Slogans Meant to Spread Hate – How One Street Artist Uses Them to Bring People Together
Cibo, a visual artist in Italy, is turning fascist graffiti into delicious looking food.
On artist Cibo’s Facebook page, he quotes Albert Einstein: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, but about the universe I still have doubts.”
As Cibo (given name Pier Paolo Spinazzè) walks through the streets of San Giovanni Lupatoto, in Italy, he passes swastikas and racial slurs spray painted on walls and mailboxes. There’s been a surge in fascist graffiti all over the country. Cibo is shocked by the ignorance still present in modern society.
“Unfortunately, fascism was a dark moment in our history,” he explains. “The ideology, the hate, the separation that fascism promulgated is now being promoted by some of today’s parties. I’ve taken a stand because of this.”
In fact, northern Italy is not alone. Countries across the world are experiencing a rise in far-right propaganda. From the United States to Eastern Europe, disregard for human life, militarized police forces, and flagrant racial inequality are in the news almost daily. Where Cibo lives, messages lending homage to Mussolini can be found spray painted on the sides of buildings.
Cibo Vows to Make a Difference With His Art
Discouraged by hateful messages that he passed every day, the artist decided to use his talent as a weapon against neo-fascism–and he’s been doing just that for nearly 15 years now. Covering hate messages with paintings of Parmesan cheese, tomatoes and basil, Cibo combines his artistic talent with his passion for good food to spread love, not hate. He chooses symbols of unity rather than symbols of divisiveness.
“Surely better than before,” he says of a wall he’s just covered with tasty Italian food. “It’s funny, it’s pleasant, it’s us.”
Cibo, Spinazzè’s artist name, means ‘food’ in Italian. He’s worked for a long time in the restaurant business, and he’s deeply proud of the country’s food culture. It’s something that brings people together, in sharp contrast to the neo-Nazi rhetoric that tears people apart.
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“It’s more than what we like to eat,” the artist says. “It represents who we are.”
And so he spends much of his time covering swastikas with, for example, pumpkin tortellini. It’s an image that shows up over and over in Cibo’s work.
“In this way, I create an icon and a repetition,” he explains. In fact, his pumpkin tortellini is well-known in this part of the country. When local residents spot negative graffiti, they get in touch with Cibo via social media to let him know where to work his magic next. On Cibo’s Facebook page, one fan wrote: “You are a hero.”
Fighting Hate Can Be Dangerous
But not everyone is cheering him on. Cibo says he receives death threats almost daily on social media. Angry people even show up on his doorstep, and there are areas where he’ll only go incognito for fear of getting beaten up or harassed.
Cibo’s work didn’t always attract so much attention. He used to paint food on empty walls to simply reflect his love of the culinary arts. But in 2008, when a friend of his was beaten to death by extreme nationalists, Spinazzè knew he had to use a weapon at his disposal to fight back. Now he uses something he loves to erase something he hates.
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“The message [of my art is] that cuisine is open to the world,” Cibo says. “The basil comes from India, the oil from Syria, the mozzarella is Italian, and tomatoes originate in Colombia.” Some of the dishes that Italy is the most famous for are actually excellent examples of cross-cultural harmony.
Cibo’s street art makes people smile. It brings people together. He’s proud of his work, but he doesn’t want to be the only one fighting hate with art. He urges others to join him and save Italian cities from dangerous propaganda and politics: “Let’s make society more colourful and more human.”
Artists Everywhere Are Inspired and Ready to Fight for Good
Indeed, with the resurgence of far-right groups across the world, other artists are also using their talents to fight back. Artists Against Fascism is a collective in the United States whose members, living in small towns across the country, have seen a rise in hate speech in their communities, too. They leverage the power of collective action to fight back against fascism by supporting each other’s individual efforts, publishing a zine, and organizing anti-fascist workshops.
And other everyday people are finding ways to use their talents to fight back. Abdul Dremali, a marketing consultant from Boston, uses Twitter to respond to racist messages. Filmmaker Maria Ansley made a documentary about Tracey Meares, a black high school student who was denied the title of valedictorian because of her race. Ansley’s film made the school reconsider and retroactively grant Meares the title she deserved.
On his Facebook page, Cibo also stresses democratic ways for artists and non-artists alike to put an end to far-right policies: “Go vote so you don’t (forcefully) toast to values that don’t belong to you. Vote and take part in politics, because your future is decided in the polls (not on social media).”
Cibo is also metaphoric in his pleas for tolerance and respect: “If you sow homophobia and racism, you act ignorant and neo-fascist! No to out of date slogans, no to rotten Melons! Taste new flavors, be curious and purposeful, but above all eat seasonal fruit!”
It is perhaps this advice that we can all use when striving toward a more just and equitable society: no to rotten melons and eat seasonal fruit.