Aida Silvestri creates mixed media artworks that challenge the status quo of stigma, prejudice and social injustice, often highlighting issues of race, class, identity and health. Her socially engaged activist practice is characterised by multi-layered modes of working that often combines text, image and experimental techniques to manipulate the photographic surface.
For this new artist commission, Silvestri responded to the idea of Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other by taking the charged political rhetoric adopted by both mainstream media and politicians during the pandemic as a point of departure – linking phrases such as ‘we are all in this together’ or ‘fighting against an invisible enemy’ with imperial narratives and wartime sentiments. For Silvestri, these slogans not only recall her formative years living in Eritrea under authoritarian communist regimes, but they also expose striking parallels between Britain’s imperial past and present. Using exposure as both metaphor and device, Silvestri highlights the devastating impact of Covid-19 on frontline workers of colour by ‘infecting’ her digital drawing collage and portrait works with commodity substances such as coffee, tea, sugar, or cocoa, creating coloured coronal splashes on the artworks – further amplifying the notion of ‘contagion’.
To contextualise this new art commission, we invited scholar Anthony Downey to write a short essay reflecting on the themes raised by Silvestri’s series, critically considering the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority communities and rhetoric of inclusion. This is published alongside an in-depth conversation between the artist and Autograph's senior curator Renée Mussai.
Aida Silvestri (born 1978, Eritrea) is a visual activist whose multi-faceted practice amplifies marginalised voices and migrant communities – raising awareness of human rights issues and representational politics in the arts and beyond.
Using innovative modes of mixed media portraiture, Silvestri’s celebrated projects Even This Will Pass (2013 – 2014) and Unsterile Clinic (2015) respectively address people trafficking by highlighting the perilous journeys undertaken by economic and political refugees, and advocate for survivors of gender-based violence by drawing attention to the widespread practice of female genital mutilation. Both series were published, exhibited and part-commissioned by Autograph.
Silvestri’s work has been exhibited as part of African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other at the 2020 FotoFest Biennale, Houston, USA; at Autograph, London; The Photographers’ Gallery, London; Saatchi Gallery, London; TEAT Champ Fleuri, La Réunion Island; Arendt House, Luxembourg; Musée National d’Histoire-aux-Poissons, Luxembourg; Gah Museum, Taiwan; Athens Photo Festival Benaki Museum Athens, Greece; Cours de L’Archevéché, Arles; Centquarter Paris, France. She is currently remote artist-in-residence at Light Work, Syracuse; and in 2017 she received the Circulation(s) Festival audience award and was shortlisted for the Arendt European Month of Photography awards.
You can see more of Silvestri's work on her website.
Initiated during the first months of lockdown in 2020, Autograph commissioned ten UK-based creative practitioners to create new work in response to the wider contexts of the Covid-19 crisis.Find out more
Virtually visit the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other exhibition at AutographSee more
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Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list