Drawing the Future

By Rashi Seth

October 17, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — Bolognese graffiti offers a glimpse into the social, cultural and political mindset of the Bolognesi people. The city’s walls serve as blank canvases for open expression of grievances under the protection of anonymity. 

The word graffiti is derived from the Italian word “graffito,” meaning singular scratch; graffiti refers to writings or drawings scribbled illicitly in public places. The earliest graffiti can be traced back to Pompeii, before Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.  

Graffiti is ubiquitous in Italy, especially in student towns like Bologna. Most of the graffiti is concentrated in the Via Zamboni area, home to the University of Bologna and its 86,500 students. Here, it holds more significance, reflecting the Bolognese expression of the present political order and depicting what is happening at a particular time and place. 

Today, Bologna contains 38 kilometers of porticoes built between the 11th and 20th centuries. The porticoes were recently nominated as a UNESCO cultural heritage site. The graffiti in Bologna is usually contemporary; it is only demonstrative of the current political scenario, since it is usually removed to preserve the historic porticoes. The latest issues feature Turkish President Erdogan attacking the Kurds in Syria. The walls are laden with “Erdogan Assasino” (assassinate Erdogan), “La rivoluzione è un fiore che non muore” (the revolution is a flower that does not die), and “Viva La Revoluzione Kurda” (Long live the Kurdish revolution).

Locals call Bologna the city of “La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa” (the learned, the fat, and the red). La Rossa refers to Bologna being the anti-fascist capital since the World War II and the heart of the Renaissance movement. The city was a fortress for Italy’s communist party along with its vibrant student protest culture for decades. 

Bologna’s lasting leftist leanings clash with the recent Italian political swing to the right over issues like immigration, portending difficult times ahead. This shift has given rise to Mussolini-influenced neo-fascism in Italy. Bologna’s history with anti-fascism and its communist local government since World War II do not stand in silence during such times. Graffiti with words like “Attaca lo stato” (attack the state) are still present in Piazza Francesco due to the Bolognese disdain for the state’s fascist, xenophobic traits. 

Even in the face of political uncertainty, Bologna will continue to be “la citta dotta” for decades to come, as it has in the past, providing insight into the Bolognese political grievances through its ever-changing graffiti.