Pastamaking. Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” Yes, there is a common denominator. Both have inspired the highly regarded Italian photographer Francesco Nonino, whose work is being showcased at the Embassy of Italy.
First, the pasta. The exhibition, “Francesco Nonino: Selected Works,” features never-before-seen shots of hands preparing and slicing dough. The hands belong to Nonino’s mother.
The photographer, speaking by phone en route to Washington for the exhibition’s opening, said he had been struck by the tools his mother uses to make her noodles. “If you don’t know how to make pasta, they look like surgical tools,” said Nonino, who also happens to be a neurologist.
As for Kafka, the show samples “Come se la Vergogna” (“As if the Shame of It”), Nonino’s series of mysterious images responding to “The Trial.” (The title of the series is taken from the final sentence of the Kafka novel.) A suited figure — we can’t see the face — sits at a dinner table, confronting a dish of barbed wire. A mass of white soap suds, in a white bathtub, obscures the entirety of a human form, except for the nose and gaping mouth. Dark shoes, and a few inches of trousers, poke out from beneath towering stacks of bound documents — evidence, it seems, of a bureaucracy gone mad.
Nonino, who also has worked as an assistant to photographer Annie Leibovitz, said the series was informed by his long-standing interest in psychoanalysis. In “Come se la Vergogna,” he has written, “dreams, symbolic elements and autobiographic references overlap, like in a psychoanalytic session.”
Rounding out the exhibition are dramatic vistas of clouds, taken from Nonino’s series titled “Atmospheres.” A 2005 book version of the project paired the shots with the scientific names of the cloud formations. Such juxtapositions of art and science are of particular interest to the artist-neurologist.
“The artist and scientist try to solve similar problems, but taking different pathways,” he said during a question-and-answer session at the embassy.
Ethiopian writer-director Theodros Teshome passed out twice while filming desert scenes for his movie “Triangle: Going to America.”
“It was, like, 125 degrees. No human being could stand that much heat,” recalls the filmmaker, who is based in Addis Ababa. “Triangle” opens the 2015 New African Films Festival, which opens March 12 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Admittedly, Teshome’s personal Saharan discomfort pales in comparison with the ordeals his characters suffer in “Triangle,” which won an award at the Pan African Film Festival last month. The 90-minute drama follows a group of Ethiopian and Eritrean emigres from East Africa through Libya, across the Mediterranean, into Italy and finally through Mexico and across the U.S. border.
Death stalks them in the form of sickness, hunger and thirst, a brutal sandstorm, a maritime squall and ruthless human traffickers. Nevertheless, romance blooms between Kaleab (Solomon Bogale) and Winta (Mahder Assefa), who are as shy with each other as they are generous and loyal to their friends. (The movie is in Amharic with English subtitles.)
Teshome said he felt compelled to write “Triangle” after hearing the hair-raising migration tales of many Ethiopians. “When you hear these stories as a filmmaker, you feel you need to do something about it,” he said by phone. The film’s title refers to the infamous “triangle trade,” which linked commerce in sugar, rum and slaves.
“Now they are not forcing us to come,” Teshome said of his fellow Africans, “but we are willing to come, anyway.”
Women in colorful long skirts and aprons executed a softly stamping dance. A musician wearing a traditional Tibetan hat with a fur brim provided accompaniment on a long-necked Tibetan lute, which he said was made from rhododendron wood. Later, the lute player switched gears and chanted a rap-like invocation, standing near a table laden with bowls of fruit, a tower of flaky pastries, a ceramic sheep’s head and a photo of the Dalai Lama.
The occasion was a celebration of Losar — the Tibetan new year — at the U.S. State Department late last month. During the festivities, members of the Tibetan diaspora community presented no less than three white ceremonial Tibetan scarves to Sarah Sewall, a department undersecretary who also serves as special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
Losar won’t roll around for 12 more months, but the Capital Area Tibetan Association has a year-round presence. Among other activities, the group offers Tibetan language and music classes for youngsters. A new generation, after all, needs to learn to play that long-necked lute.
Francesco Nonino: Selected Works Through May 15 at the Embassy of Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St. NW. By appointment Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m.
Visit www.iicwashington.esteri.it for information on making an appointment.
Triangle: Going to America March 12 at 7:15 p.m. and March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, as part of the New African Films Festival, March 12-19. Tickets: $7-$12. 301-495-6720. www.afi.com/silver/films/2015/p70/naff.aspx.
A Q&A with the filmmaker will follow the March 12 screening.
Wren is a freelance writer.