Street Art in Italy

The word graffiti is Italian in origin, it comes from the Italian word for ‘scratches’. It was coined for the graffiti found in pompeii. It’s rather ironic, seeing as there is now an extreme boom in the amount of street art popping up in all of the major cities. It’s becoming such an issue that the government is spending over a million euros a year in cleaning up the vandalism. It’s gotten so bad that Milan reported that 40,000 buildings, 40% of the city was tagged with some sort of graffiti. Venice, Florence, Naples; all of the Italian cities are facing this growing problem. It’s expensive, and often it turns the tourists away. Remember, not all of the art is beautiful and well thought out. Often, it is little more than scribbles. Monuments from ancient Italy aren’t safe even, and it’s turning away tourists. If one looks online, they can see a plethora of people complaining or asking about the cause of it.

The graffiti is of all types. It’s as varied as the people who tag them. Ranging from tagging to murals. There are small tags on sewer grates, and huge walls, covered in gorgeous works of art. Recently however they have become increasingly political. There are tags about refugees, some condemning them, and others trying to create sympathy. Sometimes the mafia uses the art for slander against other families. Other times it’s either bored or inspired kids. Some teenagers trying to gain props and respect, the artists can be anyone and everyone. Graffiti has always been present in Italy, but why is it becoming such an issue now?

New York in the early 90’s exploded with graffiti, and it was due to the extreme displeasure of the urban population. Is this rise in Italian graffiti hinting at the repressed anger of the Italian people? The Italians, while proud of the country, are also displeased with a lot of their systems. Healthcare is a big issue. There is also a large, and relatively new, economic crisis arising in Italy, with thousands losing work in the south. Refugees and illegal immigrants flood into the cities looking for work in an already saturated market. 

So how has the government responded? There was a new Prime Minister elected, one who promised to crack down on the street art and try to clean up their cities. The measures have been swift, in February the minimum for fines for getting caught from twenty-five euros to three-hundred euros. On top of that it is now mandated that whomever was caught would have to clean the graffiti up. This is new maximum sentence for street artists, up to two-and-a-half years in prison. There was also an increase in fines that go along with the crime, that goes from 2,500 euros up to 10,000 euros. 

Another attempt to change the status quo is to include education and try to open up other avenues for the artists. They try to teach respect for the buildings and the costs of cleanups, the possible punishments and above all, alternatives. It’s not like the Italians don’t respect some of the art; they have created public walls that are meant for taggers to go to and create their pieces where others can still see them. Though they do put these walls in isolated parts of the cities. It’s hard because anything that the government condones, becomes taboo by most countercultures standards.

What does this mean? Why should we care about the ongoing issue in Italy? The struggle of between the people and their frustrations, along with the disconnect between the government is a small scale representation of revolution in a sense. It happens all over the world, and its why street art is so popular. Sometimes people feel like the best way to express their own emotions and fears. Street art always rises when times of crisis appear, in almost every country. Sometimes it’s the best way to stay in anonymity while still publicly voicing your opinion. Images have the ability to instantly evoke emotion and thought, and putting that out where all can see spreads that. The images make talking about a subject and engaging with that thought process a conversation that can take place. This can only happen when there is enough frustration to take it out on the public. To use a cliché it’s sticking it to the man. That being said, sometimes it’s just bored kids or wannabe gangsters who put scribbles on the wall. Not everyone has a message. The public may very well disregard or form a negative opinion of the message due to the context on the all. It’s in the eye of the beholder in the end.

3 thoughts on “Street Art in Italy

  1. Anthony Taylor

    This is a very interesting read about Graffiti in Italy. Art is a form of expression and is used in so many different ways around the world. Vodou uses art to enhance religious experiences and to help exemplify how they see the different Gods and spirits. Their art is seen through many different sacred objects including altars but they do dip into graffiti-esque ideas. A deceased practitioner of Vodou named Marie Laveau has a grave site in New Orleans that has become a popular tourist attraction. People express their faith by drawing three “X”‘s on the tomb she is buried in.

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  2. Taylor Jordan

    I enjoyed reading about the background behind art and graffiti affecting Italy because it triggered a few questions and ideas for me. I wonder what kind of resolutions communities that are being heavily influenced by this can do to help stop it or focus the graffiti into an activity or area available in the community. My paper addressed the idea of educating people in a community of Afro-Cubans about Afro-Cuban culture, which included art. The venue it was held at is a museum that focuses on AFro-Cuban artwork. I wonder if there were events or a venue designated for graffiti and expressive art, the illegal acts of defacement in the area or community lessons on expressive art that’s free to anyone in the area.

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  3. Owen Sanders

    A number of Afro-Cuban artists also draw from the lineage of graffiti artists. It’s hard to ignore the entomology of Graffiti that you mention here when you have Jose Bedia literally scratching patterns into fresh paint with gloved hands.
    He’s mostly a studio artists, doing large galley shows, so he hasn’t had to deal with police crackdowns and the like. Still, the value and meaning behind his art may be passed over. There are direct references to religious practice in every piece – he even includes Palo ngangas in his pieces.

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