A resilient, human vision of warzones around the world

A resilient, human vision of warzones around the world
Photojournalist Gabriele Micalizzi’s new exhibition, ‘A Kind of Beauty’, examines over a decade of conflicts and the overlooked stories of people at the centre of them.

In December 2016, photojournalist Gabriele Micalizzi was in Sirte, a city on the northern coast of Libya that had become the centre of a battle between Islamic State (ISIS) insurgents and US-backed government forces. After months of fighting, the ISIS forces were eventually forced out of their last remaining stronghold, and while the dust from relentless shelling, fighting and siege was settling, Micalizzi entered one of the most important buildings in the city – the Ouagadougou Convention Centre.

“The Ouagadougou [Centre] was made by [former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi,” says Micalizzi. “The plan was to be this kind of bridge between Africa and Europe, and because it was a very huge structure it was used by ISIS as headquarters to train [fighters] and hide from bombings.”

Inside, he found blown out windows and gunshots through walls, but also a strangely beautiful ornament that remained largely intact. “When the Libyan army took back this place, there was this chandelier that was so huge – five or six metres round, [hanging] from a mechanical rope,” he continues. “And everything around it was destroyed, but not the chandelier – it was a kind of resilience.”

Bright Darkness, a black-and-white picture he took of that chandelier, with the small figure of a man standing to its right giving away its immense scale, is now featured as part of Micalizzi’s new exhibition A Kind of Beauty, which is on view at Milan’s 29 Arts in Progress Gallery from April 4 until June 28. Curated by Tiziana Castelluzzo, it presents several of the photographer’s most important and powerful shots from conflict zones around the world from the past 15 years.

Having previously been a graffiti and tattoo artist before pivoting to photographic reportage, Micalizzi’s photographs showcase a different side to war. Focusing on moments of resilience amid destruction, fighting and ultimately death, the pictures take viewers away from the tragic, upsetting images found in newspapers, on televisions and phone screens. Instead, blown up to fit on the walls of an art gallery, his work implores viewers to slow down when looking at them, and search for the details that are often missed among stories of conflict and war.

“As an artist I am always looking for the beauty of things, even in this type of situation,” he explains. “You have a very terrible feeling that people are suffering and there’s a lot of sorrow around you, but our eyes are trained for the beauty – from advertising to the cinema everywhere there are beautiful [images]. And in warzones, when trying to tell the stories of people who have been forgotten by society, I am looking for the beauty.”

Pictures are featured from Egypt during the 2011 Arab Spring, anti-austerity protests in Greece the same year, the 2018 March of Return in Gaza, the Donbas region of Ukraine after the Russian invasion in 2022 and beyond. From a man pulling a peace sign with his fingers while surrounded by smoke and rubble in Cairo to a wedding dress on a mannequin behind a window shattered by gunshots – the horror, brutality and bravery of war is on show in each shot.

“The only thing that’s the same is how civilians react to the wars,” Micalizzi says. “Something I learned from [seeing] all the wars is that in [conflict] situations your personality comes out totally, so you are what you really are – every mask falls down.”

And in those situations, Micalizzi found himself on the receiving end of the best of humanity. He has survived four raids, has over 100 stitches in his body, but when he needed help the most, people came through. “These people don’t have anything, they are suffering, they often don’t know why. But they help each other,” he continues. “And it’s a beautiful thing – they have everything to lose, but many people helped me, gave me food, and saved my life.”

A Kind of Beauty by Gabriele Micalizzi is on view at 29 Arts in Progress Gallery in Milan from April 4 until June 28

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