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Irene Kung: First I feel the fruit trees, then I photograph them

Culture / -

© Barbara Francoli
© Barbara Francoli

The Contrasto photographer responsible for the exhibition within the Fruits and Legumes Cluster, speaks about what inspires her work: dreams, colors, and intuition. She also tells us why we should trust in our emotions.

"I believe an artist should give the public what it lacks, and so the job of a contemporary artist is to allow people to dream through a positive and meaningful message". This is how Irene Kung describes her work as a photographer.
When we meet, she explains the message she wants to convey at Expo Milano 2015, using shapes, colors, and the poetry of fruit trees.
You are in charge of the photographic exhibition within the Fruits and Legumes Cluster. How did you select the images, and what message would you like to deliver?
I am very happy to have been chosen for this project. I wanted to provide a positive image in this time of economic crisis and difficulty, and the idea of fruit trees came quite naturally since they are symbols of productivity, health, and fertility.
Thinking about this project that had to feature 26 trees I saw two major challenges: I had little time, because these trees only have a brief moment when they are at their best, plus I had to find trees that were not part of an orchard, where they are planted in serried rows, which was not the image I was looking for.

The sweetness of fruit, its scent, the geometric shape of the tree itself: how do you convey these sensations?
When photographing a tree, you are often disappointed because the shot does not render what you experienced when you stood before it. With the way I work, though, I am able to capture exactly what I feel. Indeed, my approach is precisely this. I get rid of everything that is not essential, so that I see the tree as it really is, as I feel it.
What did you want to concentrate on, the details or the overall view?
Both, because with fruit, detail is very important, but then again, for me, the overall view is perhaps even more important in expressing a positive image.
In which countries were the photos taken?
Italy and Switzerland. I am Swiss, although Italy is my adoptive country, so I visited places I knew.
Roberto Koch, the founder and director of Contrasto, told us that you described fruit trees “through wonderfully-stylized and dreamlike vistas, that are really fascinating and evocative”. How important is dreaming to your compositions?
Very important. Because dreaming is what allows us to achieve our greatest goals and helps us during difficult times. I think dreams allow us to access our intuition, which is a very strong emotion, one that eliminates rationality. For me, by dreaming, you are able to reach the true essence of an object.
The energy of the wind blowing through the branches of a peach tree, the geometrically-perfect spikes of a chestnut burr against a black background, a lemon tree that seems to emerge from the mist, red currants that stand out on a plant immersed in darkness. The force of the elements, the beauty of the subject: is photography the ideal way to inspire a love of nature?
Not only photography, but also painting, sculpture, music, and writing. In my case, photography is the ideal way, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the only way to inspire a love of nature.

How much has your training as a painter and as a designer influenced your photographic style?
Very much, because everything we do in life gets accumulated and then manifests itself through our experiences.
How do you know when a photograph is right?
When it feels right. It’s a very specific feeling, and I think this happens with all photographers. But, then again, perhaps this happens with all crafts. We may do a number of different things, then one of them gives us a good feeling, or a sensation that resonates on a deep level, and then we know that we’re doing the right thing. This is intuition, and it’s not rational. Rational thinking can lead us astray, our feelings do not. Feelings are either right, or they’re not there. For me, the right photograph is the one that touches the senses.

Benin. The courage to face great challenges

Culture / -


A small West African country looking out onto the Gulf of Guinea, Benin is committed to reinforcing its own food security. Present in Expo Milano 2015 in the Fruits and Legumes Cluster, it celebrates its National Day on Friday, September 11.

Benin is a small West African country, internationally recognized for its consolidated democracy and its untainted nature. Looking southwards onto the Gulf of Guinea, and touched by the River Niger to the North, it covers an area of over 114,000 sq.m, including zones of savanna, woodlands and windswept Atlantic beaches. Its economy is still dominated by agriculture, featuring extensive cotton plantations, but above all consisting of fragmented subsistence farming. Its economic fragility, particularly in agricultural terms, faces the country with a major challenge: that of adequately feeding its robustly growing population – increased from 6 million in the 1990s to over 10 million today – which includes around forty different ethnic groups and identities. In order to feed all its citizens, Benin intends to boost its educational system, its tourist industry and above all its food production system.
Democracy and Food Security
Situated in a ‘difficult’ area of the Planet, Benin is proud to have succeeded in developing a solid democracy. Part of French West Africa since the end of the 19th century, it obtained full independence in 1960, but until 1975 underwent numerous coups. Until 1990 it then had a stable one party socialist state, but after the end of the Cold War it implemented a multi-party democracy based on free elections and praised by the international community. At the moment, despite its healthy institutional situation, its economy has not yet produced stable growth, especially since it lacks energy resources or raw material resources or any established industrial system. It is still, therefore, basically a subsistence agricultural economy. It does export cotton, and its other products are those typical to West Africa, namely yams, cassava, rice, millet and corn, along with peanuts and tropical fruit. Its food production has increased notably in recent years, but a significant proportion of its population is still undernourished. In order to reduce infant malnutrition, in collaboration with the WFP, Benin is implementing programs for distributing full meals to all children attending schools.
The ancient roots of Dahomey
Benin’s historical roots stretch back into the mists of history. From 1620 to 1900 it was part of Dahomey, a warrior kingdom founded by the Fon tribe and based on the slave trade. From their sumptuous palace in the capital city of Abomey – today a UNESCO World Heritage site – the rulers sold their prisoners of war to European slave traders, exchanging them for weapons which would help them to take more prisoners of war. This source of the kingdom’s wealth only ceased with the abolition of slavery and the French occupation of the country at the end of the century.
During the Dahomey period, through contact with Portuguese merchants and slave traders, the deep links between Benin and Brazil which still exist today were established. The African element is a fundamental component of Brazil’s identity, and in particular the connection with Benin’s ancestral culture… its voodoo rites especially, originating from Benin and spreading across Brazil and America through the slaves, before mingling with other influences, such as the worship of Christian saints. Vice versa, to this day Benin has a community descended from Brazilians, originating both from slave traders and freed slaves returning from Brazil to their country of origin. Many of these play important roles in Benin’s society today and have played key roles in the transition to democracy.

Rwanda. A country made up of a thousand hills, inhabited by a population of skilled dancers

Culture / -

cover ruanda per 2 luglio
© Wolfgang Kaehler_Corbis

Situated in the center of Africa, Rwanda is blessed by uncontaminated nature, a rich and flourishing fauna, volcanos, great lakes and soaring mountains where marvelous primates survive in their natural element, including chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.

Exactly twenty years ago, Rwanda was plunged into a horrific genocidal war which practically exterminated the Tutsi people. Today its inhabitants are gradually and with difficulty emerging from that trauma, reviving its coffee-growing economy and also its nascent international tourism, which offers visitors the opportunity to discover its unspoiled landscapes and the magnificent animals that dwell in them. It has numerous stunning and famous nature sites: the Akagera Natural Park, rich in hippopotami, antelopes and elephants, the Nguingue forest, famous for its monkeys, Lake Kiwu, with its fine beaches, the National Volcano Park and the nearby Kirunga Mountains, home to the magnificent Mountain Gorillas.
Cookery based on intensely tasty and simple ingredients, many of them protected and promoted as Slow Food Presidiums
Rwanda’s gastronomy – which reflects the Belgian influence from its colonial past above all in its famed fried potato chips – offers intense tastes from simple dishes. The typical ingredients of its cuisine are rice, beans, salad, freshwater sardines, couscous and tubers like sweet potatoes and manioc, both eaten with meat dishes along with ‘umutsima’, made of creamed bananas.
Two banana varieties in particular benefit from the protection of Slow Food, the international association founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. The first of these is the Musa Acuminata banana, used to make urwagwa, a typical Rwanda banana beer, while the second is the Kamaramasenge banana, which risks disappearing from Rwanda plantations. Other typical traditional products protected by Slow Food include traditional ikimuri butter, made from the milk of a local breed of cattle called Inyambo, considered sacred by the people of Rwanda, and ‘rukacarara’, a traditional kind of bread made from sorghum flour with a little cassava flour mixed in.
Nestled in the Coffee Cluster, Rwanda presents itself to the community of nations
Rwanda is present in Expo Milano 2015 in the Coffee Cluster, where it shows visitors its healthy natural food products, particularly its coffees, ecologically cultivated with the help of modern technology. Economically, coffee is its prime resource, given the perfect cultivation conditions of its high mountains, covered by volcanic soil and basking in equatorial sunshine. Inside its Pavilion, various highly colorful handcraft items are displayed, including fabrics, bags, baskets and typically African decorative jewellery. Many fascinating food products are also displayed, although most of them – except for the top quality mountain coffee varieties – are not for sale.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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