Cinema, Art etc.

Nostalghia: Photos of Middle Eastern Christians

by Federica Sasso |  May 12, 2016

In this gallery of photos by Linda Dorigo some views of the exhibition Nostalghia at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem.

In this gallery of photos by Linda Dorigo some views of the exhibition Nostalghia at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem.

In this gallery of photos by Linda Dorigo some views of the exhibition Nostalghia at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem.

In this gallery of photos by Linda Dorigo some views of the exhibition Nostalghia at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem.

In this gallery of photos by Linda Dorigo some views of the exhibition Nostalghia at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem.

The photographic exhibition Nostalghia, on show until the end of November 2016 at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem, is the result of a journey through the Christian minorities of the Middle East.

Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon. Some lacerations of the Middle East can be seen on the second floor of the Austrian Hospice, in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. The 32 photographs in the exhibition Nostalghia, a journey through the Christians of the Middle East are an open window on the life of communities which for centuries have had their roots in this part of the world. Photographer Linda Dorigo and journalist Andrea Milluzzi travelled for almost three years, listening to and photographing the men and women who preserve very ancient traditions which today are often in danger of disappearing.

Their work is collected in a book entitled Rifugio (published in 2015 by the Dutch Schilt Publishing) and the exhibition inaugurated on 1st May takes its title for the book’s last chapter. The black and white photos shot on film are poetic and evocative. They tell of moments of life and prayer. Like the roundabout in an amusement park in Bassora, Iraq, an Orthodox wedding in Egypt or the portrait of two Iranian pilgrims. Milluzzi explains that the title chosen refers “to the nostalgia of the communities forced to decide whether or not to leave the land to which they have been attached for more than two thousand years. This nostalgia is also the fear of leaving without knowing when they will be able to see again the places they are leaving behind.”

Linda Dorigo tells us that the idea of the project came into being in January 2011, after the attack, on New Year’s Eve, on a Coptic church in Alexandria. “Commenting the news on the violence against Christians in the Middle East. Andrea and I wondered what was really happening. This way we decided to go and see for ourselves. For the project we gave ourselves a historical line and decided to tell the story of the communities of the countries where Christianity was born and developed: Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, the whole of the Holy Land, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.”

The first stop was Iran, then the photographer and journalist moved to Beirut to live close to the communities so that their account could be as truthful as possible.

Starting from the main confessions of each country, field research was developed which led to exploring large cities, isolated monasteries in the mountains and age-old communities. “We did not give importance to the denominations and we tried to let ourselves be guided by the Christians,” underlines Andrea. “It was a journey that is theirs more than ours, because it was the Christians who guided us showing us places that we would never have discovered on our own and explaining the differences between them. They built the real story on our common thread.”

Christians and not only. Linda and Andrea say that the life of the communities has always been intertwined with that of their Muslim neighbours, and Linda recalls an encounter in Rojava (in Syrian Kurdistan). “We were looking for the priest of a village who was not there at the moment and the Muslim lady who looked after the church keys took us to visit it. When we went in, she made the sign of the cross and then started to pray according to her beliefs in front of a small icon. I was amazed to find such a strong integration between Christians and Muslims, but the truth is that in the Middle East very many confessions have always lived side by side.”

Andrea says that the three years of travelling and searching allowed him to see with his own eyes the position expressed by Louis Raphael I Sako, the patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans. Many years ago, following the Western proposal to create a Christian enclave in the plain of Ninive for protection against violence, Sako answered that the Middle Eastern Christians are part of the societies in which they live and they do not want to be separated from their neighbours. “We are fighting the theory of the clash of civilizations and inter-religious violence. The Middle Eastern situation varies from one country to another and also from one community to another, but interpreting that world through Western eyes is definitely reductive and misleading, and we hope to offer some ideas for reflection.”

While Linda and Andrea are looking for a sponsor to produce an Italian version of their book, the exhibition at the Austrian Hospice will be open until 29 November 2016. It is the first time that the photographs have been shown in the Middle East, “and for us it is a little like bringing them home,” says Linda. “We really want to thank the Christian communities who in these lands have the feeling of having been abandoned by their own societies and very often by the whole word as well. We would like the exhibition to reach the people we met and their neighbours as well.”

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