Rome, is the fourth most visited European city. Is it just for its ruins and ancient monuments like the Coliseum or the Pantheon, or can modern and urban art also make a space for itself on the artistic scene of the city?
When you start walking through the crowded streets of Rome, it seems very obvious which the main sights of the city are, as long lines at the gates reflect it: the Coliseum, the Pantheon, The Vatican… all of them monuments and places dating from the first centuries after Christ. Rome receives an average of 6 million tourists every year looking to discover the history of the city, but in the last years a brisk movement has started to demand a space for contemporary and modern artists.
SANBA, is a contemporary public art project whose main purpose is to experiment with the interconnection between contemporary and modern art and social complexity. Through workshops of painting, expanded muralism, and urban design applied in schools, they encourage both the production of art objects and at the same time they transform the students in turn promoting the project.
This project is conducted by the association WALLS which focuses on the creation of projects that take together modern art, territories, psychological research, culture, and economic development. Chiara is one of the promoters of this association and she strongly believes in the positive effects that modern and urban art can have on culture:
“Innovative ideas are the ones that allow us to fight the degradation and cultural absence with knowledge and passion. The focus of our work is the project of Public Art widespread, but we can do much more. Since 2006 we devise and treat art events: providing workshops and developing ideas for our customers. Sanba, for example, is a way to link together suburban territories with their inhabitants by artistic means.”
But this is not the only example of organizations promoting the spread of contemporary art. We also find another alternative promoted by the organization Treveterno, a multidisciplinary cultural project for the revival of Rome’s river. They installed a temporary artwork produced by the popular South African artist William Kentridge called Triumphs and Laments.
The organization is dedicated to the protection of the stretch between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini and represents the first and largest public open space dedicated to contemporary and modern art in Rome. Since 2005 Treveterno has celebrated many events trying to promote cultural and intellectual expression and in 2011 it was recognized by the UNESCO’s Management plan for the city as an original and dynamic project for the protection of Rome’s river.
On the travertine embankment walls, more than eighty figures, which a height of over ten meters, were exhibited with the purpose of showing that art can be a powerful tool for urban transformation.
These figures, represented some of the most known and relevant victories and defeats including mythological and present time, which is the reason for the project’s name. Besides, the technique used to create the figures was the combination of large-scale stencils with high pressure hot water trying to be environmentally friendly and at the same time to achieve a reverse image. Another of the consequences of this technique is that the artworks will be realistic and will experiment changes over time and end up disappearing.
Together with these pieces of art, the project was premiered with a live theatrical presentation directed by the author, William Kentridge and the music of some known artists and composers like Thuthuka Sibisi. It represented a game of shadows and two musical processions, one representing the Triumphs and the other one representing the Laments, along with voices and instruments were combined creating an impressive atmosphere.
The event was a complete success, bringing together some of the most important artists of the current scene together with authorities, art lovers and many onlookers who went to watch
However, all this work and effort is now threatened by a current controversy. Rome City Council has approved the proposal for the installation of stalls and stands all along the river for the summer, covering most of Kentridge’s work. Stands of food, clothes, people walking in the crowd, and standing in front of the murals without realizing, are some of the possible consequences that the stalls of ‘Tiber Summer’ could create on the art zone.
There have been many reactions to this decision taken by the city council which has clearly incited Rome habitants to take action. Trying to solve this problem the city council has proposed moving the stands some meters ahead so they don’t create a problem to see the frieze. They also planned to place some benches so people could sit down to admire Kentridge’s work. Despite all their efforts to please everyone, the proposal was rejected.
Besides, just over 24 hours after the decision was taken the Commission convened a cabinet with the most important and relevant bodies related and concerned with the topic and stated that traditional stalls will be place trying not to spoil the view of the pieces of art.
When the first workers have started to set up the stands occupying the place it has attracted the attention of many roma citizens. An online petition has been organized on change.org where people can sign in order to protect the work, so Kentridge’s mural ca not be hidden.
In an interview that the artist has recently made he states that he is very disappointed.
“We managed to keep things under control as we worked to the realization of the frieze. But now we cannot enter into the merits of how the city will use the work.”
In his opinion, the stands of ‘Tiber Summer’ could be moved a bridge up or down so it does not disturb the project. However, despite being disappointed he says he is not surprised at all. From his point of view, the authorities and the bodies responsible for it are not worried or interested about what is really going on in that zone and are looking to protect the economic factors instead of the cultural and artistic value that the artworks provide to the city.
“I’m not surprised because it seems increasingly clear that part of the bureaucratic apparatus of the city has no interest or knowledge of what is happening in other areas. I need someone to explain to me the sense of organization of this city.”
Many citizen share his displeasure at the lack of respect that some the political organisms show sometimes toward culture and social initiatives. In a city where so much money is moved, especially through tourism, young artists and modern art projects are often displaced into the background and do not receive aid, investment or support from the authorities of Rome. Intellectual and ordinary citizens are collecting signatures and any kind of support in favour of Kentridge’s work and to defend the development of cultural and artistic projects as a means to change society. William Kentridge claims to be happy for all the efforts made to stop this situation.
“I enjoy it, and touches me deeply that some citizens are now defending that wall. I thank them from my heart”.
Furthermore, for all those interested in the artist’s work and in modern and contemporary art in general, there is an exhibition with works by the artist at the museum MACRO- Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, which will be exposed from April 17 to October 2 2016. In the exhibited works there is a strong use of the iconography of the ancient history of Rome together with representations and images from the stories and events related with the Church. The exhibition also presents some unpublished and original pieces made with ink and pastel and specially prepared for the occasion. Moreover there are videos where people can see all the creative process, how the artist works and some comments made by the author himself talking about the purpose, the evolution of the project and his opinion about the final result.
Ancient art is fully consolidated in the city of Rome, but new generations of artists also want their work to be recognized and valued. When you walk along the river Tiber and through the halls of the MACRO museum, you can admire the power and dedication of these contemporary artists who simply struggle to find a niche for their art.