Trialogue Act 2: A speech conversation between Benito Mussolini, Sylvia Pankhurst and Haile Selassie

Sylvia Pankhurst – Addis Ababa


Tatiana Letier Pinto

At the same period that Italian architects had their hands full of new projects to build the new national identity, Ethiopia had their land full of Italian soldiers trying to expand the Italian colonial territories, leaving traces of blood behind. The project of the Casa del Mutilato, the setting of Trialogue, began in 1936, the exact same year that Mussolini declared the Italian Empire after entering Addis Ababa with mustard gas. The same year Haile Selassie, Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia gave a speech at the League of Nations to appeal for justice towards his people against Italian atrocities in his home country. Lastly, in 1936, the British artist Sylvia Pankhurst launched the first number of the self-published weekly newspaper “New Times and Ethiopian News. For Liberty, International Justice and Democracy”, a pro-Ethiopian and anti-fascist newspaper.

Sylvia Pankhurst was an activist that has fought against Italian fascist occupation in Ethiopia. Beside her anti-fascist fight, she was a trained artist and had earlier, together with her mother and sisters, taken part in the suffragist movement to ensure the right to vote for women. She published newspapers, organized protests and sent numerous letters to British Parliament and people of influence to advocate for the rights of Ethiopian people. In 1956 she moved to Addis where she lived until the end of her days, when she received a state funeral in 1960.
Sylvia Pankhurst, a woman, as she described in a letter to President Roosevelt, “a humble and unofficial person with only one title: I have been fighting for justice all my life”, has positioned herself between two powerful male figures: Benito Mussolini and Haile Selassie – The attacker and his opponent – and she squawked from her place using her tools. She didn’t bow to the cynicism and opportunism of neutrality; moreover, she brought to the dialogue the perspective of other important allies.

What can we learn from Sylvia Pankhurst position as an artist in practice? A white European woman that assumes the responsibility of a third nation. How can we legitimize her responsibilities in the position she comes from? Angela Davis has a plea that in a racist society it is not enough to be non–racist, we must be anti-racist and Sylvia was an anti-fascist, and feminist.

Trialogue is a manifesto piece that pleads architects and artist for reflections on their personal responsibility towards society. Sylvia Pankhurst, more than an artist and activist is a role model when one needs to look for courage and emotional capacities to act for justice. An urgent task.

Trialogue is a theatre performance initially presented in the atrium of Casa del Mutilato, the fascist building in Palermo, in June 2018. The first Act is a fictional dialogue between three existing characters: Lina Bo Bardi, Pietro Maria Bardi and Giuseppe Spatrisano, the architect of the setting. They articulate their positions in a trial atmosphere, where there is not one accuser and one defendant, but rather a judgement on morality in the practice of architecture. The imaginary conversation between the characters raises questions about the social responsibility of architects, culture as a colonial tool, sexism in architectural practice and the future of colonial and fascist buildings in our current society. It continues with Trialogue – Act 2 as a collage of the speech of Benito Mussolini’s declaration of the Italian Empire in 09 May 1936, plus the editorial text from the first edition of “New Times and Ethiopian News launched by Sylvia Pankhurst in 15 May 1936 and the speech by Haile Selassie at the League of Nation in 20 June 1936, composing a shrill conversation between the three characters.