MARE NOSTRUM, 2008 + 27.6.17
Oil on canvas
190 × 180 cm (74 13/16 × 70 7/8 in)
Mare Nostrum is a Latin expression used during the time of the Roman Empire to designate the Mediterranean Sea: a sea united under the same umbrella, that of the Roman Empire after the Punic Wars. This theme recurs throughout modern history, in Italian colonial discourses at the end of the nineteenth century, and later in the fascist rhetoric of the Mussolini regime. The expression also conveys foundational or even primordial notions through the myths and religions of the peoples surrounding it.
More recently, it gave its name to an Italian navy operation, quickly aban-doned, to rescue migrants trying to reach Europe over water. Through this title, the sea is deployed as a political and symbolic space charged with torn memories and shattered lives. Their ghosts appear in the painting, while spectral figures drown in it.
Painted by Miriam Cahn, this image is an elegy, an “inexhaustible murmur at the foot of the Absent”. Emerging in an ultramarine blue, two beings sink into the depths. One of them clutches a cloth, which could well be a veil. The features of its face are remi-niscent of a skull and crossbones pictogram. Alongside it, a second figure stretches out its arms, its long hair floating vertically as it probes into the depths, reinforcing the sinking movement. Underneath the apparent calm of the scene, which calls for meditation, there is a rumbling anger and revolt against a Europe that allows thousands of people to perish in its waters with impunity.