Aida Silvestri
Unsterile Clinic

8 July - 17 September 2016

Autograph ABP, Rivington Place

London, UK

Free exhibition

Autograph ABP is proud to present Unsterile Clinic, an exhibition by Aida Silvestri to raise awareness of the widespread practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Unsterile Clinic marks the 2nd anniversary of the Girl Summit, organised in 2014 by the UK government in collaboration with DIFID, UNICEF and the Home Office to mobilise domestic and international forces to end FGM globally within one generation.

‘Silvestri skillfully operates in the contested terrains where art and advocacy meet, photography and human rights converse, courageously and creatively addressing an urgent and critical condition affecting women and girls globally.’  - Renée Mussai, Curator.

As a severe form of violence and discrimination against girls and women, FGM - which involves procedures that include the partial or total removal of external female genital organs for non-medical reasons – has been a criminal offence in the United Kingdom since 1985. The 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act amended the law to include UK nationals or permanent residents taking children abroad to undergo FGM. This was further strengthened by the Serious Crime Act of 2015, which extended extra-territorial jurisdiction to acts of FGM undertaken abroad (by and/or to a UK national or resident). However, very few convictions have been made in the UK for performing or arranging FGM.

FGM is informed by complex ideas of cultural identity, tradition and often religious misconceptions – neither the Bible nor the Koran endorses the practice – and can have fatal consequences and result in complications during childbirth, infertility, infections and the loss of sexual pleasure in women subjected to cutting procedures. While FGM is primarily practiced in Africa, the Middle East and parts of South East Asia, due to increasing migrant populations Europe is equally implicated. Estimation of figures for those affected by or at risk of FGM are difficult to measure; it is believed that 125 million girls and women globally are living with the effects of FGM.

Inspired by personal experience, Aida Silvestri began an in-depth investigation into the practice in 2015, and began interviewing and photographing women living in London.

‘After comparing the stories of women from Mali, Gambia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti, I discovered that the majority of FGM cases in the United Kingdom are diagnosed during pregnancy or labour. The aim of this project is to raise awareness in the hope that women, young girls and children, who may not realise the severity or the kind of FGM type they have, are encouraged to attend early screening processes before an emergency occurs. I also hope that this project empowers medical staff to have the courage to speak openly, and the visual tools necessary, when examining women affected by FGM.’

Silvestri’s sculptural photo-works are presented together with text poems based on interviews conducted with participants whose personal testimonies provide harrowing insight into their experiences. Some have since undergone reconstructive or reversal procedures – which part-remedies the physical damage inflicted onto their bodies, yet the psychological and emotive scars remain in perpetuity.

Categorisation of FGM types are not fixed, varying and constantly changing. Working closely with NHS specialist clinics, Silvestri created her own distinct set of sub-categories (adapted from the list published by the World Health Organisation); these are visualised as intrinsic leather pieces stitched onto the black silhouette portraits, and also used as visual aids during medical consultations. Each leather piece is handcrafted and unique, reflecting the particular type of FGM the women portrayed were subjected to: collectively they illustrate the different stages of tissue removal, cutting and stitching, whereas the distinct leather tones resemble the participants’ individual skin colours.

In 2016, Autograph ABP commissioned Aida Silvestri to create five new portraits in this continuing body of work; the sixth portrait in the commission featuring razor blades and red paint represents the artist’s current experimentation with new forms of expression.

Visitors are encouraged to participate in the creation of a group portrait as an act of solidarity. To participate in the creation of a group portrait, please ask the Visitor Assistant in the gallery for a pin, please ask the gallery’s visitor assistant for a pin.

Curated by Renée Mussai

Renée Mussai is Curator and Head of Archive & Exhibitions at Autograph ABP, London – where she manages a diverse collection of photographs and global programme of exhibition, publishing and research initiatives.

A curator and scholar with a special interest in African and diasporic practices, as well as Black British photographic history, she has organised numerous exhibitions in Europe, Africa and the US, including the critically acclaimed exhibition Black Chronicles II (2014, and touring). Her most recent publications include the monograph James Barnor: Ever Young (2015); forthcoming Autograph ABP books include Black Chronicles and The Photography Reader on Race, Rights & Representation (2016 and 2017 respectively), co-edited with Mark Sealy. Mussai lectures internationally on curatorial practice, photography, and cultural politics, and has been a regular guest curator and non-resident fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University since 2009, where she also serves on the Exhibitions and Acquisitions Committee of the newly established Cooper Gallery. Twice recipient of the Sofie- and Emanuel Fohn Fellowship, Mussai is presently a PhD candidate in Art History at University College London.

About Aida Silvestri

Born in 1978 in Eritrea, Silvestri lives and works in London. She studied photography at the University of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea College.

In 2013, she was voted one of the British Journal of Photography’s Best of Show Winners at the Free Range exhibition, London.

Silvestri’s practice explores new and unique approaches of documentary photography and addresses potent current issues of culture, ethnicity, identity, health and politics. Her work has been shown at The Photographers’ Gallery, Roman Road and Autograph ABP.

Visiting information

Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, London, EC2A 3BA

We are located in the heart of Shoreditch, a short walk from Old Street, Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street stations.
Buses: 26, 43, 48, 55, 67, 149, 205, 242 and 271

Exhibition opening times
Tues, Wed, Fri 11am – 6pm
Thurs 11am – 9pm,
Sat 12 – 6pm
The gallery is closed on Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays

Entry to Rivington Place and all exhibitions is free. Our Gallery Assistants in the exhibition spaces are happy to answer questions about the exhibitions.

Rivington Place is fully accessible, with a lift and step free access to all areas of the building. Large print captions are available at reception. Please phone ahead to book a disabled parking bay, or if you would like to discuss your access needs: 020 7749 1240.

We welcome visitors with children to the gallery. Baby changing facilities are located in the ground floor toilet.

Press and information

All press enquiries, or for further information about the exhibition please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP

E: lois@autograph-abp.co.uk
T: +44 (0)20 7720 9200


Unsterile Clinic is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

Unsterile Clinic will debut in Nottingham in the exhibition Krisis, curated by Something Human in partnership with Nottingham Trent University and Bonington Gallery, 27 October - 9 November 2016.

The artist would like to thank: her sitters for sharing their overwhelming stories; special thanks to Deqa Dirie and Aissa Edon for education/discussion on the subject; and to Marisa Bellani, Eileen Perrier, Matthew Hahn, Louise Burn, Klara Berish and Mehri Madadi for their support, encouragement and feedback.

As seen in: