The soul of Salt Manifesta 12 Palermo

The Soul of Salt was first realized on July 1st of 2016 during the Keti Koti festival as a public performance (De Ziel van Zout) at the Oosterpark in Amsterdam. July 1st is the day when the abolishment of slavery is celebrated. A large mount of salt, harvested from the sea, formed for a short period of time a sculpture in the middle of a public park and was the center point of a ritual, a blessing ceremony.

Undocumented people – mainly refugees from Syria and Africa – sung the 18th century slave song Many Thousand, while afterwards the sea salt was blessed by Winti Priestess Marjan Markelo. Afterwards the audience could complete the ritual by taking a small portion of the blessed salt home in order to dissolve this in water.

For the participants in the ceremony the dissolved salt functions as a consolation in remembrance of their ancestors or relatives or as a symbol of compassion with the people who still suffer or die as a result of slavery, oppression and poverty.

For Manifesta 12 in 2018 in Palermo the ceremony was repeated during the opening on 17 June 2018.

This time young women from refugee centers in Sicily started the ceremony with the singing of the song and the salt was blessed by Dwight Fransman. Palermo is one of the harbor cities along the Italian south coast where a lot of immgrants land. During the opening in Manifesta a policy change by the new Italian government came into effect by refusing boats with immigrants access to Italian ports. Hundreds of people drowned in the Mediterranean in the weeks following the opening ceremony.

“The sea salt refers to the salt which slaves refrained from eating so they could fly back to Africa. But it also stands symbol for mental and physical liberation. It refers to slaves crossing the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean on their way to plantations. It’s the salt of all the tears shed during slavery and colonialism. The mountain of 7500 kilos of sea salt depicts the suffering, but also the hopes and dreams of people. With this work I wanted to commemorate the past, but also transcend it. Indigenous people believe that the history lies before us because we can visualize the past.

The public is asked to dig down the mountain during the day and bring at home some salt which is blessed by winti priestess Marian Markelo. Together with family members, they can dissolve the salt in water, as a symbol for solving the pain of the past and thus giving rest to the souls of their own ancestors. With the excavation of the mountain we dig a path into the future, which is behind us because we can’t see her. Digging together creates connection and hopefully we can leave shared wounds of a painful past behind without forgetting but with forgiveness.” – Patricia Kaersenhout

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photography Francesco Bellini