Lampedusa: the Gate of Europe
"La porta d'Europa", work of the artist Mimmo Paladino.

After the last tragic shipwreck of migrants, Europe and the rest of the world discovered the existence of the little island of Lampedusa. 

Nowadays inhabitants of Lampedusa are called to face a big challenge: to overcome their isolated status and to open up to a likely integration process. Integration is not easy, of course, but it could be a good stimulus for Lampedusa, and lead to excellent cultural results.

But the question is: is it really possible for a “lost rock” in the middle of the sea to become a meeting point for different cultures and art expressions? Can Lampedusa become a inter-socio-cultural hub between the North and South sides of the Mediterranean Sea?

While the majority of Europeans consider the shipwreck on 3rd October just a single tragic episode, for all Lampedusani (the inhabitants of Lampedusa), it was an almost daily tragic event.

As a matter of facts, shipwrecks began more than ten years ago, when migration fluxes started to flood the southern area of the Mediterranean Sea, but in all these years nobody has really paid attention to that issue. If Italian politics were too occupied in approving a couple of discriminatory bills against immigrants, the rest of Europe ignored the situation, following the idea that every country should solve its own problems.

In this way, inhabitants of Lampedusa and Sicily have been left to solve the matter of migration by themselves, although migration is not just an Italian issue, since there are important migratory fluxes towards many other European countries. 

In all Europe only Malta risks the same problems in the same way as Lampedusa. In fact, sometimes there are diplomatic incidents between Malta and Italy, because both Lampedusa and Malta have difficulties in deciding the local competence of receiving migrants.

There are many different causes that provoke migration fluxes, but the political crisis which afflicts many countries in Africa and in the Middle East has worsened the situation.

It is not so easy to find working solutions for migration problems and difficulties, but history taught us that culture and education can be a positive way to make people meet and get to know each other, enriching the culture of the local area, too.

Inhabitants of Lampedusa don’t want to be regarded as “pitiful” just because of the situation in which they have been involved. But at the same time Lampedusani want to live a normal life, without forgetting those tragedies, but without fishing corpses as well.

Those sea tragedies sensitized different artists and creative people, who felt the necessity to express themselves and create something for the inhabitants of the island, stimulating people of different cultures to accept and integrate each other. For this reason the little island of Lampedusa could take advantage of the mass migration and its positive consequences to become a good example for the rest of Europe.

But before continuing with the article, it would be better to give some information about Lampedusa.

The Italian Island is the largest one of the Pelagies, an archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea (very close to Malta) and it belongs to the Autonomous Region of Sicily (province of Agrigento).

Lampedusa is the town hall of its municipality, which includes all the three islands of the archipelago (for a total of 6.304 inhabitants).

This archipelago is closer to the African coasts rather than to the Italian ones.

Distances: Lampedusa-Tunisia: 113 km; Lampedusa-Sicily: 127 km.

In the last years the culture sector has been increasingly developed in Lampedusa, creating events, founding institutions, promoting works of art. All of them have been created with the same aim: to enrich the culture of the island, supporting immigrants and local inhabitants.

Askavusa: Cultural Centre and Migration Museum

Askavusa is a socio-cultural association founded in March 2009. It was created with the purpose of promoting and fostering social and cultural activities contributing to develop a collective identity.

The association aims to promote anti-racism and multiculturalism, contributing to increase the cultural and civic sense of the community. During the year 2011 Askavusa decided to provide a space where migrants could find what they were missing in the immigrants shelter: a shower, a meal, clean clothes, and legal advises.

The association also manages a little museum, in which are collected many peculiar objects abandoned by migrants in their ships, once arrived at Lampedusa.

In addition, Askavusa organizes some events, such as Lampedusa Infestival.

Lampedusa Infestival is a short film festival (fiction, documentary or video clips of maximum 45') which takes place in July. The slogan of the event is: Encounter With the Other, reflecting an emphasis on stories of travel and integration. In 2011 and in 2012 the event received the Medal of Honor by the President of the Italian Republic and was selected in 2012 by UNAR (the Italian national antiracist office) as good practice against racism.

The Festival is a competition for filmmakers from all over the world and has as its main theme the migrations of both humans and animals. The aim is to highlight these film travel and life stories through various initiatives, but not exclusively contemporary event. The competition section dedicated to migration, is enriched by a second one, which is subjected to changes every year.

One feature that makes this festival very special, is the fact that the organizers (scattered throughout Italy, London and Brussels) develop together the planning stage of the event almost entirely through Skype conferences. The event is also self-financed and carried out by Italians and foreigners volunteers.

O’Scià is a music festival conceived by the Italian singer Claudio Baglioni in 2003 and it is performed every year in September.
The title of the event is given by a word of the local dialect, O’Scià, which means “my breath” and which is used by the inhabitants of the island as a friendly greeting.

The event was born as a form of awareness about the problem of illegal immigration.

In this festival are involved many famous Italian and foreigners singer and songwriters.
Since 2004, thanks to the growing success of the event both in terms of audience participant of media attention, O’Scià has obtained important institutional awards, becoming one of the most interesting art exhibitions with social purposes in Europe.
This festival has been sponsored by the European Commission and received support from many international organizations such as the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International.

From the fifth edition, the event became a traveling festival, being performed also in other Mediterranean countries. In 2007 it was the turn of Malta in a concert held at the port of Valletta with the participation of Italian and Maltese artists.

The intentions of the organizers is to stage the festival also in Spain, in Morocco and in Libya, but economical and political crisis don’t simplify its production.

Furthermore the idea is to involve all the people of the Mediterranean area in a sort of permanent and traveling "forum", a meeting in which music and art could help to promote respect for human rights, civil coexistence and values of integration.

Vento del Nord – North Wind

Vento del Nord is a festival of cinema, comedy and literature, which shows newest released films and the most recent documentaries dedicated to the Sicilian cinema with a special attention to movies based on literature.

The show takes place every year in Lampedusa in August and it is conceived and organized by the Italian actor Massimo Ciavarro.

Apart from the Sicilian section, North Wind aims to be a rendez-vous of movies and literatures between the North and the South coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.

For this reason every year there is a selection of international films in which it is possible to recognize the contrast between different cultures, landscapes and ideas.

In addition, there is also a special section dedicated to the geographical North area of the world, and an important attention is given to the short films created by the students of Lampedusa, who are invited to take part in a competition named La mia isola (My island).

Italia di notte (Italy by Night) is another section of the Festival, and it is a selection of seven Italian films of the previous season, chosen among most important success.

This last section is really appreciated by the inhabitants of Lampedusa, since the island is devoid of a movie theater from many years.

Porta d’Europa – Gate of Europe

This monument was inaugurated on June 28th 2008 and was dedicated to the memory of migrants who lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea.

This gate was placed on a cliff exposed to the sea because Lampedusa is seen by many immigrants as the gate of Europe.

The artist is the Italian Domenico Palladino and it consists of a building of almost five meters high and three meters wide, made ​​of refractory ceramic.

According to the artist: the fundamental sense of this work is to bring to memory the last twenty years in which we have seen thousands of migrants dying at sea, in an inhumane way, in an attempt to reach Europe, a massacre without witnesses, often without burial, and therefore without pity. The intent is to deliver this tragedy to next generations. A symbol that helps us not to forget, but it is also a place for reflection.

This monument has received the patronage of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Italian Ministry of Interior and the Region of Sicily. 

Edited by: Celeste Concari