During the winter of 1944-’45, popular uprisings erupted in various Sicilian towns, all sharing opposition to military conscription and a fight against landowners who employed locals as farmers, entrapping them in a system of serfdom that deprived them of their harvest, leading both the peasant community and the wider population to famine. In Piana degli Albanesi, on December 31st, 1944, amid this context of rebellion, the proclamation of the “People’s Peasant Republic of Piana degli Albanesi” took place, led and instigated by Giacomo Petrotta, an anti-militarist who had previously left the Italian Communist Party a few weeks earlier in protest against its acceptance of middle-class former fascists and individuals colluding with the mafia as party members. The spark for this rebellion was the discovery of wheat harvested by local farmers and concealed by landowners in a public barn, uncovered by a duty-bound policeman. Upon hearing the news, young people gathered in the main square and proclaimed the “People’s Peasant Republic of Piana degli Albanesi”, hoisting a red flag and severing all forms of telegraphic and telephonic communication with Palermo, the capital city. The Peasant Republic assumed control of the municipality, expelling remaining fascists and declaring sovereignty. The guilty and unpunished landowners were then compelled by the Republic to progressively distribute all the previously hidden wheat and other cereals to the starving rebels and farmers. The Republic lasted 50 days. On February 20th 1945, 2.000 police officers occupied the town of Piana degli Albanesi and arrested Petrotta, subjecting him and other rebels to brutal torture. Giacomo Petrotta endured 10 days of torture, placed in agonizing positions on a box measuring 1 meter by 80 – a so-called “torture box”. His hands and feet were suspended and tied to the sides of the box with thin metal ropes. He was repeatedly splashed with water and salt and subjected to whipping. From the horror of this torture, “Kumeta” was born, an attempt to sublimate, through a poetic gesture, a collective and individual wound that had never healed.
In an artistic intervention about torture and state repression, I invited the two sculptors Francesco Albano and Simone Zanaglia to polish and smooth a rectangular portion of the rock facade of the marble quarry that overlooks the village. The smoothed surface shares the same dimensions as the “torture box” in which the prisoners were held during their torture. The red marbles evoke human flesh, and the smoothing becomes a gesture of caressing a sore body.
This sculptural intervention of smoothing and polishing has been captured on video for “Kumeta”.