Wheat festivals in Basilicata

Between devotion and intangible heritage

This photo essay includes a selection of photographs from a series on wheat festivals in Basilicata I made between 2005 and 2020. The series looks at the contemporary flowering of festivals and initiatives connected to wheat harvest traditions, mostly made of religious processions in which offerings made of wheat are carried along with the statue of a saint or Madonna. But it also includes behind the scenes moments on the making of the offerings or connected events such as a hand-reaping competition or the afterlives of classic images of wheat rituals from the 1950s. Once part of ecological ritual cycles, these offerings are today the subject of interest by local enthusiasts who go at great lengths to source hand-reaped wheat suitable for building the sometimes intricate and complex structures. But they have also been picked up by local administrators in the frame of processes of touristic promotion and folklorisation, claiming access to funding specially destined to intangible cultural heritage. Looking at these wheat festivals means detecting the traces of an ethnographic iconography that supports discourses of authenticity, and at the same time acknowledging the embodied nostalgia for the aesthetics of a romanticised agricultural past by their protagonists.

Most of the images in this selection appear in individual sequences for each event in my blog, where you can read more information and see many more photographs. The project also became a chapter in Sonic ethnography, the new book on sound-making and listening practices in Basilicata that I wrote with Nicola Scaldaferri.

The revival of Lucanian wheat festivals