The Sardinia of murals, an expression of art and popular sentiment

Spaccato della vita quotidiana dei paesi sardi, con la rappresentazione della processione in onore di un Santo

Sardinia, land of a reserved and introverted people, but at the same time hospitable and generous, is also a land of contrasts and of a combative people, who always had to contend with overseas invaders that came in search of conquest. Sardinia is also a culturally rich and politically active land.

The political and social enthusiasm during the 1960s and 70s which took place in Italy also arrived in Sardinia. In the climate of those years the birth of a particular form of art also found a fertile ground: murals.

A relatively recent artistic expression, the Sardinian murals, coloured and identified by characteristic dramatic figures, became the means by which to tell different stories about the lives of shepherds, the struggles for land and on social change. The walls of many Sardinian towns became special means of communication.

The murals painted before the 1980s generally stage images of stories with a political background, criticism and condemnation of the system, both nationally and internationally. In general, they present themselves as a grievance in a particular period of crisis, succeeding in expressing through art the desire for the redemption of Sardinians, which in addition to the symbols painted on the walls, was also manifested in taking control of public spaces. It is thanks to the murals that Sardinian citizens are owners of a shared environment, becoming active participants of political and social life, acquiring a new community responsibility.

The end of the twentieth century saw the murals serve, instead, of another function: guarding the rich cultural, anthropological and ethnographic heritage of the island. They tell stories of everyday life and became a form of expression for everyone, simple but at the same time perfectly descriptive of the past, present and future of the island. Beginning in the 1980s, scenes of daily life began to be depicted, such as shepherds with their flocks, horsemen, peasants with sickles and women with children. Thus the murals became a spontaneous manifestation of a peasant society that wants to make known its customs and traditions to the outside, while enhancing urban areas.

The techniques are very simple. The Sardinian muralists use water-based paints, usually for interior use, and therefore easily perishable. Partly as an aesthetic choice according to which the works are repainted only if the community feels the need, otherwise they are destined to disappear, left to memory and remembrance. So the murals change continuously over time: the most beautiful are updated, integrated and refreshed; while the older ones which have less relevance are left to fade and die or be covered by the newer ones.

The styles are quite different and pass from impressionism to hyper-realism, from naïve painting to realism.

The Sardinian muralism has its most important centers in four small towns: Orgosolo, Villamar, San Sperate and Serramanna.

In particular, it is Orgosolo, the town symbolising the Barbagia region, that distinguishes itself from the other inland towns for its characteristic murals. It’s a small town (accessible from the airport of Olbia-Costa Smeralda, with a direct Etihad regional flight from Lugano and Geneva from May to September) located in a little known but nonetheless beautiful area of the island. Perched among the impervious mountains that have helped to preserve almost intact genuine and authentic Sardinian customs, habits and traditions, where once few tourists came, but today, thanks also to an increasing number of people who appreciate this fascinating and interesting artistic form, is becoming more and more a tourist destination. Many murals present themselves in such a distinctive way on the walls of the old houses of the historic centre and on the walls of the village squares that the gaze of the tourist can not help but linger to study them carefully.

The first mural in Orgosolo was signed in 1969 by Dionysus, the collective name of a group of anarchists. A few years later, to recall the period of resistance and liberation of Italy from Nazi fascism, a Sienese teacher and his pupils created others. This was immediately followed by other local artists. One particularly popular mural, “The Deeds of Pratobello”, told the tale of the victory of the Orgosolesi, which in 1969 opposed the will of the Italian Army to create a shooting range in an area of countryside that had always been used for pasture.

If the head of Sardinian muralism remains in Orgosolo, over the years many other towns have cultivated this artistic and social phenomenon that is still expressed today on global and international issues. Dozens of mural paintings adorn many other Sardinian inland towns and tell in their own language the customs and culture of the people who inhabit them.

Orgosolo, mural recalling the emigration of many Sardinian miners who in the 1950s were forced to leave the island to reach the Belgian mines.
Orgosolo, mural depicting the protests of Sardinian shepherds in the 1970s, against the will of the Italian government to create military bases in pasture areas.
Mural symbol of female emancipation.

From Orgosolo, moving towards the south of the island, one reaches Villamar: here these paintings have spread since 1976 thanks to two Chilean exiles Uriel Parvex and Alan Jofrè. The following year the phenomenon experienced a real boost thanks to two local artists, Antonio Sanna and Antonio Cotza, the murals of Sanna represent customs and traditions of local daily life; while those of Cotza, particularly bright and colourful, depict international and local historical events.

Villamar: colorful mural representing a launeddas player, made by Antonio Cotza.

Just 30 kilometres from Villamar, we come to Serramanna. Here too the mural phenomenon took hold in the 70s to express youthful discontent. The name of the town is particularly linked to a splendid mural on the theme of emigration created in 1979 by the group of Ledda, Dessì, Putzolu e Arba and whose name is “Emigration is deportation”.

“Emigration is deportation”, a splendid mural on the theme of emigration, realized in 1979, by a group of artists (Serramanna).

Another centre particularly known for its murals is San Sperate (easily accessible from the Cagliari airport of Elmas, which connects the island with several airlines to domestic and foreign airports. These include Etihad Regional, which provides direct flights from Lugano and Geneva from May to September. The small district, in the Province of Cagliari, is not only known for its wall paintings but also for its sculptures and the sound-making stones of the artist Pinuccio Sciola, which recently disappeared. Walking through the picturesque streets of San Sperate means embarking on an exciting journey into the art world, through the figures and shades of its colourful murals, which decorate the walls of the buildings making it an open-air museum, a “village museum”, as the small town centre is commonly called.

The origins of the murals of San Sperate date back to 1968, the year of great political and cultural unrest, when Pinuccio Sciola returned to Sardinia after a series of stimulating trips around Europe. Hoarding a treasure trove of international experience, the young artist soon infected his community with his desire for change. In conjunction with the religious feast of Corpus Christi, Sciola and his friends began to cover the old and humble mud walls with layers of lime. The work was positively welcomed by the villagers, intrigued and fascinated by the dazzling white walls, glorified by the strong summer sun. Walls that soon became covered with paintings. Thus the first murals were born, many of them covering subjects of an anthropological and political character and San Sperate became a laboratory of creation and confrontation. Thanks to the attention of the national and foreign press, in the following years many artists arrived, including foreigners, who gave their contribution by painting new works of the most diverse subjects.

Peasant activity, one of the main sources of the Sardinian economy, represented in a wall of San Sperate.

A huge recognition, which testifies to the importance of Sardinian murals not only for its residents, but also for the increasing number of tourists who stop to admire these paintings. So much so that, the Region of Sardinia, considering them as a part of the island’s cultural heritage in their own right, has planned a project of cataloguing them as works of art. Once the murals of numerous Sardinian town centres have been catalogued, they will be placed in a computer system to guarantee to maximum awareness of them.

By Elisabetta Oppo

Courtesy of Evolution, Etihad Regional Inflight Magazine







Etihad Regional Route:

Geneva – Olbia 4 June -17 September
Lugano – Olbia: 11 June – 17 September
(every Sunday, additional flights every Friday in July)

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