Fotomuseum Winterthur-2021

MAXXI, Rome 2021

Royal Photographic Society, Bristol 2021

Few authors can match Alba Zari’s control of the
photographic medium, which she explores to its furthest
Without resorting to optical tricks or special effects, Alba
tells her story; in doing so, she investigates the ambiguity
that is intrinsic to photography, as well as the medium’s
arcane relationship with reality and memory, its
documentary power, and its limits.
As the philosopher Jean-Marie Schaeffer explained, the
image in itself is silent, precarious—it is only through
intentionality that it can become a statement about the
world. Depending on intentionality and context, very
different stories can be told.
In Occult, Zari balances miraculously, as if on a tightrope,
between shifting lights and voices, thus revealing, through
a series of acrobatics, her own glimpse of truth—her own
statement about the world.
And so, Alba takes archival images of the cult she was
born into, known at the time as The Children of God, and
turns its propaganda back on itself in order to denounce it.
She gathers photographs from her family albums to offer
glimpses into her and her mother’s childhoods; the inert
reminders of identity enshrined in these memories are
used to open doors to an alternate past. She takes pictures
of contemporary rituals and reveals their hypocrisy,
commodification, and implicit colonialism.
Occult is a difficult project in terms of technique and
emotional impact, both on the audience and on the artist
herself. Alba sets out to retrace the steps of her mother’s
youth. As she meticulously reconstructs her dark past, she
imagines an alternative version of the story, taking a
stance where she knows her mother could not.
Her eye is non-judgmental, yet sharp and firm. She
reclaims her autonomy from her own personal history, but
also from those Westerners in search of enlightenment
who immerse themselves in other cultures without
actually wanting to live in them and understand them—
knowing that they could always step back if they wanted.
The result is a feminist argument against the misogynist
cult that she left when she was 4 years old; it is also a
reflexion on the inescapable nature of family and cultural
origins, as well as an example of the power of images, be it
positive or negative.
So indeed, as James Salter wrote, “there are only
fragments.” And yet, within this constellation of stories,
illusions, and individualities, Alba Zari pieces these
fragments together like no one else can.

Chiara Bardelli Nonino