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Screenshot 2021 11 22 At 12.01.59 PM

Silvia Rosi traces her Togolaise heritage

The recipient of the RPS Vic Odden Award uses portraiture and video to relive her mother’s childhood

A still from the video Mother and Grandmother by Silvia Rosi 

Shortly after graduating from photography school in London, Silvia Rosi was sitting on the sidewalk in the midst of Asigamé market in Lomé, the capital of Togo. She listened as her mother shopped, spoke with old friends and recalled her life there.

As a child, Rosi’s mother had worked as a seller in Asigamé market. From the age of ten she had woken up in the dark, collected her produce at daybreak, carried it on her head to the market and sold it on before arriving at school.

Rosi, who has received the RPS Vic Odden Award 2021, grew up in Modena, a small Italian city near Bologna. Her parents had emigrated there before she was born, but kept close ties to their family in Lomé and would visit them with Rosi as she grew up. 

“I realised I didn’t really ask my mother that often about her early life,” says Rosi. “I had never really thought about this chapter of my mum’s life – working as a market trader.”

Rosi remembers watching the women around her. “I sat there as my mother shopped, and this parade of women walked past me with different produce, these incredibly heavy loads which they were able to carry on their heads. I got my phone out and took a series of photos.”

Once home in London, Rosi used the images to apply to the Jerwood/PhotoWorks Award. Out of 450 submissions, Rosi won – and so began work on her series Encounter.

Rosi began to ask her mother pointedly about the past, using photography as a reason to raise the subject. She’d take notes as her mother spoke, before then composing intimate self-portraits that reflected the stories. She plays her mother and father in images that reference the West African studio portrait tradition, and uses props and traditional dress to communicate a narrative about her family history.

Rosi also uses performance in a deeply personal exploration of her heritage. In one video her mother and grandmother demonstrate the tradition of tying fabric rings for head carrying and in another, the artist herself elegantly ties a length of blue material. 

Discover more about Silvia Rosi and Encounter

Sihin 02

‘Sihin’ from the series Encounter, 2019, by Silvia Rosi


The RPS Vic Odden Award recognises a notable achievement in the art of photography by a British photographer aged 35 or under. Read more about Silvia Rosi in the January/February 2022 issue of the RPS Journal.

The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here


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