“Beauty will save the world,” says Dostoevski in his masterpiece “The Idiot”. In Italy, it starts from the outskirts. Street art has turned bland concrete walls and gloomy streets into some colourful canvas. Once deserted and forgotten, they are now landmarks, sought after and photographed. Make sure you read through, so you won’t miss any of these spectacular pieces of Italian street art!
Turin, Barriera di Milano district
Once the star industrial district, Barriera di Milano has gradually fallen into a state of decay since the Warmar and CEAT factories shut down. Facing years of abandonment and an alarming increase in criminality, the city council called for artists to come and change the ambience.
In 2014 Millo, a street artist from Apulia, transformed thirteen blind façades into episodes of a series, Habitat. This series focuses on the relationship between men – portrayed as gigantic figures lost in their surroundings – and the urban environment. The monochromatic feel is often contaminated by vibrant colours such as red and yellow.
The city of Turin has created a map of all the buildings transformed by Millo, available on their website.
Milan, Isola district
Isola got its name from its surroundings. It is, in fact, an island, cut off from the rest of the city by railways tracks. Once home to the rail and Pirelli workers, Isola is now the bright star of Milan’s architectural makeover. From the fountains of Piazza Gae Aulenti to the brand new shopping centre City Life, Google’s offices are also located in the Isola district, right next to the spectacular Vertical Forest.
But what role does street art play in this? Unlike Turin, the graffitis in Isola do not encourage transformation. Instead, they stand against it. The proletarians – the alienated – used to live there. Once the heart of the underground culture, a safe harbour for the outsiders, it feels like it’s slowly turning into the jewel of mainstream society.
And so works from Hogre, a provocative artist from Rome, started to appear next to the shops in via Carmagnola. The Frida, the place to be in the underground circles, got a brand new colourful entrance. The smiling face of a black child stands out from the multitude of graffiti: it’s Arnold, a “metaphor for all the losers in the city of the winners”. That’s how its author, Zibe, describes it. There are more than 100 Arnolds in Milan, and many are located in the Isola district.
Moreover, Via Cola Montano hosts an art gallery exclusively dedicated to street art. It’s the Don Gallery, opened in 2008 by Matteo the Don Donini.
Rome, Quadraro and Ostiense districts
Rome is home to endless treasures. Among these, there are some street art masterpieces aiming to restore or celebrate the memory of historical parts of the eternal city. It is the case of the Quadraro and Ostiense districts.
During Fascism, the Quadraro district was the den of roman anti-fascism. This was common knowledge, and therefore the district was often referred to as “the wasps’ nest”. In 1944, the Black Shirts rounded up, imprisoned and deported many of its inhabitants. The giant wasps by Lucamaleonte in Largo dei Quintilli aim to remind bystanders of this tragic event.
Furthermore, Quadraro hotsts a recently inaugurated street art museum – the M.U.Ro.
Another district in Rome has gone through a similar phase of abandonment and restoration through art. It’s the Ostiense district, in southern Rome. It all started with a campaign – called Ostiense District- of a local advertising agency, Pescerosso.
Street artists from all over the world answered the call and came to try and give Ostiense a makeover. It resulted in the amazing Wall of Fame in Via dei Magazzini Generali, in the Opera Onirica by famous artist Sam3 and it even managed to create a new iconic landmark for the district.
On an enormous abandoned building called Fronte del Porto, in fact, Italian artist Blu has painted huge colourful faces known as the Mille Volti (A thousand faces). One of his many “epic scale murals”, Mille Volti means to portray on the surface multiculturalism and, on a deeper level, the tragedy of abusivism. This phenomenon has in fact long affected many abandoned buildings in the district, especially Fronte del Porto.
Palermo, Vuccirìa district
The Vucciria district is no stranger to art. For instance, it has been featured in Renato Guttuso’s most famous paintings. Nevertheless, as time passes and purchasing habits change, business in its picturesque market started suffering. That’s when art came back in the game.
In 1999, Austrian artist Uwe Jäntsch started painting the roofs of old abandoned houses and old taverns in the Vucciria district. Many others followed his example and soon the district was filled with murals and posters.
As to celebrate Palermo’s deep historical roots, many graffiti feature the city emblems and protectors: the Genio del Garraffo and Saint Rosalia. The first is referred to as “Palermo personified” and its origin is ancient but unknown. Its figure is that of a bearded crowned man, holding a snake that is biting his chest. The genie has been faithfully reproduced on a poster in the market square, contoured by a thick black line that makes it stand out from its colourful background.
As for Saint Rosalia, being the patron saint of the city she holds various shrines around Palermo. One of them is a poster and a photographic mosaic.
Ever since Chips Mackinolty has become a resident, the Vucciria district has been invaded by poster art. His works mostly feature the key products of the market: fish, bread, fruit and vegetables.
A Facebook page monitors all the recent developments. And it doesn’t only share the newest addition to the street art collection of the city but also retraces the story of the most famous and oldest ones.
Bologna, via Stalingrado
In Bologna, Street art has its very own street. Via Stalingrado links the highway to the city and it’s an obligated passage for many, commuters and tourists alike. Therefore, the municipality of Bologna has called artists from all over Europe to transfer some beauty to the gloomy concrete walls. Thanks to their work, accessing the city from Via Stalingrado is a truly pleasurable experience: starting from the underpass – all painted by the trio of famous artist DECO-RABIS-CANDO – to the former coating factory.
This long abandoned building hosts murals from over 40 writers, among which we find HOPNN, famous for his dichromatic predominance of red and white and his interest in politics and ecology.
The idea of repainting the factory comes from a local cultural association Serendippo. Their goal is to transform “a place of degrade, drug abuse and prostitution” to a “place of rendezvous, laughter and colors”. That’s what they say on the Bolognastreetart website. This page has created a map of all the murals and posters in Bologna, which is constantly monitored and updated by users.