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April 12, 2024

A Graffiti Tour of Italia!

Photo by Elena Mills
By Elena Mills


Student Blog

This semester I am lucky enough to be studying abroad in Italy, and as much as I miss the bad boys of UMMA, I am having the time of my life! Italy is filled to the brim with art of all different sorts. Some art is displayed in museums or art shops, in beautiful cathedrals, or restaurants, or in airbnbs. Some art sits in the back rooms of small businesses, waiting to be bought, or on the streets where artists paint monuments and sell their goods. More art still adorns the walls of famous museums, or sits in the back of them, waiting for a curator to deem them the perfect fit for the next renowned exhibit.

All of these types of art around Italy have captivated me, but one that has constantly called for my attention is the art that is, shall we say, unsanctioned. Italy is covered in graffiti, in every place you can imagine. From train station walls to the sides of historical ruins, the graffiti game in Italy is next level. And so with that in mind, I am bringing you a graffiti tour of Italy.

The town where my study abroad institution is located is the lovely Sorrento, a small cliffside town across from Naples. Moderately less touristy than the more well-known cities, Sorrento is home to people of all ages and experiences, and the graffiti reflects that.

The first work that struck me is this column, located on my walk to the town square from school. I like this wall because you can see that it is layer upon layer of graffiti, where someone attempted to cover it right back up. Personally, I like to think that this wall is a reflection of generations of artists leaving their mark on the walls.

The wall that features this particular angry(?) face is in an alley I’ve taken to calling Cat Alley because if you look up as you walk through, there are always cats lying on the roofs. This work of graffiti interested me because it incorporates some aspects of the wall to create eyes, but it also seems to be drawn in crayon or pastel.

Another common place in Italian graffiti is handmade stickers that cover lampposts, electrical boxes, and of course just regular walls. This rocket and star are stuck to a little door on a wall near the town square, and honestly, I just thought it was cute.

This woman’s portrait is spray painted on the side of the Sorrento train station. I don’t know what the words next to her say, it appears to be an unrelated tag but the art style of the woman reminds me of the art of Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis.

From the train station, it’s about an hour-long ride to Naples, with lots of beautiful views of Mt. Vesuvius, and small Italian towns that line the bay of Naples. Incidentally, Naples is our next stop on this grand graffiti tour. As a largely metropolitan area, Naples is absolutely coated with graffiti, to the point where it distracts from anything else.

The train stations in Naples are more or less museums of graffiti, and writing on the walls. I’m not sure if writing in Sharpie counts as graffiti, but I am pretty sure I am not the authority on the matter. Though half of the writing on the walls of Naples is profanities, it seems the other half is poetry that is well worth sharing.

This train station wall says “e ora dove vai se la notte, si ferma e non hai mai sono” which translates to “now where will you go if the night stops and you never sleep.” This quote is a lyric from the song vibe for being stranded in a train station late at night, which happens more than you would think.

This writing, which is actually in German, provided some storytelling of train goers who once visited Naples, but now have gone on their way to Baden-Württemberg. It translates directly to “Nice here, but they were already in Baden-Württemberg.” I would agree, Naples is nice. I can’t personally speak to Baden-Württemberg.

One of my absolute favorites is located on a bridge above a train station, saying “nei tuoi occhi ho visto girasoli di van gogh – noehy 16/09/23” which translates to “in your eyes I saw van Gogh’s sunflowers – noehy 09/16/23” which is just beautiful. As it turns out, this quote is also lyrics, from a song called Girasoli, which nowadays I listen to quite a lot.

Less on the side of poetry, this wall says “Quando la vita ti inganna, fumati una canna” which directly translates to “When life deceives you, smoke a joint.” This one had me chuckling, especially because of the cotton candy colors of the words. Below it, very faded is “Viva La Zaza,” which needs no translation. Despite marijuana being illegal in Italy, Naples seems to be very 420-friendly.

Below are the beloved lyrics to the song Sure Thing: “If you be the cash, I’ll be the rubberband” which also made me smile. Italians love American pop music, probably more than Americans do. In asking one of my advisors at my school for Italian music recommendations, he admitted to mostly listening to Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa, and couldn’t advise me on the matter.

A favorite work of my friends and mine is this gorgeous illustration by Svaldo Guappo. We don’t know who Svaldo Guappo is, per se, but we’re big fans.

And in a different part of the station lives Silvestro. He and Svaldo live far away from each other, but I like to imagine they’re friends.

However as is often the case with art, not all of the work is lighthearted. Much of the work in this train station contains social commentary and acts of rebellion against a system of oppression. This artwork should really speak for itself, but as a woman who (usually) lives in post roe v. wade America, an artwork that speaks to the ownership of one’s own body spoke to me. Italy boasts a very misogynistic and patriarchal culture, where the harassment of women is more than normal, and this graffiti is a response to that in the form of art.

On a similar note, this wall of posters in Naples is very much a shrine to women and their rights. Despite being behind a car in a slightly sketchy alley, I stood and looked at it for a long time, appreciating the art, commentary, and diversity represented.On the topic of social commentary, let’s pop over to Rome! Rome is my favorite city I’ve visited so far, and I think I’ll forever dream of living there. The graffiti was, naturally, very interesting as well.

This stenciled work reads “l’8 lotto contro il cis-etero patriarcato” translating to “on the 8th I fight against the cis-hetero patriarchy.” In researching this piece, I came across the website that this graffiti is drawn from. It is a group of feminists advocating for women’s rights, and fighting against femicide and violence against women. Here is a link to the website.

This work reads “insieme siamo partite. insieme torneremo insieme. non una di meno.” it translates to “together we left. together we will return. Not one less.” and below it is a symbol representing gender nonconformity. In researching this piece of graffiti, it brought me to a blog with a written manifesto, calling for gender equality, bodily autonomy, and objecting to the presence of carabinieri (a militarized portion of the Italian police force.) Check out their website here. While not referenced on their website (at least, I don’t think, my Italian isn’t great), I suspect that this group is connected to/inspired by the fourth wave Latina feminist movement Ni Una Menos. Also, this wall proclaims “In the face of repression, solidarity!” The combination of the gorgeous arching windows with the message of rebellion below makes this building a true work of art.

And now, some poetry! This particular writing says “Ma in attendere e gioia piu compta – E. Montale” translating to “but in waiting there is greater joy.” I say poetry here because this writing is a quote from Eugenio Montale, an Italian poet and prose writer.
On this same wall you can see sheet music, a Charles Dickens quote (“it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”) as well as “non ragioniam di lor ma guarda passa” which is a line from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

On the same wall, to the right is written “Puoi leggere, leggere, leggere, che è la cosa più bella che si possa fare in gioventù: e piano piano ti sentirai arricchire dentro, sentirai formarsi dentro di te quell’esperienza speciale che è la cultura.” This translates to “ You can read, read, read, which is the most beautiful thing you can do in your youth: and little by little you will feel enriched inside, you will feel that special experience that is culture forming within you.” and if it sounds familiar, that is because it’s the work of Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Yet another quote on this same wall is “there is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature,” from P.G. Wodehouse.

The final quote on this wall is perhaps the most interesting to me. It is “vojo viziamme co’ogni tuo sguardo me scoppinercore come ‘n petardo” translating to “I want you to spoil me with your every look, my heart will explode like a firecracker.” While the quote is beautiful, I am more interested in the signature here – Ignis ErFoco. You can find Ignis’ writing all over the walls of Rome and other Italian cities. It’s always the same handwriting, marker, and font. Ignis has an Instagram too, he is a roman poet. If this wall of poetry compels you, I recommend you check him out. I’m well on my way to becoming a fan.

Now, you’ll have to forgive my tangent, I’m an English major as well as Arts & Ideas, so this wall was a perfect intersection of my interests. I’m calling it the Poet’s Wall, and I would quite like to go back and see if there’s been any additions. But alas! Back to the graffiti.

This piece of graffiti stopped me in my tracks. The textures, colors, and overall surreality of it are captivating. I looked into the artist (as he tagged his work, his name is Dax Norman and I highly encourage you to check out his Instagram.) and it appears that this image is part of a larger project of creating an endless animation through graffiti he makes. This work is titled The Smoking Hand, and it’s incredibly beautiful. (obligatory message: smoking kills kids). Here is a link to his Tumblr where you can see the animated version.

Alright. It seems as though this blog post has gotten a bit long. I have probably a hundred more photos of interesting graffiti, but these were the highlights. So without further ado, I will leave you with my favorite graffiti in my local train station. This is the bubening. I don’t know what it means, but I know it’s important.

And that’s all for now! Thanks so much for reading.

– Elena, from Italy

Images of Graffiti Mentioned in this Blog Post

All photos by Elena Mills

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