Shaping Stories through Words and Images
10 9 2020
Shaping Stories through Words and Images

A unique performance with reading and live illustrations

In the magnificent southern courtyard in Palazzo Te, the author Giorgio Fontana reads two tales from the One Thousand and One Nights: The Merchant and the Genie and The Three Apples. Meanwhile, the painter and illustrator Alessandro Sanna sketches scenes from each story on his drawing tablet, projecting them in real-time on the wall behind the stage.

As Fontana starts reading, the audience quickly understands that the One Thousand and One Nights is a mysterious and multi-layered work of literature. It's a collection of tales incredibly rich in events, twists and turns; its multilevel nature is visible not only in the narrative, but also in the character and geographical structure.


The story creation process takes centre stage. The main frame story features Scheherazade holding on to life by keeping her newly-married husband, the cruel Shahryār, wanting to hear more tales from her; by raising his curiosity, she knows that he won't execute her. In The Merchant and the Genie, a merchant offends a demon and promises him his life; on his way to the demon, he meets three old men, who decide that they will tell their own story to the demon in exchange for a third of the merchant’s life. In The Three Apples, Ja’far asks the caliph to pardon his slave and offers a story in return of the favour.

The value of the storytelling in the One Thousand and One Nights does not, of course, just lie in the story itself: tales can save lives, be traded, be given as rewards and treated as lessons. They have an immediate, incredible power, they draw the complete attention of the listener and make them stop doing whatever they are doing. Such value is built through a recursive, original and self-making process. As Fontana puts it, everything in One Thousand and One Nights is a story and generates stories and the performative nature of the event is a evidence of that: Sanna's beautiful illustrations come alive much like the tales themselves, in a heartfelt and impactful show.