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Building a Past (by Delia Torres Aryan)

Updated: Apr 22, 2022


In light of the tragic events in the recent months that followed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is more necessary than ever to go back to the past to understand the present. We have not been this close to a World War III or the use of atomic weapons since World War II. I want to post two excerpts from the book "Building a Past - Drawings of a Child in Times of Social Catastrophe" by Delia Torres Aryan. The first one is from Mario Waserman's commentary on the book by my namesake uncle Marcello Cossu ("The Image and the Imagery - drawings, emotions, memories of a child of many years ago") and the second one comes from Delia Torres Aryan's beautiful introduction to this same book.


Mario Waserman:


Marcello Cossu has left a testimony that serves the following purpose: to not forget the horror that war causes in the minds of children; to remember the urban landscape distorted by war; with his drawings containing no color, rather hungry queues, raids, repression, murder and unlimited cruelty. Delia Torres with Marcello Cossu Giri, have put themselves at his disposal, so that these images won’t be erased from our fragile memory. We look at his drawings with an intensified tenderness because we understand the dimension of his drama, which was the drama of the children of World War II. Will there be any children who will witness a nuclear war? No drawings of the children of Hiroshima are known as there the destruction was total. It is the “drawing that hasn’t been drawn” that we should remember as the most horrifying of human drawings to come. Should we not do everything we can to prevent it? We know that, but the hustle and bustle of our little destiny can trap us in minor matters. This book places us with a bigger task which is to save the children.


Introduction by Delia Torres Aryan of “L’Immagine e L’Immaginario”:


The child has grown, but it is fundamental In my life today that that child is still alive. Marcello Cossu L'Abbate


Marcello Cossu L’Abbate was born in Rome in 1934. Between 1942 and 1946 he drew his family life in Rome. When the 50th anniversary of the end of the war was celebrated, he published “L’Immagine e L’Immaginario” [“The Image and the Imagery”], a book that includes some of these drawings, his memories, comments and the circumstances accompanying them. Here we can conjecture the ways of apprehending the policies of silencing and extermination that were taking place within the sociopolitical framework of the time, and in the family climate of commitment to the suffering of citizens deported, shot and disappeared. Perhaps, these 50 years were necessary to combat the oblivion and to be constructed through a historicization that was pending.


“L’Immagine e L’Immaginario” is a valuable testimony to the life of Marcello and his contemporaries during World War II. It is a reactualization of those experiences and a lively reflection about them, which gives rise to new forms of historical and personal understanding. It is a retrospective elaboration. It is not the mere story of an experience that is performed by an eyewitness. In the drawings and comments there is an interpretation of facts that brings us closer to the understanding of social phenomena. The witness thinks and acts from within the situation, belongs to the scene and simultaneously talks about it. This affected him and he has never been the same since. The witness shows his version of the events and names the characters involved. The testimony is born of a creative capacity, by inventing a character that is directly related to the ways in which contemporary culture thinks about and institutes its past. To renounce the hegemony of truth implies accepting meaning as something external to the field of consciousness where we are no longer its authors or its ultimate witnesses. There’s no subject as a witness, but only thoughts. For the author who remembers, the main thing is not only what he has experienced, but the fabric of his memories, the stuff that Penelope’s dreams are made on.


In an Andersen tale, a book of prints is mentioned where the purchase price was

“half the kingdom”. In the book everything was alive. “Birds sang, people came out of the book and talked. But when the princess turned the page, they jumped back in so there was no disorder”. That magic is recreated in this book by Marcello Cossu. Drawing becomes a language with which to formulate thought.


A biography is written, it speaks of things that no longer exist. Can there be an autobiography that relates the adventures of a split-self? The space created between the drawings of a child at the age of 9 and his comments 60 years later is a privileged field for psychoanalytic reflection. In both moments we see the same emotions although the memory is in perpetual metamorphosis. An auspicious space for our reflection as psychoanalysts, given that in his drawings, as well as in his comments, we see the same emotions of those moments so hard for Rome and Marcello and his family. A thread never cut from a memory in perpetual metamorphosis. Both editions, the second enlarged, allow us to observe the complexity of the initial drawing by a boy aged 7, with no perspective, which culminates at age 12 with the thrust of adolescence. We see different situations of loss entangled in his instinctual life with which the child identifies, fights and is passionate. He fears the defeat of Italy in Africa and the death of hundreds of thousands of Italians. All these themes permeate the family climate of the time. A climate contributed by the hiding of a Jewish friend for years in the house. We see a boy akin to Gulliver who attends political meetings as a fascist leader in Africa. He puts order in his country directing the traffic, obtains abundant foodfor the house and is magnetized by the presence of the Pope. He makes a fascist hierarch come alive on the desk of his father who receives the latest information from a “camicia nera” [“a blackshirt”]. He has altered the direction of the streets to build a wall around the family home and is looking at us proudly from the third floor because two Wehrmacht vehicles have crashed at the intersection. The almost total absence of color creates a climate of sadness and pain. There are no smiles, games being played or parties. The drawings show concentrated, tense and worried characters. They live in their city which has been invaded by the enemy: they fight, they flee, they suffer, they hide, they try to survive and they die. The lined paper of a children’s notebook with the stripes vertical adds a climate of being confined in a prison.


you can download the book with the link below:

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