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Global Dispatches: Autumn 2022

Global cultural moments, as captured by ORB readers

100 Years of Passolini

This year marks the one hundred-year anniversary of the birth of the prolific Italian artist and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Defined by his complexities: at once a poet, a communist, an outspoken gay man, he is a cultural icon whose reputation has been marked by his final controversial film Salò and overshadowed by his murder.

For all his accomplishments, many remember Pasolini simply for the circumstances of his death. Found beaten and run over in a town outside Rome, Pasolini was the victim, either of a homosexual rendezvous gone wrong, or a political assassination. Is his ongoing relevance therefore, due to the intrigue of his murder: a death potentially caused by his politics, expressed through the medium of his art?

This centenary has coincided with a decisive moment for Italy’s political future. In September 2022, far-right leader Giorgia Meloni claimed victory in Italy's election. Her party Fratelli d’Italia has its roots in a post-war movement which rose out of the remnants of Mussolini’s fascists. Pasolini’s films are also considered emblematic of post-war Italy – a society struggling to rebuild both its cities and its identity. Out of this crisis, Pasolini championed the dispossessed, mingling intellectual leftism with Catholicism in his journalism and films. In later years, his artistic output highlighted the downsides of Italy's post-war ‘economic miracle,’ which brought both modernity and deep inequality – a topic which continues to generate political debate.

Salò (1975), Pasolini’s last film, provides a forceful depiction of Italy’s fascist past whilst being steeped in controversy because of its disturbing themes taken from Marquis de Sade’s eponymous novel. But beyond purely artistic portrayals of political messages, his films deliver an honest cross-section of post-war Italy, accurately capturing a point of divergence in Italian history following World War Two. He champions a potentially contradictory vision of Italian society, but never in the same vein as Meloni’s perception of Italy’s future. His life and death represent a vision of Italy far removed from the present. They ask us to take note of how far Italy has progressed down one path, and whether there is a way of reversal. - Elena Buccisano

War and Life

In Yerevan last winter I spoke to a shopkeeper, whose stall sold pieces made by Armenian craftsmen. He lamented to me that the Soviets had turned this beautiful old city into a ‘monster.’ In his eyes, the Armenian capital had been destroyed. Despite redesign by Soviet architects, much remains of traditional Armenian architecture throughout the country, a cultural identity which is deeply tied to the Apostolic Church; its churches and monasteries can still be visited in every region of the country, a testament to the survival and longevity of the founders of the first Christian nation, in spite of the threats faced throughout its long history.

In recent conflicts the Turkish-sponsored Azeris have utilised the destruction of Armenian heritage sites to undermine the group’s claim to their territory. Countless churches in the Nagorno-Karabakh region were reduced to rubble in the 2020 attacks. The Ghazanchetsots Cathedral of the Holy Saviour was severely damaged with the use of precision weapons. Anar Karimov, the Azerbaijani Minister of Culture, announced in February the establishment of a working group to legitimise the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage. This cultural genocide began two decades ago, when in Djulfa, Nakhchivan, 89 medieval churches, 5,840 khachkars (intricately engraved stone crosses) and 22,000 tombstones throughout the exclave were destroyed. A historical Armenian cemetery was replaced with a military shooting range.

A sizeable religious minority with a long history in the region, the Yazidis were also targeted in the 1916 Armenian Genocide. More recently, many Yazidis, forced to flee atrocities in northern Iraq perpetrated by Da’esh, have found asylum in Armenia. In response to recent conflicts, the first ever Yazidi theatre company has produced War and Life, dedicated to the fifteen Yazidi men who were killed during the 2020 war. Despite continued efforts to erase their histories from foreign forces, Armenian communities seek to give voice to their stories and defend their religious liberty.

- Cerys Griffiths

Cabin Fever

Up 1760m in the French Alps there’s a cabin full of Oxford students which the locals appropriately call ‘Chalet des Anglais.’ Balliol College first sent a party up in 1891 with Frances Urquhart, to whom the chalet belonged, and ever since then students have been going there on reading trips, with University College joining in the 50s and New College in the 70s. Trips have been almost continuous, with a slight interruption during the two world wars, and the time it was accidentally burned to the ground.

When stepping into the Univ-Balliol-New Chalet, I could truly imagine myself as a floppy-haired Oxford aesthete of the early twentieth century: there’s no electricity, no sewage system, almost no mirrors (strange, but those aesthetes were oh so modest.) At the New-Univ-Balliol Chalet I could sink into an armchair, kick off my lightweight, breathable walking boots with MissiongripTM traction, put on my recycled microfleece, and leave the modern world behind me (that is, until I could take it no longer and ran to the Le Prarion hotel down the road to charge my phone.)

I spent my time pretending to study for exams, walking along mountain paths, making use of the free-flowing drinks. Our party contained a wonderful mix of students: myself, a classicist, a linguist who loved Old High German, a Psychology student who had done research on stammering. There was a postgrad who had worked for a rare-book dealer and another for an anti-drug police department in Poland. So wide-ranging were our fireside conversations – from robotics to BOPs (college hosted parties), Jacobean manuscripts to the evils of WHSmith – that I began to feel nostalgic for these semi-intellectual, quasi-inane discussions I had never before experienced. For the type of education my parents imagined I’d have at Oxford. Perhaps we should live up to that ideal more often.

- Isaaq Tomkins

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Artwork by Ellie Moriuchi, Tasie Jones, and Ruby Davies.


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