BooksCaribbean News

Artist Cristiano Berti releases Boggiano Heirs – an examination of the legacy of Italy’s slavery era

August 22, 2023 | Vision Newspaper |

Boggiano Heirs is the new book by artist Cristiano Berti, distributed in the US by IDEA Books and produced thanks to the support of the Italian Council’s programme for the international promotion of Italian art, under the General Directorate for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture.

At the centre of Berti’s investigation is the figure of Antonio Boggiano, a wealthy Italian merchant who lived in Cuba in the first half of the 19th century, and the people he owned, either as house slaves or on his coffee plantation.

Using an array of sources, Berti weaves together the stories of Boggiano and the people he owned as slaves. Uniting everything is the surname Boggiano, imposed on the slaves and still widespread in the Afro-Cuban community.

The book uses the mystery of the Boggianos to understand wider developments within the Caribbean, uncovering a hushed history of entrepreneurship, travel, exploitation, enslavement, aspiration, and intermixing of cultures and ethnicities.

Boggiano Heirs closes with a conversation with American art critic and author Seph Rodney, on art and the representation and memory of slavery:

“The question that lies at the heart of this book and of the whole art project is what to do with the heritage that one has been given, whether we are discussing the Boggiano clan, you the writer and inheritor of a certain history or historical mystery and an Italian culture that frames this mystery, and me, someone who has inherited an ambiguous and conflicted Caribbean legacy. (…)”

The book is part of a larger project entitled Futile Cycles: Boggiano, which include two other works developed by Berti: a wall installation depicting two large family trees, in which the people born in Africa stand at the apex, branching out through marriages that took place in the first half of the 19th century, and a video in which some stories collected by the author in the area where Antonio Boggiano’s coffee plantation once stood intersect with the conversation a family of Afro- Cuban Boggianos. The installation will be presented to the public at the end of 2023.

The result of five years of research, Boggiano Heirs is primarily an artist’s book, but takes the form of a historical essay. Every ‘Cycle’ involves the publication of an artist’s book, along with works created using the typical mediums of contemporary art. The first of these volumes was published by Quodlibet in 2017, and it is entitled Gaggini. Le Alpi e il Tropico del Cancro.

Berti found the inspiration for Boggiano Heirs from the research carried out on Gaggini which led him to discover the existence of Antonio Boggiano, who was an intermediary in the commission to the sculptor of two fountains for the city of Havana.

Due to its historical and artistic relevance at an international level, the book won the support of the Italian Council programme operated by the Italian Contemporary Creativity Directorate General of the Ministry of Culture, which aims to promote the production, knowledge and dissemination of contemporary Italian creation in the field of visual arts.

Boggiano Heirs is published by Quodlibet in Italian, English and Spanish, and in the early months of 2023 the author will undertake a promotional global tour to promote the book.

Further tour locations include: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba (Havana), Instituto de Estudios Crìticos 17 (Mexico City), and University of Texas Arlington (Arlington, USA).


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