Mum mia! Naples blasphemy show posters spark outrage

Artists who took part in a controversial anti-censorship festival in Naples in September sparked outrage from locals and national figures, including far-right politician Matteo Salvini. Festival organizers have been bombarded with complaints following an act of “sub-advertising”, in which dozens of posters brandishing an Italian-language taboo were pasted in the historic center. The city council, which had helped promote the festival, responded by canceling one of the main events.

Called This is not blasphemy (this is not blasphemy), the inaugural edition of the festival took place in places made available free of charge by the City of Naples from September 17 to 30. Funded by donations and crowdfunding, the initiatives included lectures, comedy sessions and a namesake exhibition of ‘anticlerical art’ at the council-funded Palazzo delle Arti Napoli (PAN), which included provocative posters, facilities and a mock confessional where visitors could “blaspheme with confidence”.

The inaugural edition of This is not blasphemy (this is not blasphemy) took place in venues across Naples from September 17 to 30

According to campaign group End Blasphemy Laws, blasphemy laws are frequently used to limit free speech and legitimize persecution. Emanuela Marmo, artistic director of This is not blasphemy and a seasoned activist against blasphemy laws, launched the festival to draw attention to the practice.

But controversy erupted after artists Ceffon, DoubleWhy and Illustre Feccia – whose works were featured in the exhibition – secretly distributed controversial posters on walls and billboards across Naples on September 21. In works parodying brands such as Disneyland and Mickey Mouse, artists have altered texts to form Italian swear words, including “Dio Cane“(God dog) and”Porco Dio(Pig God).

Marmo says the festival was not aware of the artists’ plans. Marmo and the city council received numerous written complaints, while social media was inundated with expressions of outrage. In a tweet, Salvini, the leader of the far-right Lega party, wrote: “I have no words to describe what happened. [in Naples], the left has fallen to new lows ”. On September 28, a dozen local residents protested the festival, enlisting a sidewalk artist to draw religious images on a street outside of PAN before confronting Marmo near the museum and insulting him, a declared the artistic director.

The city council quickly removed the posters because they were “illegally pasted on regularly paid advertisements without permission,” a city spokesperson said. Councilors subsequently ordered the cancellation of a performance of Abel Azcona, a Spanish artist whose controversial works have given rise to numerous lawsuits, which was due to close the festival on September 30. According to Marmo, officials canceled the event to avoid fueling controversy ahead of local elections on October 3-4.

Nonetheless, Marmo says the fury has given the anti-censorship cause additional visibility. With the aim of making the festival a biennial event, she assembled a steering committee of seven to conduct research throughout the year. A new collaboration between the city and the festival “might be possible; the exhibition promoted an important cause, ”said the council spokesperson.

“We would love to work with Napoli again,” says Marmo. “If this does not happen, we will try to find another Italian city or work abroad through the Italian Cultural Institute.”

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