From large scale murals to wall installations to a few words sprayed across a crumbling wall, I could feel the presence of art throughout my time in Naples. I went to the outskirts of the city with my class Italian Photojournalism and another class The Politics of Organized Crime. We focused on the mafia's impact in certain parts of the city, as well as the significant transformations these communities had undergone in recent years due to local anti-camorra (anti-mafia) efforts. I noticed that even in the seemingly roughest parts of the city, there was always some form of artistic expression. However, the art does not merely seem like an aesthetic decision, but rather a necessary outlet for members of the community who are fed up with the crime brought on by the local mafia. I felt an emphasis on reinvention, not only of public spaces, such as the Officine delle Culture the headquarters for many anti-Camorra associations in Scampia but also a reinvention of the community itself. It was only seven years ago that Scampia was home to one of the largest drug dealing plazas in the world and was a hotspot for human trafficking, yet less than a decade later, the frustrations of the community are clearly expressed through the art they have created and great change is already underway.
So what is “artivism?” Essentially, it is all artistic expression, in any level of complexity, that aims at producing social and/or political change also known as activism. The Center for Artistic Activism believes that “art is essential for social change...Art provides us a vision of what could be, as well as a critical reflection upon the world we must act within right now.” (C4AA.org) What struck me most about Naples was how this concept was evident in all areas and by all different types of “artists.” On the one hand, there are Jorit Agoch’s realistic, building-sized murals (pictured last). Further, the founder of Gridas (an association providing community service and education programs), Felice Pignataro, was chosen to display his murals throughout the local subway, adding color, character, and hope to the community. On the other hand, spray painted across the crumbling walls of the Sails - a public housing project with terrible and unsafe living conditions for its occupants and that was also under the control of the mafia - there are barely legible names scrawled in childlike handwriting, likely the names of local children playing in the deteriorating structure. Likewise, the outside of one of the Sails is adorned with the phrase “formare cittadini liberi e consapevoli" (to form free an aware citizens), a signal that Naples’ citizens are also fed up with the mafia’s destruction of their community. Similarly, an abandoned wall by the shore is inscribed with the words “dialogue,” “society,” and “mafia,” an obvious expression of frustration with the harmful impact of the mafia. With so many options for public display, both commissioned and unofficial, everyone can be an artist, a key concept in Naples’ recent citizen-fueled change.
Moreover, another keystone to the community’s recent transformation is the idea of reinvention, and a large part of this is reinventing physical spaces. For instance, the local Officine delle Culture’s founder, Ciro Corona, explained that when they first found their current headquarters - an abandoned drug plaza - it was uninhabitable, filled with layers upon layers of empty syringes and other drug paraphernalia. However, after years of working to clean out this toxic space, it is now the site of so much good in the community, even hosting a program where those currently incarcerated are able to fulfill community service hours during the day while still serving their sentences. Furthermore, not only has this space been reinvented physically, but it is also home to many art installations on both its internal and external walls. The murals decorating the building are not only beautiful but are in fact a physical manifestation of the space’s newfound reinvention. Made out of leftover trash, syringes, and even bullets from the building's previous life as a drug plaza, Corona and his team decided to take all of these negative objects harming their community and use them to fuel their own art. Likewise, in the courtyard, there is a mural with the words “create with the heart,” a symbol of the resilience and hope of the entire community. Even more so, the mural with the words “non invano” (not in vain) - constructed using victims' names- outside of the museum for innocent victims of the Camorra, truly emphasizes the collective struggle and sacrifice of the community in their efforts to stand up for themselves and create real change for the good of everyone. Ultimately, by taking all of the mafia’s negative impacts, both physical and emotional, and turning them into socially impactful art, this community is already in the midst of genuine and lasting change.