Exploring Italy’s urban side through its street art and graffiti can be enlightening, and even surprising – something I learnt during my recent trip.
A former slaughterhouse doesn’t sound like an attraction especially in a city like Rome where there are grander monuments, museums and galleries to keep you busy.
Campo Boario, located in the neighbourhood of Testaccio, was a food processing facility before it became a hub for street artists to unleash their creativity. Its wall, which have been painted, plastered, sprayed and stencilled many times over, is the building’s most striking feature. The colourful and chaotic murals of street art and graffiti give the facility a new and refreshed identity.
The 105k m2 compound was abandoned in 1975 when it ceased to operate, but after successful developments it is now a functional community space. Concerts and community events are held here, and the expansive open area in the middle becomes a market for organic agricultural produce on weekends. There are cafes and bars too. The aptly named Cafe Boario offers espresso, cornetto and free Wi-Fi.
Street art and graffiti at Campo Boario (Rome)
In the adjacent district of Ostiense, an old warehouse on via del Porto Fluviale has also become an unlikely attraction in Rome.
The warehouse has been given a facelift by an Italian street artist simply known as Blu who painted a series of majestic monster-like faces on the facade of the building, using the windows as the eyes for the faces.
Blu’s eye-catching mural is more than meets the eye. It is a statement about social struggle. The mural is intended to highlight the issues of homelessness and squatting in Rome. In recent times, the warehouse, which was built in 1910 for the military, has become a refuge for people in need of housing.
The mural took two years to complete. It was financed by the local residents themselves, and done without official authorisation.
Via del Porto Fluviale (Rome)
Using street art to promote social justice is not uncommon.
Just a short distance from Palermo’s port is a parking lot with a moral cause.
In 2014, seven artists were invited by Ibis Style Hotel Palermo to transform a parking lot into a ‘decorated urban development’. The goal of the project is ‘to offer insight to civil society, now more than ever invaded by Freemasons, castes and political mafia and to make young people aware’.
The artists had been asked to portray ‘all forms of oppression’ using a neologism “massocastecosche“, which is a combination of the Italian words for ‘Freemasons’, ‘castes’ and ‘gangs’. The project was completed within five days, and the outcome is a visual metaphor of contemporary issues facing Italy and the world today.
Above: Street art by Mr Fijodor & Corn 79 – “A tribute to the intellectual and the victim of the mafia, Pippo Fava (1925 – 1984), of the thirty year memorial of his death. The central part represents an anonymous mobster who dissolves into colourful geometric and becomes a symbol of struggle and hope ” (Palermo, Sicily)
Above: Street art by Mr Thoms & Zed1 – “Society as a huge Russian matriosca. A sprawling monster is powered by people’s conspiracy of silence. Grotesque, the present condition of man enslaved by the system that controls it, an immense mechanism that exploits and takes away the freedom of man, now reduced to a mere puppet” (Palermo, Sicily)
Above: Street art by Rosk – “Freedom is a duty…to feel a strong moral obligation to be free in body and mind according to an inner law, not written by men, inherent in the very essence of the human being, as having the ultimate harmony of man with his spirit and of man with man” (Palermo, Sicily)
As street art and graffiti are becoming more visible and larger in size, they offer a unique way to experience a place.
Along the Tiber River, you’ll easily find the monumental work of South African artist, William Kentridge – Triumphs and Laments. It is 550-metres-long, and it features 80 gigantic figures made out of grime, depicting mythical and real characters from the history of Rome.
The mural is a ‘reverse graffiti’. Large cut outs of Rome’s iconic characters were plastered on the Tiber’s embankment walls. Then the walls around the cut outs were cleaned by removing grime and dirt using high-pressured water hose. As the cut outs were eventually detached from the wall, they revealed the towering figures. Over time as grime accumulates, the mural will fade away.
For now though, walking along the Tiber makes you feel as if you are walking alongside the Roman’s warriors and gods themselves.
‘Triumphs and Laments’ – Rome
While figures from Italy’s past are hugely celebrated, pop-culture icons – from celebrities, superheroes to infamous political figures – have also been the subject of many street art here.
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Above: At the centre is American actress Angelina Jolie showing off her tattoos. On the bottom-left is a carricature of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un. He is depicted here with one eye (Rome)
Left: A tribute to superstar David Bowie who died in 2016 (Trapani, Sicily) Right: Your friendly neighbourhood vigilante (Rome)
The streets of Italy hide many secrets. Small and random graffiti by unknown artists are worth looking out for. They are harder to find and most likely to be temporary, but they can be witty and universally understood.
Top-left: Religion or indoctrination? Right: We don’t think anymore Bottom-left: The big cat is in trouble (Rome)
Left: An urban problem (Lecce) Right: Drop happiness, not bombs (Palermo)
Immersing yourself in Italy’s rich history and culture while you’re there is to be expected of you, but don’t let that overshadow what the urban Italy has to offer. Put aside that lonely planet guide, put your walking shoes on, and hit the streets like a true traveller. If you find yourself lost in an alleyway, then you’ve done Italy right.
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Above: Street art spotted in Naples
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