personal projects very cathartic. The process of the project The Y was like transforming a very emotional and intimate feeling that was living inside of me for a very long time in visual images. That translation became something else and those feelings did not belong only to me any more, from the moment of tacking the pictures to the moment of printing them and then now for the exhibitions hanging on the wall I was able to let go of my past and look at it from a distance.

The Y is some sort of diary/journal? How did the use of this technique affect you personally, and well as artistically?

Keeping a diary during the project was important because in that way I was able to organise the chaos in my life and in my emotions. I realised at the end that the process was the most important thing. When I started the research my main goal was to find my father?s identity but with time I accepted that it was something very difficult and I slowly accepted that the result was no longer important but the process of finding the truth was the key of this project.

You once stated that you see this project as a photobook, can you explain it a bit more? Why is that?

I immediately thought if this project as a book because from the start I catalogued everything. I collected in a folder all the documents and informations of the research of my biological father, the project began to make sense during the process. In the photobook I used an investigative and analytical aesthetic to have an emotional distance from the story.

Whan will the project The Y be completed?

I think it will always be an on going project .

In your experience, as a woman, daughter, sister, and as an artist how come, and how much do the digital visual technologies participate in exploring and mapping personal history and identity?

Visual technologies are part of our everyday life and as an artist that did a personal project I had to include and reflect on how we use them. Most of the time we are passive in using them and not aware on how much they influence us and how much we can achieve from them.

The project ends with a self-portrait in Bangkok with your eyes closed against a red background. To what or who are you referencing?

The self-portrait is shot as an Id picture as well as the portraits on the blue background of my brother, my legal father, my putative father and the 3D avatar of Massad on the grey background; they all are shot in 5 different angles to look at every physiognomic detail. In this way I am looking at my family and my features. In the self portrait I closed my eyes to interiorze and in the in the same accept my identity even if half part of myself is missing. I am accepting that I will probably never know who my biological father is so the only thing I can do is look inside closing my eyes.

Did you find your truth? Is the project itself your truth?

No, I did not find the truth and I will continue to look for it. The next project I am working on is called Occult and its about my mothers past and it explains the reason why I don?t know who my father is. What I have learned from this project after the all the attempts and failures is that there is not just one truth and it can be manipulated and it can change easily.