A visual research project - Shirley van der Maarel
Across Europe refugees are placed in remote villages to resolve issues around depopulation and a shortage of urban accommodation. This research takes the case of Valle di Comino, where I worked with refugees to understand how they create a sense of home in an area that other young people choose to leave.
Most Italians in Valle di Comino know very little about their new neighbours, and vice versa. The two groups live largely in parallel, creating separate communities within the valley. This research explores this ‘unknown world’ that is located in Valle di Comino, but that can only be found if you meet its new residents.
The research was conducted between January and July 2019, under the supervision of the Visual Anthropology department at Leiden University. It consists of three parts that include a documentary film, an academic text and a visual guide. This website, www.land-unknown.eu, is the digital version of the guide. Access to the other materials can be requested via
Through the text, film and guide I have tried to recreate the world that the new residents of Valle di Comino inhabit. I hope this peek into terra incognita, will lead to the respect and curiosity that makes human living so extraordinary.
When explorers of the past would be unable to map an area of the world, they would describe it as terra incognita – land unknown. Nowadays, no map would admit to there being any terra incognita. And yet…
This research was initiated and conducted by Shirley van der Maarel with the help of an incredible list of incredible people.
Firstly, it would not have taken place in this shape and form, if it were not for the support of Marcella Zeppa from Risehub, who opened the doors to Valle di Comino for me. The housing organisations La Casa di Tom, La Speranza, and Solecuore have been invaluable in by providing data and information to understand refugee policies in Italy. I thank the kind people of the Valli a includere and Danzaterapia for welcoming me to their sessions. I am very grateful for the generous financial support of the Leiden University Fund, the Leiden Trustee Fund, and the Minerva Scholarship Fund, as well as for the feedback, enthusiasm and mental support of Mark Westmoreland, Andrew Littlejohn, Metje Postma and the whole Leiden University Visual Ethnography class of 2019.
Lastly, and most importantly, this research owes everything to the trust and hospitality of the people who have been part of it: Diango Keita, Ibrahim Yusuf, Nouhan Kone, Sembala Diallo, Yacouba Coulibaly and Yaya Diallo; Fatima; Angela and her kids; Fatima Zahra Maamar with her kids Mohammed and Baraa; Aboubacar, Amadou Kaba, Balatou, Baba, Binta, Diallo, Elisabeth, Fofana, Gibril, Hassan, Ibrahim Bawa, Iffi, Kennedy, Koné, Mado, Mohamed, Moro Kanoute, Nancy, Rana, Raymond Dankwah, Souleymane, Vito and Yaya Diouf; Khalifa, Kofi, Samuel and Thompson; Endurance, Mehmood and Salman; Rana Qaser Mahmud and Tariq; Belinga, Kadir, Karim, Mamadou, Omar, Richard, Rodrigue and Sow; Kingsley; Djidji, Ernest and Moustapha; Silvia di Passio; Luigi Ricciardi; Luciano Caira and Mario Riccardi; Annalisa Gallo, Annarita Leone, Barbara Calcagni, Daniela Costantini and Sonia Martelli; and all the other people who have welcomed me into their lives and homes. No words can express my gratitude for the open arms with which they received me.