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Blankets (Yes, Blankets) Offer A Glimpse Into Italy’s Reckless Colonial Past

Blankets (Yes, Blankets) Offer A Glimpse Into Italy’s Reckless Colonial Past

Formafantasma are some of our favorite designers because they manage to infuse the most mundane objects in the world, whether bowls or chairs, with tremendous historical, political, and cultural significance. Looking at their stuff is like reading a history book. Take their latest project at Gallery Libby Sellers in London: It’s a series of blankets that reveals “the impact of Italian imperialism on the urban infrastructure of… former colonies.”

[A blanket depicting the Fiat headquarters in Asmara, Eritrea]

Per the gallery:

Each of the blankets, akin to oversized postcards, refers to a major colony (Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia) that Italy held until the mid 1940s. …Futurist architectural landmarks and cartographies of migration flows are woven together with iconic symbols and historical texts.

Perhaps the most powerful blanket shows Italy’s complex relationship to Libya. A Mediterranean colonial building is set alongside an excerpt of the 2009 Italy-Libya friendship treaty, an unusual agreement between the governments of Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi that, among other things, banned Italy from using military force, directly or indirectly, against Libya. The treaty was a symbolic attempt to compensate for Italy’s invasion of Libya in the early 20th-century, an occupation that led to the death of a fifth of all Libyans.

[The Libya blanket]

But it also meant that in the event of an EU or NATO-backed mission involving Libya, Italy would be forbidden from participating. So as the Libyan civil war got underway, Libya’s one-time subjugator was in the bizarre position of being Libya’s defender, even if only on paper. (The treaty was suspended in late February.) By arranging these two symbols side by side–the house, a relic of the colonial era; the treaty, a relic of the post-colonial era–Formafantasma hopes to convey the fraught, and above all ambiguous, bond between the conqueror and the conquered.

[Photos by Luisa Zanzani, courtesy Formafantasma]SL