Italy’s rich history has something for everyone. The country that brought the world fine artists like Michelangelo and Sandro Botticelli, and gastronomical treasures like mozzarella cheese and tortellini, is also where Benito Mussolini’s fascism was born in the early 20th century, an ultranationalism exported across Europe.
Neo-fascists still thrive in Italy today, with a strong resurgence recently especially, and they use symbols of the past, like the Nazi Party swastika, to promote hate. In Verona, where foodie and street artist Pier Paolo Spinazzè lives, hate propaganda has been on the rise. Spinazzè fights it with love, combining his longtime passions for food and art.
His subversive street art transforms divisive messages into culturally appropriate art almost everyone can get behind. Known as “Cibo,” which means food in Italian, he systematically covers swastikas and hate speech in Verona with paintings of, well, food.
As he told Vice in a recent report on his project, Italy’s food culture is a source of pride for him, while its divisive, racist, and hateful tendencies are a source of shame. ”It’s more than what we like to eat,” he says of the local cuisine. “It represents who we are.”
The artist’s work is subversive partly because he, like the neo-fascists, repeats symbols. He often covers a swastika with a painting of pumpkin tortellini, for example. People who see the work have come to know that Cibo’s image is replacing a hate symbol. “In this way, I create an icon and a repetition,” he tells Vice. And his work has become so well-known that followers on social media inform him whenever new neo-fascist rhetoric appears on the streets so he can get out there and turn it into visual treats.
Spinazzè not only enjoys drawing food, he also works in the restaurant industry and cooks himself. Before he used his love of all things culinary to subvert hate, he was painting giant groceries, basically, on empty walls throughout northern Italy. In 2008, after a friend was killed by extreme nationalists, the artist started using his paintings to remove traces of fascist propaganda from the streets.
For Spinazzè, even the most quintessentially Italian dishes symbolize cross-cultural unity. A caprese salad of mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil is an international project and a “message that cuisine is open to the world,” he says. “The basil comes from India, the oil from Syria, the mozzarella is Italian, and tomatoes originate in Colombia.” The street artist used this salad image (top) to cover up hate graffiti from a far-right group.
Cibo’s street art is admired for its style and the substantive underpinnings. On his Facebook page, a fan recently wrote, “You are a hero.”
Still, Spinazzè receives threats from those who don’t appreciate his subversion, he says, and he doesn’t want to be the only one fighting hate with art. He urges others to join him in his mission to save Italian cities from dangerous propaganda and politics. “Unfortunately, fascism was a dark moment in our history,” he tells Vice. “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.”