Critics’ Picks

Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani, Freedom of Movement, 2017, three-channel HD video installation, color, sound, 9 minutes 45 seconds.


Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni 4A
March 11–April 17

Abebe Bikila was the first African athlete to win an Olympic gold medal; he set a world record in Rome in 1960 after running the marathon, barefoot, in two hours and fifteen minutes. His historic achievement is the cornerstone of Freedom of Movement, 2017, a three-channel video installation by German artists Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani. Weaving a tale with threads of history and current events, the work conjoins the win’s strong social impact with a profound sense of humanity.

The first video blends archival film clips of the Ethiopian marathoner’s race and his epic victory beneath the Arch of Constantine, footage from Italy’s colonialist past in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), and images of the construction of the EUR quarter and Stadio dei Marmi sports stadium in the Foro Italico in Rome, both created at the behest of Mussolini as a celebration of his regime and the new empire. The second video reflects on the influx of migrants who cross the Mediterranean and on the role that sports play in their integration. A young immigrant recaptures the Olympic marathon experience, but his shoeless run begins at the beach at Ostia, as if he had just arrived from the sea, and ends at a sports complex on the periphery of Rome where young African refugees run, joyfully claiming their right to freedom of movement. In the third video, a choir of African adolescents sings on the roof of the monumental Colosseo Quadrato, or Square Colosseum, in the EUR. Declaring the phrase sculpted into the building’s facade, which attests, in Fascist rhetoric, to the greatness of the Italian people, they change the initial words, reversing the meaning and assuming a historical and cultural dignity they have too long been denied: “We come from the people of poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, seafarers, transmigrants.”

A spectacular aerial shot of the Colosseo Quadrato celebrates their touching attestation of identity. And it is precisely the notion of transmigration, opening up horizons of freedom and tearing down cultural and spiritual borders, that forces us to reflect on our identity and on the political, social, and psychological contradictions tied to the acceptance of the Other.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.