Naples: Presepi

Mediterranean and Coastal Stories:
Naples - Presepi

In this new body of work, I begin a journey that explores, through photography, the work of artisans in Mediterranean regions that were once connected through history, but are now divided geo-politically. The project is being funded by an award from the Irish Arts Council’s Visual Arts Bursary. Beginning with Amalfi, Italy, which lends its name to the famous coastline from Sorrento to Vietri Sul Mare, I photograph and engage with ceramicists who have made their life’s work in this region. One such example is Rosaura Pinto, whose mother came to visit from Holland in the 1950’s and stayed. This is a timeless landscape made popular by tourism and the classic Italian films of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Amalfi itself is tucked in between the mountains and the sea, its sweeping scenery and breath-taking beauty at once evident to even the casual visitor. Once the most important commercial centre in the western Mediterranean, it took full advantage of the fortunate position that the Byzantine towns of Southern Italy found themselves in after the Arab conquest of Sicily. Its location allowed it take advantage of trade between Spain and the Black Sea as well as from Egypt to the Adriatic, and between North Africa to Sicily and on to the Middle East. It even claims to be the location for the invention of the compass. I also explore the tradition of handmade paper in Amalfi and its origins during the Arab invasions. Through the work of artisans, I will capture some of the embedded beauty of this historic region, invaded and fought over for centuries but where traces of pervious civilizations are etched within the architectural structures and landscape.

After Amalfi, I will travel to the Algerian highlands and photograph and record the sounds of the jewellery makers of Ath Yenni in the coastal Berber region (Kabyle), where there has been a long-standing engagement with the sea and outside influence going back as far as the corsairs. It was they who embarked from seaports in North Africa to the mainland European coastlines along Italy, France, and Spain. This interlinking of sea faring cultures through artisan work is the root of my inspiration, which questions established historical links and creative imaginative links.

The last phase of the project will involve the Connemara, Co. Galway coastline, where I will examine supposed links with oriental lands through artisan works, such as the Aran jumpers and traditional boats like the bucaeri and púcáin, as explored by Bob Quinn, film maker and writer in his film and book, entitled “The Atlantean Irish”.

Helen Sheehan December 2020