Mario Rizzi (Italy, 1962) is an artist and filmmaker based in Berlin.
Starting with the concept of border, above all in relation to the question of identity and sense of belonging, his work deals with lives on the margins, concentrating on collective memories and individual stories that are often forgotten or unspoken. Over the last twenty years his films and photographs have mainly focused on the Middle East and the topic of migration.
His works have been exhibited at art institutions and film festivals, including two recent solo shows at Pecci Contemporary Art Center, Prato (BAYT, 2019) and at Galerie Wedding, Berlin (Bare Lives, 2017); the Tunisian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); "We Refugees" at Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2016); "Istanbul. Passion, Joy, Fury" at MAXXI Museum, Rome (2015); "Where are the Arabs?" at MoMA PS1, New York (2014); "Signs Taken in Wonder" at MAK, Vienna and Kunstverein Hannover (2013); "Be(com)ing Dutch" at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2008); the 6th Taipei Biennial (2008); "This Day" at Tate Modern, London (2007); the 9th Istanbul Biennial (2005); the 7th Sharjah Biennale (2005) and the 14th Sydney Biennale (2004).
In 2018 Rizzi won the Italian Council Award of the Italian Ministry of Culture; in 2012 the Production Program Award of the Sharjah Art Foundation (United Arab Emirates); in 2005 the Best Artist Prize at the 7th Sharjah Biennale and in 2004 the Mulliqi Prize in Kosovo.His films were selected for the official competition of the Berlin Film Festival (2008 and 2013), the International Film Festival of Ankara (2015 and 2016), the Dubai International Film Festival in 2013.
His works can be found in prestigious public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In Iraq, on 3 August 2014, Islamic State forces attacked and captured Sinjar and neighboring towns, killing 5000 Yazidi men and kidnapping their women. More than 50000 Yazidis fled into the Sinjar mountains. Until today only a very few Yazidi women have been rescued from captivity. In summer 2016 I lived in a Yazidi IDP (internally displaced people) camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. I helped them initiate a summer school for Yazidi adolescents, listened to their stories and kept a photographic diary of daily moments of silent endurance, emotional gazes, simple gatherings. Their memories and their ancient syncretic culture had a particularly strong impact on me. The work consists of portraits of Yazidi women.
First exhibition: Wedding Galerie, Berlin, Germany, 2017 (curated by Solvej Ovesen & Bonaventure Ndikung)
Gezi Park Resistance brought together individuals from a broad political and social spectrum, many with no prior history of activism, performing new forms of citizenship. What remains two years after the euphoria of Gezi days? The film delves into the social contract established in Gezi by focusing on three civil rights movements: Northern Forests Defense, an environmentalist group; Kamp Armen, a non-violent occupation protecting an old Armenian orphanage; and the Istanbul's LGBTI community, which acquired a higher social visibility after Gezi.
First exhibition: Istanbul. Passion, Joy, Fury. MAXXI Museo Nazionale Arti del XXI Secolo, Rome, Italy, 2015 (curated by Hou Hanru)
Kauther Ayari was the first Tunisian activist to give a passionate and inspired voice to Tunis rioters on Jan 8, 2011. Her personality is revealed through a long monolog over the course of a few days. With unconcealed intimacy, Kauther tells about herself, her youth and her social and political engagement. She addresses the build-up of 2011 and the conditions of being a woman in present-day Arab society. Sadness and powerlessness permeate Kauther's words, as she disappointingly confesses the people's growing ambivalence for the revolution and the disillusionment derived from the incompleteness of the revolutionary process and the dangers of conservative restoration.
First exhibition: Open Museum Open City. MAXXI Museo Nazionale Arti del XXI Secolo, Rome, Italy, 2014 (curated by Hou Hanru)
Al-Sha'b Yurid Isqat al-Nizam is the slogan that first emerged during the Tunisian revolution and it was the most frequent slogan, both in graffiti and in chants in rallies, during the revolution in Egypt. Since I first approached the historic events unfolding in the Arab world to narrate the individual stories behind them, I have always been struck by the enlightening power of this statement. This slogan reveals two founding qualities of the uprisings: the fact that these revolutions are collective acts of overcoming and the fact that certainly they are not originally driven by any religious claim nor by the politics of replicating the west, rather they are transcending it. This neon installation was my way of joining the Arab people in their fight for freedom, social justice and dignity.
First exhibition: Iskele 2. TANAS, Berlin, Germany, 2013 (curated by René Block & Marius Babias)
Al Intithar is the first film of the trilogy BAYT (HOME). Its concept is inspired by Anthony Shadid's House of Stone, where he writes that «in the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift. Old loyalties may dissolve or be altered. Home, whether it be structure or familiar ground, is finally the identity that does not fade.» In Al Intithar home is no longer a rooted existence or a solid place for the female protagonist but instead becomes a tent, having been forced to flee Syria to Zaatari, the refugee camp in the Jordanian desert. The film, which presents itself as an excerpt, follows her life throughout a period of seven weeks, translating the tragic macrocosm of the Syrian war to the intimate microcosm of a relentless woman and her three children.
World premiere: Berlin Film Festival Official Competition 2013 (https://www.berlinale.de/external/de/filmarchiv/doku_pdf/20135475.pdf)
First exhibition: Villa Romana, Florence, Italy (curated by Angelika Stepken)
The film is based on my original play, written in 2011, and on its making of. The screenplay is structured around a new Karagöz Turkish shadow theater script and is inspired by histories and memories of displaced people, living in Istanbul neighborhoods going through top-down urban transformation. In the first phase of the project, these personal narratives were recorded with the aim of voicing less noticed situations of social distress, with the language and the idioms used by the protagonists. This process allowed a deeper insight into the population dynamics of these neighborhoods and the ways in which displacement affects the lives of single individuals, the urban texture and the interrelationship between gender, ethnicity and class. Karagöz theater was chosen as – through the conflictual dynamics and the equilibrated coexistence between the two main characters – it allowed to elaborate on the notions of power, authority and submission, based on the humorous possibilities of rudimentary situations, identities and costumes.
First exhibition: SALT Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013 (curated by Vasif Kortun)
My film installation for the exhibition Be(com)ing Dutch was called Gefeliciteerd, the congratulating expression, which is used to greet immigrants when they get Dutch citizenship. Gefeliciteerd comprised six films questioning the idea of national identity in the Dutch multiethnic society. They were installed in three small wooden houses, as those assigned to asylum seekers in the Netherlands. In Limina, one of those films, aliens are becoming Dutch citizens, while being taught how to perform their new self. Habits and customs that constitute and hold communities together turn into ridiculously empty gestures when exposed as pure performative acts.
First exhibition: Be(com)ing Dutch. Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 2008 (curated by Charles Esche)
Almost exclusively Latin American immigrants rebuilt New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina tornado outbreak. Commissioned by CACNO (Contemporary Art Center New Orleans) to create a new site-specific project, I employed Latin American ghost citizens to reconstruct, refurbish and reactivate, also with their photographs and recordings, the previously flooded restaurant of the museum, updating it to a modern and efficient taqueria. Unregistered immigrants in the States, including a deejay from El Salvador, were also hired as cooks and waiters/waitresses. Less than half of the already allocated budget for the opening reception was spent for the total project.
First exhibition: Something from Nothing. Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, USA, 2008 (curated by Dan Cameron)
Ali Akilah was a two-time Palestinian refugee, in 1948 and in 1967. He was born and lived in Lifta, the Palestinian village whose area today corresponds to West and North Jerusalem. He graduated in Medicine in Beirut and worked as a doctor in Haifa until 1948. At the moment of filming, he was 96 years old and lived in Amman. He recalls personal memories of decisive moments in his life. His evocative words, both delicate and charismatic, are infused with a sense of uprootedness and permanent impermanence. Akilah's memories are an invaluable instrument to raise consciousness and improve the reading of the present by the firsthand recollections of an eye-witness in his own voice. They are genuine poetry and oral history at the same time.
World premiere (as a 15-min film): Berlin Film Festival Official Competition 2008
First exhibition (as a 2-screen video installation): This Day. Tate Modern, London, UK, 2007 (curated by Samar Martha)
The film Murat ve Ismail is focused on a single family-run shoemaker’s shop in the Istanbul's neighborhood of Beyoglu and depicts two lives, the father (Ismail) and his son (Murat), caught up in the economic transformations ripping through Istanbul. As the nature of the relationship between them gradually emerges, we are introduced to other characters that visit the shop and try in different ways to take advantage of their difficult economic situation. «The film needs to be seen as a narrative from beginning to end. It has some of the appearances of a recording of reality, but its drama and emotional perception are almost too intimate to be true, pushing us to question where the border between fact and fiction is drawn.» (Charles Esche)
First exhibition: Istanbul Biennial. Istanbul, Turkey, 2005 (curated by Charles Esche & Vasif Kortun)
LGBT people face harsh discrimination and are victims of hate crimes and police harassment in Turkey. There are endless newspaper articles, police reports, medical records which can give a clear idea of the extent and the seriousness of the physical and moral violence they endure every day. We collected some of these documents and published them as a book, PINK!, together with my photographic portraits of the LGBT friends I collaborated with throughout the research.
First exhibition: Tirana Biennial. Tirana, Albania, 2005 (curated by Joa Ljungberg & Edi Muka)
The work narrates the lives of a few first and second generation immigrants in Paris. While trying to visualize and convey the poetry that resides in everyday events and to highlight the complex web of relations in a highly multicultural European metropolis, the different stories question the shifting meaning of belonging in our globalized world. There is a deeply intimate and performative element in the work, as the characters literally act their lives on screen. Out of Place is the title of Edward Said's memoir, in which he rediscovers the lost Arab world of his early years in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt and reveals the confusion of identity he experienced as he came to terms with the dissonance of being an American citizen, a Christian and a Palestinian, and, ultimately, an outsider.
First exhibition: Sharjah Biennial. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, 2005 (curated by Jack Persekian)
The work was awarded the Best Artist Prize of the Biennial.
This recreation of Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic studio is an affective space, in which the spectators' movement activates fragments of spoken narrative, reflections and personal observations: the account of a complex psycho-drama of sublimated passion involving Jung and his first patient Sabina Spielrein. We hear the voice of Jung, of Sabina and of Sigmund Freud, whom Jung approached to help resolve his problematic obsession with his patient. «Rizzi’s principles of interaction were simple but not overwhelming, designed to enable visitors to encounter ways of becoming involved in an unseen, ambient world of sound. Rizzi has explored the theme of reason and emotion, creating dual spaces of mind (Jung’s studio) and feeling (the analyst’s setting). In this setting the sofa is a notable absence.» (Darren Tofts)
First exhibition: Sydney Biennial. Sydney, Australia, 2004 (curated by Isabelle Carlos)
During summer 2003 I lived and travelled with the Romani people of Albania throughout the country. In various occasions, they were filmed while narrating their paramisa (fairy tales). Roma tell paramisa to link the present to the past and to reflect their philosophy of life. A strongly dramatic element of fantasy and a bitter sense of reality coexist in these stories. Story-tellers were recorded in their native Romani language. The investigation on the Roma community in Albania on the occasion of Tirana Biennial was presented at the National Gallery (in the room reserved for the bust of the country’s illustrious men) and commented on the oral tradition, values and customs of an ethnic group that has often been considered marginal, simultaneously creating an acute confrontation between official and officious history.
First exhibition: Tirana Biennial. Tirana, Albania, 2003 (curated by Michele Robecchi & Edi Muka)
The project, which was initiated in December 2002, consisted in the celebration of the wedding of two young Kurds living in Bamberg, Germany. Due to the bridegroom’s Iraqi citizenship, to his unclear status in the absence of a permission of stay in the European Union and to the impossibility of procuring the papers required for the marriage from his home country, German public authorities had refused the couple the right to marry. Through the accumulation of an incredible number of documents and multiple official meetings with various authorities, this basic right was re-established, and the wedding reception finally took place at Künstlerhaus Bethanien on 31 May 2003. Turkish and Kurdish communities living in Berlin were invited and enthusiastically enlivened the party.
First exhibition: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, 2003 (curated by Christoph Tannert)
«Constructed as an apartment in the Helsinki City Art Museum, Seven Finnish Identities offers insight into the complex issues of identity and belonging. Each room has been furnished with personal possessions, mementoes, books, music, pictures and even food by an immigrant living in the city. Home movies, videos and recorded sounds give further insight into what it means to adapt to a new environment while preserving memories of one’s own culture - to embrace the dual identity of a refugee. Seven Finnish Identities is proof that art can engage with crucial issues of the day without falling into the trap of being either didactic or simplistic.» (Sarah Kent)
First exhibition: Helsinki City Art Museum, Finland, 2001 (curated by Maija Tanninen & Erja Pusa)
During a three-month residency, 74 gifts were exchanged between Palestinians and Israeli Jews all over Israel and Palestine. Everybody was invited to choose an object connected to their personal history and to explain their choice in a text which was published in a book. At the conclusion of the project, two dinners were organised in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: everybody cooked a recipe which was exchanged between them beforehand.
First exhibitions: The Gift. Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, Italy & Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, USA, 2002
(curated by G. Maraniello & A. Somaini)
Invited by the Mondriaan Foundation for a five-month residency in the Netherlands, I asked to work with the patients of the Den Dolder Judiciary Psychiatric Clinic and to be allowed to accompany them individually outside their home/prison for several hours every day. They received as many disposable cameras as they wanted and the freedom to use them or not. By photographing, they discovered a new language for communicating with the outside world. In conjunction with an exhibition of their work, a photo book was published: They tell me I am sick but I function good.
First exhibition: Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, Finland, 2000 (curated by Pirkko Siitari)