comics from so distant. incredibly close

The stories emerged during the CultureLabs pilot project organised in Pisa, “So Distant. Incredibly Close“, were converted in web-comics and finally they found an appropriate web space thanks to the Sistema Musale di Ateneo of Pisa and Fondazione Sistema Toscana, after a two-year long creative and co-participation process.

The pilot involved people of different ages, coming from various countries of the world and resident in Pisa for more or less time. After the visits to the museums, each person produced a story about their past and to the traditions of their country of origin.

The collected storie were then transcribed and turned into comic for the web by the students of the Liceo Artistico Russoli in Pisa and the cartoonist Alice Milani.
The non-profit association “ORISS” and the cultural association “Casa della Donna” collaborated in the project, providing added value and cultural mediation.

This journey produced nine unique comic strips: nine stories that start from a remote time and touch the antipodes of the Earth, even reaching the Moon: from the sacred crocodiles of Gambia to the legends of Brazil, from the cuisine of Nigeria to nocturnal escapes on a frozen river in China, from Persian myths to the sound of Burkina Faso’s tam tam.

So Distant.Incredibly Close enabled all the participants to take a double journey: one to the heritage preserved in the museums and the other to the places, traditions, legends and customs of distant countries.

Each comic is accompanied by the original story from which it is taken. Each comic is also part of a true story.

What have we done so far in Pisa?

This video realised for the 3rd Annual Citizen Engagement and Deliberative Democracy Festival tells in 3 minutes objectives, activities, challenges, methodologies and novelty of the pilot project realised by Fondazione Sistema Toscana.

Benefit from so distant, incredibly close - CultureLabs

It is hard to define exactly what has determined what… But we are very happy to hear from the responsible of the associations we are working with that the visits sparked positive energy and the target group is now very cohesive and creative, more than ever.

As told by one of the founders and coordinators of Casa della Donna Association:

These women have spontaneously started a series of self-funded events devoted to their original cultural background and open to the citizens of Pisa: a series of meetings to show their origin country’s traditions, stories, and lifestyles, and their migrant paths by proposing traditional food and music, and telling personal stories and experiences”.  

Unfortunately, this lockdown we are all experiencing due to COVID-19, has stopped the activities.

WhatsApp chat is for us and our pilot’s participants the only communication means we can use to stay in contact altogether. We have noticed that for part of our participants that don’t have precisely a home to stay, chatting with us via WhatsApp is really important to keep a sense of normality in their life and to continue to maintain a link with everyday routine. It’s likely that So distant, Incredibly Close would have been a piece of normality in this breakdown.

A story from "so distant incredibly close" - collection

Yaya is a young guy coming from Burkina Faso. He is full of life, curious and smart, very conscious of the reasons that are determining the migration flows from Africa to Europe. We met him for the first time during an Italian language course, organised by ORISS. He did not waste time and immediately wanted to remark that a lot of African people are forced to leave their countries, where they are living as slaves of multinational corporations that farm cacao or coffee plants for foreign trades.

Yaya continued pointing out that countries, like Burkina Faso, do not benefit of their richness that is in the hands of a little number of landowners.

Yaya has lived in Pisa from about 3 years. He does not like talking about his trip to reach Italy, where he is determined to reconstruct his life with a new job and a new social network. Thanks to his pretty high-level Italian, during the visits to the museums, Yaya likes delighting us with memories of his experience and tell his stories.

We were visiting the Natural History Museum with the group of ORISS, during one of the visits organised in collaboration with the Pisa University Museums System. We were all impressed by the exemplars of animals shown along the museum’s rooms. The Natural History museum is hosted into the awesome venue of the monumental Charterhouse of Calci (Pisa – Italy) and tells the present and ancient history of animals from all over the world.

Yaya was really fascinated by the reptiles’ room. Our guide was explaining the origin and the histories of crocodiles samples exhibited into the showcases when Yaya took the word for telling us the story of the Crocodiles Sacrés of the Burkina Faso.

In Burkina – Yaya said – there is the village of Sacred Crocodiles, where crocodiles are not dangerous, and where you can even swim with them! But, pay attention: do not confuse sacred crocodiles with not sacred ones… in that case swimming with them would be very dangerous” – Yaya said laughing.

The mentioned village is Bazoulé, a small town near the Burkina Faso’s capital. A local legend narrates that, during a terrible drought, about the XIV or XV centuries, a group of crocodiles drove some women towards a water spring, where exactly Bazoulé has arisen.

Since that time, women and men have peacefully been cohabiting with these animals: swimming and playing with them. They feed these animals that are considered as real protectors of the village.

People – continued Yaya – offer food to these sacred animals and use them as a divinatory instrument”.

The visit to the Natural History museum was fruitful under several point of view and Yaya allowed us to discover a fascinating story about his original country, a story that we will transform soon in illustration.

Pisa pilot activity - so distant incredibly close

Customs, practices, beliefs, traditions, lifestyles, values, memories, stories constitute an important part of the cultural heritage as well as instruments of a self-representation.

For this reason, So distant, Incredibly Close pilot solicits the migrants involved to reflect on their idea of cultural heritage. What does cultural heritage mean for them? And again, which piece of cultural heritage would they take along with them for representing their roots, for not forgetting their cultural identity and not feeling alone?

Who is involved in the activities?

Fondazione Sistema Toscana is currently working with two groups of migrants: a group of about 15 women coming from different countries, such as Brasil, Poland, Iraq, Iran, and a small group of young people coming from Africa (specifically Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso). Creating groups from scratch would have been difficult, so we relied on the professional experience of associations already working with migrants, investigating their interest to collaborate with us for the project purposes, and inserting So distant, Incredibly Close pilot in their already existing cultural offers and social services.

Casa della Donna ( is a historic feminist association, founded in 1990, that sustains women’s rights against any kind of violence. Among its activities, Casa della Donna is now providing migrant women with free Italian language courses, and our project So distant, Incredibly Close has been integrated into the linguistic offer of the Casa della Donna association, thus increasing their occasions to speak Italian with natives, to put into practice the learned lesson and measure their linguistic competence in different contexts.

ORISS Onlus ( is a non-profit association consisting of an interdisciplinary group of experts coming from different fields and promoting processes of mutual knowledge and kicks off processes of wellness, with the objective to contribute to the development and health of the human community. We are now working with a small group of migrants, that previously took part of ORISS activities, to experiment museum visits as a form of self-confidence (o empowerment) and social inclusion.

What do the activities consist of?

Museums’ contents become a stimulus to trigger memories and stories of/from migrants visiting museums’ collections. Historical, artistic, naturalistic and scientific heritage, conserved in 4 museums of the Pisa University Museum System, take part in this game of memory:

Museum of calculation and computation instruments, whose rich collections offer a fascinating journey through the history of the European computation methodology, and more generally through the history of European cultural system, that has given rise to the contemporary western technological system.

Gipsoteca of Ancient Art that houses faithful copies of some of the most famous and significant works of Greek, Etruscan and Roman art, today preserved in different national and foreign museums or unfortunately lost in some cases.

Museum of Natural History that collects and exhibits more than 400 years of history in the scientific and natural science research of the Pisa University. Its permanent exhibitions include mineralogical, paleontological and zoological exemplars, organized according to thematic criteria and displayed on over 4,000 m² of halls and galleries, arranged on 3 floors.

Botanical Museum and Garden that hosts plants from the 5 continents and of a wide variety: wild plants for food use, officinal plants, a rich collection of different types of camellias and hydrangeas, bamboo forest, wild orchids and ancient trees.

The collections of those museums attest the outcomes of the researches and studies conducted by the University academics, witnessing important stages of the evolution of the scientific thought and of the European culture. The University Museum System has the main purpose of enhancing and preserving the scientific and cultural academic heritage.

The objects exhibited in the Pisa museums represent an entry door to bring the remembrance back to a custom, practice, belief, tradition, lifestyle (etc.) of the migrants’ cultural background and lay the ground for creativity.

Each museum, depending on the typology and characteristics of its collections, is providing people with different opportunities to share ideas and interests, in order to contribute to the collective cultural enrichment.

A glimpse into the future

So distant, Incredibly Close is basically composed of 3 main pivots:

  •     Guided visits at the museums’ collections with the tutoring of the Pisa University scholars.
  •     Emerging of stories and memories with the collaboration of cultural mediators.
  •     Transformation of the stories and memories collected in sketches and illustrations with the collaboration of artists.

Indeed, migrants will be able to enrich the museums with their knowledge and cultural contribution, thus demonstrating that museums can constitute a platform for kicking an intercultural understanding. The stories and memories collected as illustrations will be exhibited during an exhibition that will give us the opportunity to organise a final event, involving the general audience too.

The illustrations might be collected in an online exhibition at the end of the pilot activities.


Discover further details of the pilot on CultureLabs platform: