2018 - ongoing


Palermo | Italy




Part of
Manifesta 12 Collateral Events link


Counter-Colonial Aesthetics link


Redefining contermporary material culture

Counter-Colonial Aesthetics presents the research of Marginal Studio in the city of Palermo, an inquiry into the potential of migrations to re-frame contemporary design relevance and visions. As the first episode of a long term engagement, Marginal Studio, commissioned by CRESM, is presenting multiple material research developed in collaboration with a wide network of artisans, social workers, and migrants; each material addresses an aspect of the phenomenon of global migrations in relation to present and past colonialism.

Counter-Colonial Aesthetics is an investigation in Sicilian material culture inviting artisans to collaborate in the construction of shared heritage and diasporic identities. It aims to go beyond the simple acknowledgement that so called “developing” countries are exploited to grant richer countries their lifestyle, Counter-Colonial also means that Sicilian territories as well have been exploited and denied of their cultural identity becoming a periphery of Italy and Europe.

Through artisanal production we articulate a critique of economic inequality in material terms, rather than symbolic ones, we make use of those traditions which became folklore and redesign within their code to address contemporary issues.
Crafts are in fact not only the holders of historical knowledge and trauma but also a medium to restore dignity and redeem oppressed and colonised cultures.

“...the reduction of art from a polysemous set of practices endemic to rituals, habits, and needs of various communities to a unified activity whose products are exchangeable objects, destined to be interpreted and cared for by experts according to allegedly neutral procedures that have been into a transcendental condition of art. Even less has been written about the danger of depriving people of their material world, and the role that looted objects of art, transformed into indispensable tools in the self-fashioning of progressive, global modern citizens, have played in these citizens’ disavowal of their complicity in the systemic violence against and dispossession of others.”

Both migrants and Sicilians have been deprived of their material heritage in different ways, reconstructing the process of creation of material culture means to value migrations as positive phenomenon and create an alternative development model for peripheral territories. 

More information in the COMMUNICATION page of the project.





Material Knowledge
Nomadic Cultures


Funded by CRESM - Centro Ricerche Economiche e Sociali per il Meridione
In collaboration with Marginal Cultural Association



Counter-Colonial Aesthetics takes the form of an open laboratory: from the 22nd of September, we will work in the exhibition space to experiments with a variety of materials and techniques. Each chapter represents one of the materials which we found both in Sicilian tradition and in migrants' background. We will work in strict collaboration with 8 asylum seekers and refugees, building a material based interaction to learn more about them and producing modern artefacts which express contemporary “traditions”.

A series of traditional techniques are re-invented through material experimentation and technological tools: Sicily is seen as an informal laboratory of tangible and intangible knowledge, whose contemporary reality offers the potential for unique integration models. The materials involved in the design process where defined based on the history of influence between Sicilian culture and other continents: natural materials and fibres, ceramic and raw clay techniques, woodworking (Ebanisteria), silver making, textile prints and tailoring.



Terracruda, “raw earth” in English, is at the base of Mediterranean vernacular construction techniques as well as high-quality contemporary solutions. With the support of Guglielmino Cooperativa, a historic company which reinvented itself in the field of natural materials, we will experiment a variety of techniques ranging from pisè to terra migaki, from cocciopesto to cob. The same raw materials which are at the base of most of the architectures worldwide will be explained also in their historic use and possible mixtures. Together we will investigate material properties and possible applications, working both on speculative futures and realistic innovations. Participants will be invited to realize prototypes using these techniques and materials to gain greater understanding in the matter as well as probe sculptural and symbolic qualities of this heritage.

A Workshop with Elena Campa

As a first engagement with the SPRAR we chose to work with terracruda as a symbol of shared cultural heritage. Elena Campa was invited to lead a moment of experimentation during the workshop The Imprint of Raw Earth. We experimented the relief printing of a pattern on raw earth supports. Inspired by the decorations of Sicilian majolica, we started from the design of a pattern to create blocks made by everyday materials, which became the matrices for a relief decoration on raw earth supports.



Textiles are the most obvious visible signifier of culture throughout Africa and Middle East. The history, beliefs, politics, fashions, status, and aspirations of people are communicated through the colors and patterns of textiles and the occasions on which they are worn or otherwise utilized. These textile traditions are part of a historical and contemporary global trading network driven by African taste and patronage. Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth originated from Indonesia, which was exported by a Dutch company from their colonies and later appropriated in West Africa. Today, through its narrative, we aim to break the flatness of western fashion models and learn tailoring techniques from African craftsmen.

A collaboration with The Future Continuous

For the second workshop, we invited Eugenia Morpurgo, part of The Future Continuous collective. Together with her, we experimented by bringing together the traditional art of batik and new printing techniques through the use of a machine created by Eugenia Morpurgo. We focused on stories that show the influence that Europe still has on Africa. The textiles function as conversation pieces to learn about the participants as well as symbols of African contemporary culture.


Neo-colonial Food & Culture

On the evening of October 13th, we inaugurate the Counter-Colonial Aesthetics program with an Ethiopian dinner. We provided the experience of the taste of an incredible culture which resisted European colonization and today, like many other countries, faces the contradictions of foreign investments, humanitarian aid, and diaspora. Through the night, The participants were served authentic Ethiopian food along with reflections and historical episodes which still determine our attitude toward the so-called “developing” countries.



Ceramics have been produced in Sicily since prehistoric times, nevertheless every colonization and invasion brought new techniques, typologies, and innovation. Ceramic has been able to absorb diverse cultural significance, and literally integrate the most diverse mixtures of materials. Since the introduction of glazing by the Arabs, the ceramic receipt has been untouched. With other natural and inert components, we investigate different compositions and functions for contemporary ceramics.

A collaboration with Yeelen Tavilla

We invited Yeelen Tavilla and together with her we experimented mixing ceramic with local materials such as Cocciopesto, lava stone and Mammacaura. We focused on their properties and meanings, to give them new functions and values and imagine a contemporary version of Sicilian ceramics.



An ébéniste, the French word for the cabinet-maker, traditionally worked with ebony, a favored luxury wood but the ebanisteria in Sicily mutated in a set of finishing used to make less precious woods look like ebony. In the same way, marquetry was used to apply precious veneers on other woods. The Sicilian tradition of woodworking is deeply rooted in the modernist period, when Palermo, in fact, has been one of the most significant Italian cities in the Liberty period appropriating Art Nouveau styles with a Mediterranean influence. The interior of the Italian parliament was realized by the Palermitan architect Ernesto Basile* in collaboration with the Ducrot industries, nevertheless after the Italian unity the south have suffered a geopolitical disadvantage and have been emptied of industries and workforce, similarly to colonial territories.



Basketry and caning have been diffused throughout Sicily until the arrival of industrial plastic products, today are still presents artisans and objects which represent a self-sufficiency manufacture common in most of the world, based on weaving and use of natural fibers. Invasive species and wild spontaneous plants have been supplying material to rural societies for centuries. Today we propose a re-invention of those object for zero-waste productions and unique material aesthetic and feeling. Ferula communis L.ChamaeropsOpuntiaSalixJuncus, and other plants will be the case study for this material research.



In Palermo, a whole neighborhood was inhabited by the argentieri, the silversmiths. Today their presence is redimensioned and their artifacts are mostly baroque reproductions, gifts for religious celebrations. In another part of the world, in the Niger and Mali area, the same material has a very different aspect and meanings; Berbers as well as other ethnicities, keep this craft as a main signifier of their identity.



We use food as sensorial device that we can use and design to address meaning beyond visual culture. We invite participants to experience authentic taste of a “foreign” cuisine or syncretism of food cultures, as trigger to a dialogue about colonialism, integration and speculative futures.


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