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The Wealth of the Land

La ricchizza di la terra / La ricchezza della terra

The Wealth of the Land by Chips Mackinolty

The road from Agrigento to Palermo winds across the heart of Sicily. Groves of almonds, lemons, olives and grapes unfold across the rolling hills. Wild fennel and prickly pear grow randomly along the roadside. Closer to the towns peri-urban vegetable patches fill every vacant block.

Centuries of agricultural practice and cuisine are fundamental to the cultural identity of Sicily. Horticulture also delineates the physical nature of the countryside and is deeply embedded within the natural features of the land. Most towns and centres have a mercatino (little market) where the appearance of the new harvest punctuates the sequence and rhythm of the seasonal calendar.

The descent into Palermo reveals a more chaotic and gritty reality. Palermo is the regional capital of Sicily, a historically rich and layered Mediterranean port town. There, in the heart of the old city we meet Darwin artist Chips Mackinolty who has been living in Palermo on and off for two years. Mackinolty guides us through the history and charms of Palermo, pointing out cultural gems juxtaposed by contemporary graffiti and stories of the Mafia. Following his eccentric black hat, we finally spill into the famed Ballarò produce market that weaves chaotically through the narrow medieval streets.

Palermo’s markets date back to the ninth-century when Sicily was under Islamic rule. The Ballarò and smaller Vucciria markets ring with the sound of the local dialect, permeated with a mixture of French, Spanish and Arabic overtones. Market stalls overflow with a colourful assortment of produce featuring fresh seasonal fruits of the land and sea. The street vendors shout the bargains of the day from under coloured umbrellas and tarpaulins suspended across the street. Market tables bursting at various times with Giri (silver beet), Pipittuni (citron), Pomodorini (tomatoes), herbs, artichokes and figs. While fish, meat, legume, bread, wine and cheese stalls complete the culinary montage.

In his series Wealth of the Land Chips Mackinolty has gleaned the essence of Sicilian food and market culture. The series of digital images depict various seasonal produce that appeared in the markets thorough out his Palermo sabbatical in 2015. Captivated by the cyclic rhythms Mackinolty selected new season’s fruits or vegetables and has painstakingly rendered the often rustic and organic objects in a chiaroscuro of flat patterned contours and luminous floating shapes. A large citron, a single peach or a cluster of peas float suspended in time and space. Blemished and unrefined these images hint at the mysteries, histories and art traditions to which they so strongly connect.

Wealth of the Land pays homage to the men and women who make a living from the soil, a reminder of things past and pointer to a good-natured and sustainable future. Above all they are images of luscious beauty and charm, reminding us of real natural wealth, that which emanates from the land.

Angus Cameron

Nomad Art Gallery, Darwin

The Wealth of the Land | Opens Thu 5 May, 5.30pm | See the event listing


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