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The Roman Quarantine - By Sarah Barker


Hi everybody! As I said on the stories, I’m sharing with you an excerpt of a thesis written by Sarah Barker (Master of Science in Cultural Anthropology - Utrecht University) which contains some thoughts and photos I tried to explain in the book Hold your breath.


I talked a lot with Sarah during the quarantine, I couldn’t imagine that some of our chats would become part of her thesis. When I read it I got surprised and amazed about how clearly she explained the concepts and the thoughts I had in my confused mind at that time.


Thank you Sarah for this amazing work :)


The Roman Quarantine

Intimate uncertainties, narratives of emergency and creative freedoms as examined through the lived experience of the Italian COVID-19 lockdown


Utrecht University

Sarah Barker

Student Number: 6243363

Supervisor: Roos de Wildt

Wordcount: 20,804


A thesis submitted to the Board of Examiners in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science in Cultural Anthropology: Sustainable Citizenship

Chapter: Phase three

Paragraph: Hold your breath



I found an intriguing example that tied the presented conceptual topics of state control and uncertainty within these contextual COVID-19 circumstances to a particular interpretation of individual creative freedom in the memory book Hold your breath by Jacopo Rufo. Rufo, who had found himself in Roman lockdown at his girlfriend’s apartment away from his normal routine, work and family was used to a certain freedom of movement across borders in order to do his job. As he began to face the reality of no income, he realised he needed to find a way to create some form of work in this moment and so he created what became a unique and fitting visual interpretation of his intimate experience in lockdown.

The book collates a personal insight as recorded in short diary-style narratives and photos taken within 500 meters of the apartment he was in – mostly from the terrace and roof. This book became Rufo’s saving grace, as people were able to pre-order it before its completion and therein provide him with the money he needed to survive the lockdown. When I contacted him with regards to my research, he told me that:

sharing thoughts, photos, ideas are important if you are alone and it has been my only income, I actually survived thanks to the book.

In the end the book sold out and has been posted worldwide sharing an insight into how lockdown felt and looked in Rome.

Reading the book at the time of writing this thesis (August 2020), the reflection is cathartic for me as I see my own thoughts through the lens of Rufo’s narrative. In Appendix 4 I display particular pages that engage with the theoretical framework of the study. In a sense this memory book became a metaphor for the process of the lockdown and this study, a unique example of how an individual used this rupture in time creatively as a reflexive opportunity to illustrate the operationalisation of freedom that Foucault was proposing.

By creating a memory book to share and critique his experience and identity as a citizen in Roman lockdown Rufo found his own sense of reflexive freedom in resilient expression and understanding that will find precedence in itself beyond the COVID-19 moment.


Chapter: Appendices

Paragraph: Appendix 4



In this appendix, I will depict particular pages from Jacopo Rufo’s book Hold our breath that is discussed in Phase 3. In the discussion I will highlight how the memory book that Rufo created became a catalyst for my study, drawing the topics of state, uncertainty and future together in one creative output.

‘We’ve been living so fast that we can’t recognize how slow the world can be’

These pages relate to the notion of time discussed in Phase 2. Rufo presents an image of two elderly Italians queueing for a pharmacy in the lockdown wearing masks. The imagery of the ‘slower’ individuals alongside Rufo’s quote ties to the way in which the COVID-19 rupture forced the world to pause and reflect on the possible errors of moving too fast.

Continuing with the notion of time in lockdown as opposed to the previous speed of the world Rufo here reflects on how society has grown accustomed to instantaneous entertainment – which was lacking after weeks in lockdown. His statement suggests the type of ‘self-work’ that Rufo was doing during his lockdown considering his valuation of freedom in relation to speed and movement.

The picture is an overlay comprising two pictures – one of his kitchen and another of the outside of a building. This juxtaposition of inside and outside creates a paradox of lockdown thinking querying the spaces we were occupying whilst dreaming of outside.

‘I really would like to be a seagull today’

This is a personal favourite of mine as I remember several days where I dreamed to be a bird or wondered what the nature outside was thinking of the sudden silence, as touched upon in the vignette for Phase 3. The connotation of a bird as free due to the ability to fly high above the quiet city was something, I’m sure many apartments restricted Italians dreamed about.

‘Distances have changed. There are no ‘where are you’ questions anymore

These pages from earlier in the book, and lockdown, highlight the shared experience of lockdown that was being promoted by state controls. Rufo says: ‘Nobody’s excluded. Life’s changed quickly for all of us’ referencing to the quick impact of COVID-19 around the world. He also states how everybody is talking about the virus and ways to avoid infections. These statements are juxtaposed against pictures of another building with two figures dancing on top. This returns again to the notion of shared connection but also isolation.


The information overload was exhausting but the silence was still louder.


For more information, feel free to send her an email!


Sarah Barker

s.m.barker@students.uu.nl

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