‘The city is ours, not the Mafia’s’: public art project in Palermo unites community against organized crime in Sicily


Andrea Buglisi made a 30m high mural depicting the murdered judge Giovanni Falcone
Courtesy of Alessandro De Lisi

Four major public art commissions honoring mafia victims have been unveiled in Palermo, marking the start of a three-year project that aims to unite the local community in its collective opposition to organized crime.

Entitled Spazi Capaci, the project includes the very first contemporary art exhibition in the high-security bunker of the Usiardone prison, built for the Maxi Trial, the historic criminal trial of Mafia bosses, which took place in Palermo from 1986 to 1992 .

Patrizio Bianchi, Italian Minister of Education, attended the inauguration of the project on May 23. The date marked the 29th anniversary of the Capaci massacre, when a car bomb placed by the Mafia along the A29 motorway exploded, killing Maxi Trial judge Giovanni Falcone.

The commissions include two 30m-high murals by artist Andrea Buglisi de Falcone and his fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino, murdered two months after Falcone, and a sculpture by Peter Demetz of a woman contemplating the Falcone tree, a plant rubber near the former magistrate’s house. In Brancaccio, a neighborhood that was once a stronghold of the Mafia, a triptych of murals by Igor Scalisi Palminteri pays homage to the local martyr priest Padre Pino Puglisi.

For the Ucciardone project, Velasco Vitali created 54 life-size statues of dogs in iron, aluminum and concrete
Courtesy of Alessandro De Lisi

For the Ucciardone project, Velasco Vitali created 54 life-size statues of dogs in iron, aluminum and concrete. These were distributed inside the bunker and the outdoor parking lot, while a bronze and wax gold dog was placed inside the prison’s high security archives. The bunker is still operational, so the dogs inside were removed a week after the show opened in May. Those in the parking lot will however remain until September.

“Dogs represent the thirst for power of criminals and the abuse of society by the mafia”, Alessandro De Lisi, general curator of Spazi Capaci, tell The art journal. “The golden dog, on the other hand, is the keeper of memories and justice.”

The project – for which Fondazione Falcone, the Ministry of Education and private donors have so far provided a total of € 40,000 – was designed by Fondazione with the aim of preventing the Mafia from reasserting its influence. during locking. “The Mafia works by marking its territory,” says Maria Falcone, sister of the late Giovanni and president of the Falcone Foundation. The art journal. “Over the past few years, we Palestinians have shown that the city is ours, not the Mafia’s. It wasn’t that easy during the lockdown so we filled the city with art to show we’re still here.

In Brancaccio, a triptych of murals by Igor Scalisi Palminteri pays homage to the local martyr priest Padre Pino Puglisi
Courtesy of Alessandro De Lisi

De Lisi, whose recent conservation projects include a 2015 exhibition of Caravaggio Uffizi paintings in Camorra bastion Casal Di Principe near Naples, said 1,500 Palermitans were involved in Spazi Capaci, from schoolchildren who met the artists to the rifle officers who installed the dogs in the bunker. Before work on the murals could begin, De Lisi had to get permission from the residents. During the lockdown, he therefore encountered residents gathered on their balconies, shouting his plans from the street below through a loudspeaker before asking them to sign a letter of consent.

Art has long been at the heart of veteran Mayor Leoluca Orlando’s efforts to regenerate Palermo after the ravages of the Mafia, but Spazi Capaci extends beyond the Sicilian capital. On May 23, huge sheets featuring the faces of Borsellino and Falcone were deployed on buildings in 19 Italian cities, including the Colosseum in Rome and the Museo del Novecento in Milan, and De Lisi hopes to organize an audio installation on Ellis Island. in New York next year.

While Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, has been in decline since the 1990s, other organized crime syndicates in Italy are currently on the rise. “Giovanni [Falcone] has always said that the fight against the mafia must also be the fight against the mafias, ”says Falcone. “The [Calabrian] “NDrangheta is growing and has a booming drug trade with America. The fight is not over: we must be vigilant. “

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