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Petra Stavast

The village of Sant’Andrea Apostolo Dello Ionio is a small village in Calabria. In 2003 photographer Petra Stavast made her first visit there, after which she returned one or two times per year. In the project Libero, Petra Stavast reconstructs the life of Libero (1965) and Valeria (1967) Greco, children of an Italian man who, shortly after the Second World War, as a young man looking for a job, immigrated to the United States of America. He found a job, married an American woman and together they had two children. From 1966 to 1988 he sent letters and photographs of his two children growing up to his sister Delia, who was still living in Sant’ Andrea Apostolo Dello Ionio. In 1989, both the father and his sister Delia passed away, by which Libero and Valeria were cut off with their connections to Italy. In 2007 Stavast finds – by coincidence – an abandoned house with open doors. While entering the house, she came across with many family photographs, letters, furniture, and clothing on the floor. Silence and abandonment was all over the house that turned out to be the house of Delia*. Stavast collected the photographs and the letters and tried to capture the feeling of silence and past memories through pictures of the rooms. With the found documents, Stavast started to investigate what happened to the family and if there were any inheritors of the property alive. Through internet she locates Libero, who lives in Pennsauken, New Jersey, USA. She personally returns him the found photographs and letters she found in the house of his aunt in Italy. Through the story of one family, this project shows the results of depopulation while focusing on social structures and the gap between remembrance and reality. Her photographs show the transitory of life and the inability to preserve our past in the present.

Don Eduardo, a close friend of Delia and her husband, as well as founder of the nursing home in Sant’Andrea, remembers Delia and her house. (January 29, 2009)

“After the death of her husband Vincenzo, Delia was in such a bad condition that I had to take her into our hospital. She passed away here. They all passed away. Delia was the last living owner of the house. After she died, some of her nephews and nieces came over for her funeral. From Rome, Turin, Piedmont. And among these relatives, I divided the money that Delia and professore Samà had in their bank account, because they had authorized me to take the money out of the bank. I wasn’t able to give anything to her relatives in America, of course. So except to them, I handed out the money. And after that, none of them has ever given a sign of life again. This way, their house was left behind. A beautiful house, professore Samà had renovated it. Its position is beautiful too, it’s at the very center of the village.
The house is open now. People have taken things from it, they’ve stolen everything. It was a beautiful house. However, nobody is interested. I’ve got the key, but it is useless, because the door has been forced open. I think that in time, after many years pass and no-one gives a sign of life, the municipality might take it and use it for some social purpose. I don’t know.
Delia was a beautiful lady. I remember that she was an artist, she had a wonderful voice. When she was young, she played in the theater of the nuns. Delia was a very beautiful girl. She was one of the most beautiful girls of Sant’Andrea. Really.
My heart cries, because I used to go to their house every other day. I was around a lot, I knew everything. After Delia’s leg was amputated, professore Samà had to assist her.
Every day, she wanted to go from the bedroom downstairs to the kitchen upstairs. Therefore, professore Samà had to take her upstairs in her chair, because she wanted to cook. She did all the cooking, professore Samà had never cooked dinner. He might have accepted things the way they were, even if it meant not eating anything at all, but she had a strong will. So after they got up, they went upstairs to spend the day in the kitchen and in the other room. In the evening they went down again, and professore Samà helped Delia go downstairs in her chair. She didn’t see very well either, because she was a diabetic. Benedetta donna. I’ve got a nephew, who is a doctor in Rome and a very fine man. When he came to visit, he got a bit angry with her: “In all these years, you never had your sugar level checked?” She never had. So after a while, slowly, the diabetes had done its harm and they had to amputate her leg.
In the end, after professore Samà had died, there was no-one to assist her. She was a bit superior. She thought of herself as a donna-donna, so she found it humiliating to go to the old people’s home. Initially, she resisted coming here. But since there was nobody else to take care of her, I insisted bringing her here. And here, she died on me.
According to the Italian law, if there isn’t any will or testament, the property goes to all of the inheritors. None of them have left a will. If there had been a will, it would have been so much easier. But according to succession rights, the house goes to all of the inheritors. And today, there are a lot of inheritors. The inheritors of Delia are the same as those of her sister Concettina and of her brother Libero. Concettina never got married. Therefore, the house goes to all of the relatives, all of the nieces and nephews. The same is true for Delia, who never had children: it goes to all of the nephews and nieces. And there are so many of them. Then again, nobody has given any sign of life. That’s the situation.”

Stavast’s Bio