«At the center of Taobuk is the relationship with others»: interview with the president and artistic director


By John

Always impeccable, she doesn’t miss an appointment: morning, afternoon and evening, she is there, regardless of the beating sun. Antonella Ferrara, president and artistic director of Taobuk, is above all the creator of an event that has grown and made its way into the jungle of summer festivals that cross Italy, managing to bring to Sicily a parterre of names that perhaps not even she imagined in 2011 when, after a life as a stateless person traveling around the world, she decided to stop in Sicily, the land of her parents, and «bring the world to Taormina».

An intuition which he followed up on, just like in a book, chapter after chapter. A story that has become impossible to unravel in its entirety as here and elsewhere always coincide, forcing, alas, some sacrifices.
This year the book will be about identity, another topic, after the freedoms of 2023, necessary. More than necessary: ​​«A theme that we started thinking about already in 2019 when we hosted Ian McEwan who made identity one of the cornerstones of his literature. But the time was not yet ripe, then the concept of identity had not taken on the political and social facets and meanings it has today. To tell the identities – always in the plural, because we don’t like single thoughts and because, starting from literature, we push ourselves into different and only apparently distant territories -, to explore the other than ourselves, we were inspired by various philosophers, the first of which is Emmanuel Lévinas who proposed being with the world as a prerequisite fundamental of being in the world. And then there is Marc Augé, for whom there is no identity without otherness. Taobuk also puts the relationship with the other at the center of his investigation and, around this assumption, it sews five days of programming, a mosaic of themes, guests, premieres, previews, panels that talk about the relationship with otherness”.

Quick summary of the names who from today, until the 24th, will bring to light with their presence that underlying network of relationships between the public and artists, between communities and contents which layers a series of important cultural experiences, which contributes to the formation of collective identity. Precisely…
«We will have the Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse, we will have Jonahan Foer in conversation with Etger Keret, one of the first guests of Taobuk in 2011: the first Jewish American with Ukrainian origins, who in the volume “Everything is illuminated”, travels to Ukraine in search of his origins and its identity; the second is Israeli, one of the most brilliant contemporary writers with his surreal characters. Two intellectuals who have in common the mix of cultures at the basis of their own identity. And then Alessandro Baricco, the Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino, the writers Aramburu and Glenn Cooper, the performing artist Marina Abramović, the étoile Manni, the singer Noemi, the director Özpetek».

Five days begin today to give the pulse of an individual and collective need: literary enjoyment but not only. This year the Festival will propose, through a large international audience, an idea of ​​writing linked to identity.

By the way, is pride of belonging a negative concept, capable of fomenting wars?
«It can become so if used to carry out oppression. We will address this aspect with a great writer such as Baricco, who will be our guest and will bring his show “Thucydides” to the stage. Athens against Melo”. At the center is the war with a fantastic dialogue on the relationship between winners and losers and on the continuous reversal of perspective. We thought we had abandoned those intellectual, mental, economic and military walls that characterized the short century. Instead, the war between Ukraine and Russia, which has lasted too long, has been joined by that between Israel and Palestine. Conflicts in the name of identities, distorted identities, however. “We are all strangers to ourselves, and if we have any notion of who we are it is only because we live in the eyes of others”, wrote Paul Auster in a memorable page: a beautiful image that takes us back to so much literature and so much reality. We are, in short, the embodiment of a reflection. If identity designates the precious uniqueness of the human being, this makes us all unique. We should remember this as wars explode and obscure the positive value of the concept of identity: a tragic exploitation that must be put to an end by harmonizing the plurality of identities that make up the global village. The solution to resolving internal or external, individual or collective conflicts is to question oneself, through dialogue and the ability to listen. And it is significant that the debate on the topic of identity is being held in Taormina, Sicily, a welcoming land that has made cultural stratification its hallmark, acting by definition as a crossroads of civilisation.”

What did your foray into cinema at the General States of Syracuse enrich you with?
«It was a happy experience that was based on the research that Taobuk has been carrying out for years, that of the relationship between tourism and cinema and literature, on how from the written page one can arrive at an image for the great but also for the small screen, that of television series, which has become a new form of narration. The platforms through which fiction is promoted represent a fundamental and extraordinary tool for cultural-tourism marketing, what was once the grand tour of writers, painters and photographers. We will have Stefania Auci who will talk about “The Lions of Sicily” and explain how, starting from the written page, we managed to promote a territory all over the world. “The White Lotus” has completely changed the tourist flows of Taormina, bringing American tourists from the good times to the city. Of course, the sector has strong points and critical points to work on but Sicily has what it takes to become a cinematographic hub, generating employment and becoming a tourist attractor of flows that see the island as a new way of doing tourism with a primary spin-off generated from the productions that choose the Island, and secondary thanks to the tourism that comes here in search of fiction locations”.

Three unmissable events…
«The Gala, the show by Alessandro Baricco and the exhibition project “Le Ore” by Luigi Ontani, in collaboration with the MAXXI Museum. But also much, much more.”

What do you hope for this edition of Taobuk?
«To be able to offer the public the usual magic, the one that we have managed to create in recent years, that climate that lives only in these days and only in Taormina, the one that gives you the clear sensation that something unrepeatable is happening. And I say this without self-referentiality because I experience that emotion together with the public. And with the entire crowded Festival team: Taobuk is a choral undertaking that is based on the contribution of many professionals who put their soul into it and who believe in it. It feels like returning to the times of the “Dolce Vita”, which I did not experience for age reasons but which I breathed in the pages of the writers who formed me. The contribution and support of the Sicilian Region and the sponsors are also fundamental. I like to consider it a collective act of faith in culture and in the future of cultural events.”

At what point is your dream of bringing the world to Taormina. Not bad one would say…
«Realized, with great satisfaction. And I hope to be able to maintain such vitality. Every year Taobuk has the ability to overturn its algorithms, to surprise the public and also ourselves who build the plot and who always want new challenges.”