These past months have been difficult for everyone and particularly challenging for Italy. First small towns, then larger areas, museums, organized events and the whole country shut down. It got me to thinking about how resilient Italy, its villages and its cities have been, how Italians have come back time and time again after catastrophes of varying natures and proportions. In the spirit of new beginnings, I would like to talk about a revitalization project in a town of northwestern Calabria, today often referred to as the Città dei Murales. On this post, you can visit the compelling murals of Diamante virtually, and hopefully soon in person with the requisite social distancing.
Back in 1981, Nani Razetti, a Milanese painter enamored with Diamante, proposed a project called “Operation Murals” to the mayor of the coastal town. He jumped on board, and in the first year, 83 Italian and foreign painters joined forces to breathe new life into Diamante’s historic center. The original works still adorn town walls, many of which have been restored as sun and saltwater can take their toll. The project continues today, boasting over 150 murals and extending to other Diamante districts.
The community would eventually become to be known as the City of Murals. Its high-quality spicy pepper accounts for its other nickname, City of the Peperoncino. And interestingly, Diamante is located in the center of what’s called the Citron Riviera, and this special variety of citrus fruit is named the Diamante citron.
MURALS OF DIAMANTE: PLACES, PEOPLE AND TRADITIONS
The range of subjects and styles is wide amongst the murals of Diamante, and by nature of the narrow streets, the images can be difficult to capture photographically.
People are pictured traditionally, such as these two men, one represented with the area’s citron (note the book in his hand entitled Il Cedro or The Citron) and the other dressed as a fisherman.
The mural project also embraces mosaics. In these images, fishermen go about their daily chores and farmers cultivate the citron.
The long mural on this wall shows the challenges of harvesting the low-hanging citron.
Other depictions are more contemporary, such as the women in the photos flanking the historical representation of filling the water jug.
There is traditional Italian culture and foreign culture.
MURALS OF DIAMANTE: POETIC MUSINGS
In addition to imagery, the visitor will note many words, phrases and longer compositions amidst the murals of Diamante, such as in this excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem “To a Stranger”:
Passing stranger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking….
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
An image of a man standing on a pile of intellectual books in order to reach the top of a brick wall and a dove in flight is accompanied by an aphorism by the Roman poet Juvenal: “The censor forgives the crows and harasses the doves.” The painting to the right features an aphorism by the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry: “War is a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.”
American Richard Bach, best known for his Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is referenced in another mural with a quote from his book There’s No Such Place As Far Away: “Rise in flight past the night and beyond sunrise…. Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever…. there’s no such place as far away….”
A mural next to a clothing shop ponders the history and fate of this crossroads on the Tyrrhenian Sea: “The Mediterranean, cut through by myths, by hopes and dreams, by heroes and migrants. A legend? A reality! Eyes that look on from afar, helplessly incredulous in a disquieting silence that threatens from below.”
MURALS OF DIAMANTE: DIVERSITY
Strolling through the old town past the intriguing murals of Diamante is de rigueur for both the local population, counting over 5,000, and the town’s visitors, particularly the many summer beachgoers and those attending its various festivals. The images are amazingly diverse. Here are a few more.
Religious references are crowned by the Passion played out on a corner.
Several surreal works pop with bright colors.
A street scene blends with its surroundings.
A young black child implores, larger than life, from a wall.
Fishermen repair their nets in a mural enhanced by a real window and live house plant.
A Disneyesque lion makes a splash on an already bright yellow wall.
Is your head full?
Interested in other contemporary art and artists in Calabria? On this blog, read about Nik Spatari in MuSaBa: Not Just a Museum, Textile Artist Domenico Caruso, A Dream in Terracotta, ARGHILLÀ l’arte delle terre of Nicola Tripodi, Enzo Ferraro and the Ceramics of Seminara, Salvatore Tonnara in An Artist in Amantea and The Palazzo della Cultura in Reggio Calabria. And for an in-depth look at the beautiful land in the toe of the boot, check out Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.
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