Counter-cartography, between relational art and political practice: a collaborative experience in the South of Italy

Chiara Falcone

Keywords: Counter-cartography; Collaborative Art; Social Transformation; Political practice

Participation: on-line

Maps have always been useful tools to represent, explore and understand territories. They often reflected power relationships and colonial gazes until critical cartographies (1) started questioning their drawing processes: who can decide which are significant elements to be shown? And how are they depicted?

The visual essay focuses on Turboday, a collaborative art process that led to the creation of a counter-map of Mendicino, a village in Calabria inhabited by international refugees and locals.

La rivoluzione delle seppie and Disintegrati, two artistic collectives from the South of Italy, together with the social cooperative Il Delfino, promoted performative public actions, facilitating interactions between citizens from Calabria and from abroad, letting participants to overcame conventional representative schemes.

The event, organized in June 2021 for the world refugee day, involved migrants and locals for mixing images and imaginaries in a mischiografia (2), that expressed the variety of a multicultural marginal territory. The process was participatory and spontaneous, involving common people, artists and refugees; interactions often took circle shapes, letting participants to look to each other’s eyes. Collaborative strategies transformed decision making processes into community visual workshops, for transmitting ideas clearly and horizontally and for crossing viewpoints.

The starting point was a blank canvas, with just a black line on it, depicting the village’s geographical boundary. During the workshop, empty spaces were filled with collages of images suggested and selected by participants: pictures from their personal archive, up-to-date photographs, traditional symbols and spontaneous drawings.

Everything was mixed without hierarchies and beyond boundaries, to create a collective and stratified map, portraying Mendicino from the marginal (3) perspective of the different people cohabiting there, throughout their experiences and memories.

Natural elements also took part in the process. As the ecological approach underlines, there’s a close relationship between the environment and the way of experiencing and describing it (4) : visions influence and are influenced by contexts, generating experimental fields of mutual interaction and hybridization between urban and wild aspects.

Turboday was an occasion for inhabitants to meet and cooperate, occupying usual places through unusual creative purposes, redefining the main characteristics of their common spaces. The resulting emotional maps do not show places, but reveal the heterogeneity of their forms of life, expressing their perspective from below, showing how they can overcome distinctions and became a multifaceted whole.

The visual essay presents Turboday as an example of collaborative art that becomes a relational tool for social transformation, focusing on the counter cartography drawing process as political practice (5).


(1) Crampton, J., & Krygier, J., An Introduction to Critical Cartography. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 4(1), 11-33, 2005
(2) Mischiografia is neologism created by Disintegrati, for indicating graphic expressions of miscellaneous characters.
(3) B. Hooks, Feminist theory from margin to center, South End Press, Boston, 1984
(4)J.J.Gibson, The ecological approach to visual perception, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1979
(5) kollektiv orangotango+, This is not an atlas, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2018


Chiara Falcone is a PhD researcher from the Sociology Department of University of Calabria (IT). She studied Philosophy and Cinema, photography and performance, travelling between Italy and Portugal as visual researcher. Now she works as visual sociologist on social transformation in the South of Italy, using participatory methods.