Chef Kobe Desramaults and art curator Evelyn Simons team up for a new life in Sicily. In this third episode of ‘Posta dalla Sicilia’, Evelyn betrays number 1 on her ‘wishlist’ for Horst 2023.
Chef Kobe Desramaults and art curator Evelyn Simons look for a place where the worlds of art and gastronomy merge. And where better than Sicily? You can discover how they fill in their new lives in the monthly section ‘Post from Sicily’.
It is December, also in Castelbuono: outside it pours that it has no name. Kobe’s daughter mocks that the weather is even better in Belgium. I nestle in front of the fireplace, and try to find a place with workable internet while I make the final decisions for Horst 2023’s arts program. Many artists have been on my ‘wish list’ for a long time. Others have only recently surfaced. Like the Sicilian, New York and Boston based Elisa Giardina Papa.
At the latest Venice Biennale she showed the impressive installation ‘U Scantu – A Disorderly Tale’. The work has not left me since then. The artist explores the value of civil disobedience in the midst of the constant online and offline scrutiny we are subjected to. How is it possible that we are even working for tech multinationals in our spare time? Because we constantly provide them with data while scrolling. How do we maintain our individual and collective freedom if Google knows our subconscious better than we do?
In the installation, ceramic braids peep out of holes in the walls, and a video showed rebellious teenagers dressed in androgynous streetwear. They ride bicycles with tuned sound systems, but it is mainly the setting that makes a lasting impression: the concrete landscapes of the dystopian ghost town of Gibellina Nuova. This megalomaniac construction project from the 1980s is located in the province of Trapani, in the northwest of Sicily. It was to be a new city, replacing the old Gibellina, which was completely destroyed after an earthquake in 1968. The municipal council let artists and architects loose, resulting in, among other things, the famous landscape artwork ‘Cretto di Burri’ by Alberto Burri.
The video hypnotized me by the alienating, self-claimed freedom of young women who wander around as outcasts. The text in the room explained that it was a contemporary interpretation of the ‘Donne di fora’, a Sicilian folk legend about ‘women from outside’, which I had encountered several times in my research.
‘All my prejudices about Sicilian machismo have so far turned out to be unfounded.’
The cult dates back to the fifteenth century and revered these women: during the day they were dutiful housewives, but at night their spirit detached itself from the body. They would then leave their homes to visit the spirits of the afterlife. As followers of the man-fighting goddess of the hunt, Diana, the ‘Donne di fora’ were strongly associated with animistic forces of nature. They meditated, feasted and danced. Their sharp judgment of justice made them both feared and revered.
If you liked to be visited by such a priestess for a blessing, you had to burn laurel, mint and rosemary and – curiously enough – tidy up the house. Those who had visitors woke up with braids in their hair: proof of the connection between the land of the living and the land of the spirits.
I wonder what the cult has meant for the position of women in Sicilian society. Of course I have been annoyed several times in recent months by the sexist behavior here, ranging from men who don’t let me carry wine boxes to a man who would ‘introduce me to other women so that we can talk while the men will work’ . My caustic remark that we can judge situations a little sharper because of all that chattering, was met with a sheepish incomprehension, followed by the remark that he still had many girls to kiss and would therefore not eat garlic that evening. We were surrounded by teenagers. He was 45.
Yet my great prejudices about Sicilian machismo have so far turned out to be unfounded. The close human contact in these small rural communities leads to respect, and the cultural field is mainly driven by a handful of female entrepreneurs and curators. I wonder how I ‘as a woman from the outside’ will be further received here.