10 Questions With… Silvia Rosi

Silvia Rosi (b. 1992) is a rising star in the realm of staged self portraiture. This year, she has already won the V&A Parasol Foundation Prize for Women in Photography and the C/O Berlin Talent Award 2024. Rosi is also a former FOAM Talent with work in the LACMA, Brooklyn Museum and Autograph collections. She is recognised for building on the tradition West African studio portrait photographers – like Malick Sidibé and Sanlé Sory – to restage stories of family, history and memory. Amongst her best-known works are compositions with striking blue backgrounds, in which she performs her parents’ journey from Togo to Italy. Now, for her new solo exhibition at Collezione Maramotti, Rosi embarks on an extensive community-building operation aimed at creating a family archive of the African diaspora in Italy. She travelled across Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, to gather hundreds of “ordinary” photographs and family snapshots that capture the everyday experience of people who came to Italy from Africa before the 2000s.

A: Tell us about how you got into working behind the lens – where did it all begin?
When I was younger, my father would sometimes hand me the video camera to record our family holidays in Togo. That’s how it began. I later started taking photographs, mainly of friends and relatives.

A: What’s the focus or message behind your latest exhibition at Collezione Maramotti?
It’s a series of photographs and moving images. In a way, it’s a continuation of one of my first bodies of work, which I developed in 2016 whilst still at university. That project has remained unresolved for years, and this show seemed like the right time for it to resurface. The exhibition deals with the idea of contemporary Italian identity. It does so through re-imagining the African diaspora in Italy using self-portraits which are staged in the studio, as well as audio recordings of the landscape and archival material.

A: If you could only show us one piece from the show, which would it be, and why?
It would be Disintegrata con Album di Famiglia (above). It’s a self-portrait in which I pose against a red backdrop, surrounded by family photographs of different sizes and frames. This image represents my journey with image-making, in which I have always used personal archives as a source of inspiration. But it also represents the diaspora and the idea of posing amongst the moments that influenced a life journey.

A: Who – or what – have been your biggest creative inspirations?
I could probably name many artists who have inspired me along the way, but, in truth, my biggest inspiration has been my family photographs from the late 1980s and early 1990s. My mother has been a great influence, too, because she became a storyteller and keeper of family traditions and narratives.

A: What’s been the highlight – or highlights – of your career so far?
The exhibition at Collezione Maramotti, my first solo show, and my exhibition at Jerwood Arts in 2020, my first in London, are significant milestones. I had a great experience preparing both shows, and was able to freely experiment with different mediums and ideas whilst presenting work rooted in my identity.

A: Do you think you have a “signature” technique or approach? What is it?
My approach focuses on repetition, which is evident in both my artwork and exhibition installations. I draw inspiration from oral histories, which are a vital part of my heritage. These stories are always at risk of disappearing, but remain adaptable to change. I think repetition helps to preserve them.

A: If you could do any other job, or be an expert in any other field, what would it be?
I’d still be an artist, but specialise in natural dyes, particularly indigo. I’ve always wanted to be a potter.

A: Who are some of your favourite contemporary or emerging artists?
I follow the output of artists of my generation like Monia Ben Hamouda, Adji Dieye, Blondell Cummings and Raphaela Rosella, as well as musicians including Kelela and Youssef Dayes.

A: Is there anything you hope audiences take away from this show?
I actually hope they bring something of their own experience and point of view. It’s really up to them.

A: What are you working on right now? Anything else for us to look forward to?
I’m working on a new body of work for the MAST Photography Grant on Industry and Work, which will be developed in Lomé. The project centres on women’s labour and gender roles in West African markets and focuses on the figure of the Nana Benz, which were prominent traders of wax fabric from Togo. I’m also researching the non-verbal communication systems associated with these fabrics.

Disintegrata runs until 28 July at Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia.


Image Credits:
1. Silvia Rosi, Sposa Italiana Disintegrata, 2024. © Silvia Rosi.
2. Silvia Rosi, Disintegrata con Foto di Famiglia, 2024. stampa Fine Art su carta Baryta / Fine Art print on Baryta paper © Silvia Rosi. Realizzata con il supporto di Collezione Maramotti / Realised with the support of Collezione Maramotti.
3. Silvia Rosi, Disintegrata in Bici, 2024. © Silvia Rosi.
4. Silvia Rosi, Disintegrata di Profilo, 2024. stampa Fine Art su carta Baryta / Fine Art print on Baryta paper. © Silvia Rosi. Realizzata con il supporto di Collezione Maramotti / Realised with the support of Collezione Maramotti.