Visualising Faith, Trauma and Conflict Through Art: The Work of Marcello Silvestri

By Marcello Silvestri

In a fast-paced world saturated by flashy images and by the monotonous black and white colour of the written words of experts or pseudo experts, I have opted to pause and stay away from the frantic international travel and glamour of my early career. I like to observe and meditate and then to engage, away from the spotlight, on a local level, with many of those that have been left behind or have experienced all sorts of traumas in their life.

With my artwork I reflect on the dramatic yet extraordinary beautiful mystery of human life – and God’s deeds in it. With the naivety of a baby taking its first steps ‘sensing’ the world, and inspired by my post-WWII rural upbringing steeped in simple pious religious practices, I explore human journeys through life. I like to wonder at how the Divine is present throughout our experiences, as a ray of hope, even in the most tragic situations – and how the material earth is responding to these traumas alongside human beings. With the use of humble waste materials I also want to show how nothing is worthless and can be Beautiful in the eyes of God.

While I believe that art is there to be enjoyed intuitively and not to be explained, I have always felt the urgency to translate, through my multi-media artistic expressions, my existential dilemmas and concerns relating to thorny societal problems. Hence my paintings, sculptures and murals seek to bring out the lived traumas and denunciating societal hypocrisy that emerge through conflict, migration, refuge, detention, drug addiction, and execution. These choices have naturally led me to become involved as a volunteer in a range of educational and interfaith and rehabilitation projects addressed to youth, orphans and children from deprived backgrounds as well as with mental health problems, recovering drug addicts, and other marginalised groups, such as my current art and faith workshops with (immigrant) detainees in Civitavecchia.

War Cemetery (Cimitero di Guerra) 

By Marcello Silvestri 

War Cemetery.jpg

War Cemetery. A Condemned Pride. Wood, turned wood, soil and sand on board. Cm.79×91

War cemeteries are almost always fenced with laurel bushes elegantly trimmed in order to hide the nauseating ignominious stupidity of mankind. The gates, always made of wrought iron, are sometimes open. If you go in, algidity invades your skin and mind.

All is desert, aseptic, anonymous, in the apparent architectonic elegance. Only the silence shouts, bringing the youthful echo of lives offered, by the great, to the god of pride, as a sacrifice.

The colours of the painting, tepid, washed out, do not sing here.

The testimony of the tragedy is left to the natural chromatic modality of the wood and the ground.

We all seek peace and no one owns it, at least in its fullness, and yet, together with the word love, it is on everyone’s lips. Both words, oversaturated, have lost their ontic value.

Here the necessity to re-read the word peace in its possible truth.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James, 3,18)

Text translated from Italian by Susanna Trotta and Sara Silvestri

The Arid Land (La Terra Arida) 

By Marcello Silvestri 

The Arid Land.jpg

The Arid Land. Polymateric on Board Cm.70×115

It is not easy to enter into a dialogue with the colours of this work, as they are not the colours of flags, but rather chromatic tones, stolen from the earth and stone, when the sun puts its warmth to the test and turns everything almost into a mirror of the soul.

The psalm would say: ‘I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water’ (Psalm 63,1). All is fixed here, the sea too; not a crow, not a seagull.

Only silence lives, and the heartbeat in the sweltering heat of the stones, of the sand and of the arid land, at the hottest time of day.

Even the horizontal construction of this work seems to occlude every tension towards verticality.

And yet, in this global aporia, the words of prophet Isaiah arrive unexpected to awaken the soul and arouse the conscience about an event unheard of:

‘The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it…’ (Isaiah 35).

What a peculiar prophet! He does not announce the joy in a discoclub, nor in a countryside festival, not at a birthday party or in a church or a synagogue. But in the arid land of the desert, where there does not seem to be life nor hope.

If one could do a free translation of contemporaneity in this prophetic text, it could sound like the prophet had a preference for the losers in life: for those who have known, with their deeds, the human fragility of being blood and flesh; for those who were not able to conform to the category of the so-called decent people; for those who, having lost everything, empty of any expectation, are the first to welcome the call for resurrection.

Blessed are the poor…!

Text translated from Italian by Susanna Trotta and Sara Silvestri

***

Silvestri’s work offers a window into how faith can be drawn on creatively as a means of responding to trauma, migration, conflict and war. This is an important point for the Refugee Hosts project, which is investigating the explicit and implicit roles played by faith in framing local community responses to displacement,

For more on this theme, read our ongoing Faith and Displacement Series postings.

Biography: Marcello Silvestri is an internationally renowned artist based in the countryside Maremma region of Italy, whose Mediterranean sea and hills are so prominent in his paintings. Originally from Verona, he trained in Christian theology and philosophy before realising that the call of his life was to witness his faith through art. His works have been exhibited in Paris at the Salon d’Automne, Palais du Senat, UNESCO, and Institut Catholique; at the Cirque Royal in Brussels, where he collaborated with choreographer Maurice Bejart; in numerous locations in Italy, including Assisi (where the Franciscans commissioned Marcello a novel interpretation of the Canticle of the Creatures and of St Francis’ Pater Noster), Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, Fondazione Europa in Milan; and then in Turin, Madrid, Malaga, New York, Osaka, etc. His latest exhibitions were part of various ecumenical initiatives of the Ecumenical Chapel in Brussels and in the Lazio region, while in November 2017 a selection of his Biblical works will be centre-stage in the ecumenical celebrations around Luther’s anniversary coordinated by the Evangelical and Catholic communities in Milan. Marcello has collaborated closely with the Comboni Fathers and St Paul’s Publications, with exhibitions in London, Birmingham and Glasgow and numerous visual materials published in several Spanish speaking countries as well as in Korea.

All text, artwork and images featured in this article are the copyright of Marcello Silvestri (c) 

For more on Silvestri’s work visit his website http://www.marcellosilvestri.com/

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