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The life of a community on the walls of its houses

Orgosolo, a small community on the northern limits of “Barbagia”, one of Sardinia’s regions, embraces many aspects of the traditional culture of this area of the island.  Some of the images and symbols of this culture are boldly portrayed on the walls of houses and public buildings in the village.
These are the famous “murales”, roughly 100 expressive portraits of the life and recollections of an entire community.  Representations of the harsh realities of everyday village life – memories,  toils, achievements of a small community – are next to images portraying political struggles worldwide.

“Walls which speak” – colours and style
“Murales” and various cubist works of art, including Picasso’s “Guernica” have frequentely been compared.  Some of the mural paintings recall the lines of Léger. The observer will sometimes notice echoes of the style of Mexican mural painters of the 1920’s.

Figures are large, square, solid and imposing, with sharp, pure profiles.  Bright colours seem to leap out from dark backgrounds.

Many images have clearly discernable Cubist origins – mother figures with generous forms and heavy hips in the foreground, with smaller father figures wringing their gnarled hands in the background.  

“Murales” were born of both artistic and social needs.  Despite the presence of various (generally more recent) mural paintings with a rather self-conscious “aesthetic” sense and “trompe-l’oeil” style, emphasis is generally on expression rather than pure decoration.

The murales create a simple language, the message of the images is often enhanced with a caption – a literary or political quotation or memorable phrases to emphasise a point. The style of the mural paintings corresponds to the message it is intended to convey.

The history of the “Murales”
The lively artistry of the murals of Orgosolo is also an historical evidence.

Like many other expressions of life in this area, mural paintings communicate a wide range of feelings and experiences, that you cannot find elsewhere. You can find the hopes, fears and desires of a community, which has perhaps felt itself excluded from the outside world, a community often disenchanted with what it sees.

In this context, at the end of the 60’s, the first mural paintings appeared on the walls of Orgosolo.

From the very beginning, the target of the artists were oppressive rulers or promoters of social injustice – above all the Italian state and the Imperialistic, warmongering USA. 

The first mural was created in 1969 – a period of student protest
and unrest, by the anarchic “Dioniso” group in Milan. 

The number of murals began to increase after 1975, when Siennese teacher Francesco Del Casino and his students chose to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Italian liberation with a wall painting in Orgosolo.  Approximately 90% of the murals here were painted by del Casino – his style is certainly individual and unmistakable . 

The “murales” quote Alfredo Niceforo with irony; they mock President Leone; they quote a telegram of writer and partisan Emilio Lussu, with his anti-NATO protests; they describe unfair imprisonments, conditions in prisons and the suffering of prisoners and their families. The dismal existence of fugitives and bandits, hiding from Carabinieri, is also portrayed on the walls.

A portrait of Gramsci stimulates reflection, the mild face of an American Indian chief comments on the abuse of power by white men. 

With the 80’s, and the decrease of political tension, Del Casino and his companions started to paint every day village life scenes. Men on horseback, women with their young children, shepherds shearing their flocks, farmers with the scythe in their hand, are placed next to previous images.

A 1994 mural, depicting the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia and the destruction of Sarajevo, brings world history back to the village walls. 

At Orgosolo, for the last 30 years, the walls of the town hall, the shops, library, doctor surgeries and houses have lent their surfaces to a series of images whose voice is not only that of a community but of a whole island.

They have an exceptional appeal and contribute greatly to the culture of the island. The voices of the murals still have a lot to say to those who observe them.

Salvatore Corrias
photo: P. Rinaldi