The human body as an image of the temple, the space where matter and spirit come together to reflect a sacredness that crosses the three monotheistic religions, seems to tarnish before the progress of a secularity whose first victim is precisely the concept of the sacred.
The word “sacred” comes from “sacrum” and further back from “sacer” and even before from “sak”, an Indo-European root word that means “fence”. This image of the fence refers to the meaning of “separation” which, by extension, determines belonging to the divine, the place of intangibility. As mentioned, the interpretation of the body as a place of the sacred, in the course of time has lost its initial connotation even within certain religious rituals, where the body is autoflagellate in an attempt to relive the passion of Christ, ritualism that in pain of affliction has the character of an offer.
Contrarily, in secular society the body released from the sacred belongs only to the person who wears the name, it’s the owner and therefore free to dispose of it as it sees fit, giving the gesture a proprietary connotation. The violation of the body – void of pathologies that lead to self-injury as an attempt to humiliate the matter – through afflictive practices over time has been enriched with identity components that are all the more evident the more evident the disappearance of the concept of the sacred in different societies.
Morocco, our days. Photographer Giuseppe Andretta has long explored the phenomenon of self-injury in the youth subculture. In his project, “Scarfès” – now merged into a fanzine purchasable at this address: www.scarfes.it – a term that comes from the union of two other words, “scar” and Fès “whose phonetic association refers to the famous and violent film by Brian De Palma, “Scarface”, in fact, played by Al Pacino as Tony Montana, who became an idol by Moroccan gangs. This subculture has a name: Tcharmil, a harmless term (meaning “spicy meat stew”) but which by extension has taken on dramatic implications, so much so that in 2014 – the year in which Andretta started his project – King Mohammed VI has introduced a series of regulations to counteract its spread.
Therefore, Tcharmil means belonging to a gang dedicated to the sale of hashish and petty crime, whose self-inflicted scars all over the body are a sign of belonging. The sacred is lost in the name of a globalization that in the spread of the worst customs makes all the cities of the world look the same. The young tcharmil, despite being close between the observance of the most important principles of Islam, dispute the rigidity of their culture, taking as an example a rebellion that in form, rather than in substance, brings them closer to Western gangs.
The models are known: wealth, women and a lifestyle to be reached quickly, with every possible shortcut, while the outward signs, the scars with which their bodies are battered trace an identity that in mutual recognition traces their membership (dis) value. Meeting them, photographing them must not have been easy for Andretta. First of all, we believe that it was not easy to become familiar with a company whose strength lies in the secrecy of its rituality and to win the reluctance of a group. It takes courage and humility, and a project that more than judging draws its vocation of describing, in documenting the life, desires and aspirations of young people who will have resonance of anything except our indignation.
So the initial imaginable suspicions won by the photographer, all that remains is to focus his attention on those scars exhibited like a trophy and that stand out like an identity mark. The photographs of “Scarfès” are at once terrible and fascinating; they clash like something incomprehensibly out of focus, but that finds its explanation in the unnatural graft of an emerging violent and self-destructive subculture in comparison with an Islam that in Morocco lives on wide political and social openings, whose religious doctrine sees the body as “the supreme abode of the Merciful “(Abdul Baha).
The vilified body is therefore torn from the sacred. It is our, the tcharmil youngsters seem to say and in the cancellation of a primitive pact live the new identity codes, disobedience, self-referentiality, violent repulsion towards a model of society incapable of satisfying youthful needs. Everything competes and everything stops on the body, where the blows of self-harm martyred the body ‘fore soul.
Giuseppe Andretta has opened a gash, a black and dramatic light on a reality unknown to us. This report, necessary and poignant, re-evaluates the very meaning of photography to learn, to document. And the images, we know well, speak much better than any word. And in “Scarfès “we have a magnificent confirmation.