We the Innocents

Loss of innocence. It’s what parents try to prolong and adults regret in their own lives. Yet while we often get caught up in the specifics of who and when and why, in reality one might argue that all of that is actually secondary to the fact of the loss itself. For your parents it may have been a deal-for-arms scandal, soulless agreements made by their political leaders that tore a nation from its sleepy cocoon. For you it may have been something far more personal: the beloved friend of the family who cornered you behind closed doors. Your father’s addiction. Your mother’s secret.

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watercolor, Luciano Civettini

watercolor, Luciano Civettini

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Trust betrayed. Faith destroyed. Innocence lost.

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If you’re an artist, you can take this loss and use it.

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That doesn’t mean you can rewrite what happened or how it wrenched your soul. That event, that education, forever changed you, and as a result you have never been quite the same person since. You cannot undo the loss of innocence, but by naming this loss or by taking that once-you child to your lap and holding her close and rocking her, whispering into her ear that you have not forgotten how she once was, how precious that sense of wonder, the play without fear…then you as artist can do something really quite powerful. Not only for herself, but for us all.

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Luciano Civettini, painter; Italy

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Luciano Civettini, painter; Italy:

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Luciano Civettini, Italy

Luciano Civettini, Italy

“The children come directly from my past. Yes, they can surely be saved. The only risk they run is to be forgotten.”

Luciano Civettini, Italy

Luciano Civettini, Italy


“To forget our childhood is tantamount to forgetting the story. How can we get to where we want to go if we do not remember the path we have traveled? Children have a lot to tell us. Their innocence is brilliant!”

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“If I forgot the child I was, I’m sure I would never be able to paint.”

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“I think as you grow older you lose the sincere and fresh vision of the world.”

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“I do not know what makes a good artist, but I know what I do as an artist; and I think that this ingredient is essential to my painting, and perhaps art in general. It is the poignant melancholy that comes from memory and absence.”

“I find it very poetic that at age forty-five, many of the dreams I had as a child have become impossible to realize by now.”

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“I believe that any absence causes pain. We are disappointed when we miss something, and so as an artist this gives me the opportunity to transform that pain or sadness into a painting.  Into something different. The secret? Play. Art for me is a game, the place where I can say and do what everyday life prohibits.”

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Aron Demetz, sculptor; Italy:

Aron Demetz, sculptor; Italy

At first glance, Civettini’s almost naive watercolors have nothing in common with the wooden sculptures carved by fellow countryman, Aron Demetz. While Civettini’s party dress and costume-clad children and peace-loving animals suggest innocence and a sweeter, simpler time, Demetz pieces appear almost stoic as they face the rituals they are subjected to. But look closer:

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“This piece is called ‘Initiation’ and is the representation of a procession that is used in our area, bringing the country around the saints of the church. At a girl’s first communion she normally dresses as an immaculate virgin. Here, I have replaced this with a copy of the girl herself.”

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Consider the significance of his burned human figures, life-sized pieces that begin as old-growth trees and end as charcoal. Certainly burning is a violent act, and fire, of the four natural elements, one might argue is the most destructive. To purposefully inflict this torment on one’s own artwork seems an act of self-sabotage, a brilliant but cannibalistic ritual born of anger.

Or is there something even deeper at play? By setting fire to his own work, Demetz is metaphorically removing the outside facade of the people he carves. His very direct way of revealing humanity’s elemental essence. Devoid of pretense. Innocent. Demetz is taking us back to our very roots. Literally.

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Demetz: “For me, the act of burning is so important; for what remains is Truth, clear and unmistakably raw.”

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“It’s a way of not only being clear and unequivocal, but a means by which one reverts back to zero.”

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And these? Humans maneuvering around on all fours, their gait awkward and inefficient?

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“Solid fragility,” says Demetz. “An opportunity to start again.”

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Mehmet Mustafa Bulakçıbaşı, documentary photographer; Istanbul, Turkey:

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I’m trying to do this on my own, not part of any organization. I am from here, these are my people. But here is difficult to take pictures. These are Ghost Villages. Those who can fight, go.  The children and elderly are left behind. Heavy and difficult life for children and elderly. Secondary lives. Marginalized because they are forgotten. “

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Turkey has been fighting terrorism, you know. From Everywhere: Pakistan, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran. And these people live in these areas. Gold also great risk to children and the elderly. So much chaos. All because of addiction to oil and comfortable living. But I am not concerned with who is fighting. Each side, the situation the same: the elderly and the children always get crushed.”

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“I want to testify. Obviously this is not so easy. Region is politically conservative. But when they see that you value them and understand them, they open their world to you.”

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“Everywhere, very young children, as young as three years old, wandering barefoot in the cold mud villages…”

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These children deserve to live better than this. They watch me from their broken windows and doorways, curious eyes watching…Their world is very small.”

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“What is happiness? They do not know. For them, happy because they have a new pair of rubber shoes.”

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I have witnessed hundreds of children and elderly living like this. I saw. I felt. I put myself in their place, enter their souls. I understand and so try to tell others. This is their story. These photos belong to the people living in villages and caves in Istanbul.”

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“When you enter the village as an outsider, you must become part of the village immediately. Explain what your purpose is. That you are here to try to understand them. This should give them a sense of confidence. Only then will you gain entrance into these people’s homes…even their souls….

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“These photographs are my way to give voice. To show the rest of the world how people live here, in the caves, mountain villages, extreme poverty. This should not be so. These are human beings. Because I am a person, I am responsible for this situation. It is a heavy burden.”

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“As a child I grew up in these conditions. Now I have lived a long time separate from them. When I came back, the children seem even younger. All the rest has not changed.”

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“I think my role as a photographer is to read their expressions, their expectations of life in their faces.”

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“I try to convey. I find again and again almost the same expression on the faces. I see pain…poverty…but also hope.”

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“Each child is me, you see…I am one of those children.”

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Further Notes:

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Luciano Civettini, painter, Italy: http://www.civettiniluciano.com

Aron Demetz, sculptor, Italy: http://www.arondemetz.it

Mehmet Mustafa Bulakçıbaşı, documentary photographer; Istanbul, Turkey: mehmetmustafa.bulakcibasi

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