Every so often, a single image makes your entire body shiver. Once in a while that image can make you think in a way you haven’t thought before, just because it is so beautiful yet disturbing at the same time, unsettling even yet brilliant; you are drawn to it and can’t let go. Perhaps this is what makes a photograph into art, an image that goes beyond aesthetics, questions and rouses by shattering taboos. There is no good or bad. Nothing is simply black or white. The journey into the entire spectrum of colours and emotions beckons as the artist Roberto Foddai so masterfully demonstrates.
PP. How did you come up with the idea for Another Taboo?
RF. The idea came up first from something I read on the papers a while ago. A list of members of the BNP (British National Party) were leaked and posted on internet. You could enter your postcode and it would tell you about members living nearby. I obviously checked and realised I had next-door neighbours that were members of the BNP. That made me think about the different layers that everyone has and I decided to explore it.
Humans have different layers. Even people perceived as evil have different sides to them and I think it is quite dangerous to think otherwise.
Then, after those pictures were taken and shown in the “Lingering Whispers” exhibition, one of the reviews on the show mentioned Hannah Arendt. I was not overly familiar with her work but it made me look her up.
I immediately felt the connection between my pictures and her writing. Most of her work examines the same stuff that I explore in my work. Obviously I am an artist and not a political theorist but I feel the core is pretty much the same.
PP. Do you think of it as a controversial body of work?
RF. My dictionary says under the word controversial: “Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion.”
If I go by the definition of the meaning of the word I can say yes, it is controversial. I like the idea that my work is thought provoking and that opens a debate. At the same time I don’t think it is. I don’t flirt with controversy when I do my work, I just want to give a different perspective on things.
PP. I remember when we talked conceptually about this work, before you created it… I thought it would be quite challenging but also saw how a creative move in this direction could go terribly wrong. Amazingly, not one person who saw your work in the recent London exhibition was outraged but rather, felt deeply moved and some even found it electrifying. Had you had any idea how would people react to it?
RF. I wasn’t sure but I had hoped for the best as it was not my intention to cause “cheap” controversy for the sake of it. It was amazing to receive so many messages from people loving this series. I did not get a single negative comment. When I was taking the pictures I felt I had a huge responsibility and was even ready to delete all the pictures if I wasn’t completely happy or if there was even a hint of wanting to do something controversial just for the sake of it. I guess when people see the pictures they see it as an exploration of humanity (which is what they are supposed to be about) and the fact that I am impersonating Hitler becomes secondary at the end.
PP. What is your definition of humanity?
RF. I think we are all a mix of different things. Negative and positive stuff co-exist in every one of us. We only define people according to just one or two aspects of their personality because we are lazy. The reality is that we are extremely complex beings and that good and evil is in every one of us.
PP. I can’t agree more. It is very easy to make judgements in terms of bad and good but nothing is black and white even if it seems that way. There is always a shade of a grey in between and this is where your work belongs, which makes it unusually vigorous in its reality/strength.
Where do you get your ideas from? How do you even start?
RF. Depends really. Sometimes it can be something I read or just a story someone tells me. I find most people extremely fascinating. If you start to dig even the dullest person has something interesting to say. This work was actually the first time I used a well known “character” to express a concept but most of the times I use stories that “ordinary” people tell me.
I actually never thought about it until now but my mother used to tell me lots of stories about when she was a young girl during the second world war and how people according to different circumstances – whether hunger or political changes – would become either horrible or extremely nice…
PP. Where do you come from?
RF. I am originally from Sardinia but I have been living in London for over 13 years. I have three sisters and I was brought up in a quite relaxed and open environment. My sisters are very different from each other and it was like living in Little Women land. I have a very strong connection to my family and Sardinia in general even though I don’t think I will ever live there again. I am still an Islander at heart and maybe that’s why I feel very comfortable living in the UK as it is an island as well.
PP. Do you believe that people are more open, or shall I say conscious now that we have internet and no longer depend solely on our local media for news and knowledge?
RF. Definitely. When I first moved to London I felt a huge difference between Sardinia (or Italy in general) and the UK but nowadays I find myself talking with my friends back in Italy and I can see we have the same points of reference. I think the Internet is probably the biggest revolution of this century.
PP. And a platform for free expression… Aren’t we just lucky to live in these times?
RF. It is funny you say that as I was discussing the same thing with a friend earlier. I personally feel like I was meant to live this moment in history. For me the past is always a huge source of inspiration but I always try to filter the past with a contemporary eye.
PP. Thinking of the controversial, do you believe in all these stories about 2012 and the end of the world as predicted so long ago?
RF. I don’t think so. I think maybe we will have some dramatic changes but I don’t think it will be the end of the world.
PP. What are you working on currently?
RF. I am working on several things that I am very excited about. Firstly, I am doing a performance/action with the amazing artist Oreet Ashery next October in Ljubljana at City of Women International Festival of Contemporary Arts; then working on a couple of other photographic projects, one about nudity and how people feel uncomfortable and vulnerable being naked; and I am also doing photographic illustrations for a new book by the incredibly talented poet/short story writer, Jane L. Nash.
Right now I am also considering the possibility of using other well known characters to extend the idea I have started with Another Taboo.
Images: © Roberto Foddai, Another Taboo, 2010
Text: © Predrag Pajdic, published in the latest issue of HUSK magazine, 2010