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E!KONtheWA11©PROJECT in Ostia – Byzantine Iconography meets Street Art

Posted on Sep 28, 2009 | 7 comments



As many of you who regularly read the blog know, I’ve become quite a fan of photographing street art in Rome and have even gotten to know quite a few of the artists. In particular I’ve been doing some photographic documentation of the work that Omino71 and Mr. Klevra have been doing around Rome (thus the Hope and Resurrection show in Pigneto), so when Mr. Klevra asked if I would be interested in photographing a church he was working on in Ostia, I was immediately on board.

To be fair, I had very little clue of what to expect when I first went out there in August. Ostia was the ancient port of Rome and is just 30 minutes by train, but is somewhere I really hadn’t visited. What I learned is that Ostia is very much its own city, with its own trials and tribulations. I had in my mind what one probably does when thinking of a church, a big, freestanding, elaborately decorated edifice, but imagine my surprise when Mr. Klevra showed me where he was working. The church of San Vincenzo di Paoli (Via Domenico Baffigo 65) is actually a quite humble space, located in one of the more run down sections of the city. In fact, the church isn’t a freestanding building, but rather the bottom floor of an apartment complex. No stained-glass windows, no marble sculptures, no frescoes. Nothing that one thinks of when thinking of a Catholic church in Italy, but here was a place in need of some help. The front of the church is a series of serrandas that render the entire facade completely unintelligible as a church. If you didn’t notice the small sign above the door or the priests milling about outside, you would have no idea.

And this is where Mr. Klevra comes in. As you may have seen in some previous pictures, he has quite an affinity for Byzantine iconography, and so he approached the parish about letting him paint the serrandas with different Byzantine icons (done in spraypaint, of course), thereby making the location unmistakable as a church. And, as a consequence, requalifying an urban area and giving it some much needed artistic beauty. This project, dubbed E!KONtheWA11©, is one piece of the work that he and Omino71 started together and have named E!KONtheSTR33T©.

The thing that struck me most in the four times I traveled to Ostia since August, was the sense of community. So many people would stop and watch as the work was going on, ask questions, and have opinions (lots of them!). It was truly amazing to see so many people interested in the paintings and to see the dedication that Mr. Klevra and Sweet Dream, who assisted, gave to the project. They’ve been working tirelessly on this project since July, giving their time and energy to give something beautiful to the church. I’m sure this is only the first of many interventions that will take place and hope that it will give people the idea that street art isn’t something negative, but can be, and often is, something to enhance the urban fabric.

I’ve posted some of my very favorite shots here, the top photo (my first done in HDR!) is of my favorite icon, St. Paul. The second is a great shot of Mr. Klevra on the last day of the project in front of (from the left) St. Peter and Joseph. Below that you will see one of the Madonnas that flank the doors and then one of the icons that inspired his vision. I highly suggest checking out the slideshow below to see the works in progress and more finished pieces.

7 Comments

  1. These photos are beautiful! We have several blocks down one street in Naples dedicated to graffiti that I hope to visit sometime soon.

    Do you know about the book by Alessandro Mininno called "Graffiti Writing: Origini, Significati, Tecniche e Protagonisti in Italia"? It's a gem. Though I'm curious what motivates the artists you found in Rome.

    Thanks for posting these! How lush!
    Saluti da Napoli!

  2. Awesome photos Jess-especially like the HD photo-great colors

  3. Hi Barbara, glad you like them! I have to get to Naples more often actually. I wanted to do to see the street art exhibit at MADRE this summer, but never made it. I have heard of that book because Bol23, one of the first writers in Rome, is included. However, I haven't actually looked for it in bookstores, which I should do now that you remind me! A presto!

    Nonna – Thanks! This one will be getting a frame shortly.

  4. Amazing art and amazing photos.
    I've linked to this post on Facebook because many of my facebook friends are from a church I attend in San Francisco called St. Gregory of Nyssa, which is entirely adorned on the inside by larger than life icons of "dancing saints".

  5. That first photo is phenomenal… the sky almost looks surreal. The painting is wonderful, too. This has been one of my favorite photo-posts of yours!

  6. Hi Anna Maria – Very cool! Would I be able to find pictures online?

    Ciao Peter – The surreal effect is the HDR. The photo is three exposures morphed together into one frame, which gives the sky all the different shading and highlights. A neat way to turn the photo of art into a work of art itself! Glad you appreciate the effort.

  7. Hi Jessica,
    Here is a link to the church's page about their art, where there are surprisingly few examples of their icons.
    http://www.saintgregorys.org/worship/art

    If you google that church you will probably find more and if you send me an email with an address to which I can reply, I will send you some photos from my computer at home.
    Ciao.

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