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A plea for peace in white goes dark

A performance artist donned bridal attire to signify the 'marriage' of cultures and hitchhiked toward the Mideast. She didn't make it.

May 31, 2008|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

GEBZE, TURKEY — A few people remember catching a glimpse of her on that late morning in late spring, a young woman lingering by the gasoline pumps while traffic blasted past a truck stop in this nondescript industrial town, her white bridal gown, layered like a wedding cake, fluttering in the breeze of the passing cars.

Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo, a 33-year-old Italian performance artist who called herself Pippa Bacca, had come to Turkey on a quixotic quest: hitchhiking through the region to promote Middle East peace. The wedding dress, which she planned to wear throughout her journey, was meant to signify the "marriage" of cultures and the building of mutual trust.

"She was idealistic -- naive and idealistic," said Beral Madra, an Istanbul artist and curator who had offered support and advice to Bacca and her friend Silvia Moro, 37, as the two embarked on the Turkish leg of their performance-journey.

She warned the pair of the project's dangers in a country where women face violence daily. Never travel alone, she advised. Go where women congregate. Take rides only from the bus station, and always make sure someone is watching, taking note of any vehicle you get into.

For whatever reason, Bacca didn't heed the warnings.

Bacca came early to her wanderlust.

The third of five sisters in a close-knit family, she was raised by a free-spirited mother who inculcated in her daughters a love of travel and a taste for exotica.

The first of many journeys with her family was in 1987, when Pippa was 12. Her father was long gone. The six of them traveled to Santiago de Compostela, along the famed Spanish pilgrimage route in Spain, on foot, by bicycle and by thumbing rides.

"I hitchhiked a lot," her mother, Elena Manzoni, said later. "It is the best way to get to know people and places. Pippa got that from me."

Bacca, whose plain, strong-featured face was transformed by a ready smile, had an artistic pedigree as well: Her late uncle was the well-known sculptor Piero Manzoni. She worked hard to establish her own artistic reputation, with more than a dozen exhibitions and gallery shows of her conceptual art to her credit. One piece, called "Surgical Mutations," consisted of a single leaf displayed in a wooden frame.

She and Moro had conceived their project more than a year earlier, talking about how they could dramatize their peace message. They wanted to incorporate a road journey, in part to symbolize the ways in which minds can travel toward compromise. Their wedding dresses would evoke the sense of hope and life-changing possibility that a bride might feel on her wedding day.

And their principal mode of travel -- hitchhiking -- would embody the notion that sometimes one must make a leap of faith.

It wouldn't matter, they believed, that they didn't speak the language of each country through which they would pass.

They would have no set timetable. They would require very little in the way of funding. They would make new friends everywhere. They would, in the largest sense, be free. When they arrived in Istanbul, Moro and Bacca were two weeks into their journey. They had already traveled by road through the Balkans; after Turkey, they were heading to Syria and Lebanon; their final destination, still weeks away, was Israel. There, they planned to stage an exhibition whose centerpiece would be the white gowns they had worn on the road, tattered and tattooed with the dust of the long journey.

Although the project was simple in concept, it had the usual high-tech accouterments: a website on which the two charted their progress -- www.bridesontour.fotoup.net -- a regular schedule of text-messaging to stay in touch with friends and family, a far-flung network of Facebook friends who provided accommodation and contacts wherever they went.

Those who met them during the days they spent in Istanbul described the women as exhilarated, even giddy.

Istanbul was a highlight of the trip; the ancient city has a thriving contemporary-arts scene and is the frequent venue of prestigious international arts festivals. In chic galleries and unpretentious eating-and-drinking spots called meyhanes, Moro and Bacca found artistic kinship and kindred spirits.

Fellow artists considered their project, with its costume-driven allusions to peace and conflict, gender roles and sexual politics, to be provocative, but by no means outlandish. Several artists recalled a recent performance piece in which a woman in an all- encompassing chador jogged through Istanbul's streets trailed by a camera crew. People barely batted an eye.

In their flowing wedding gowns, Bacca and Moro traipsed the cavernous covered alleyways of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. They posed on the shores of the Golden Horn, silhouetted against the sparkling blue water and a fairy-tale backdrop of the spires and minarets of the Old City.

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