Unraveling Nico Angiuli’s Tre Titoli: Labor, Migration and Socially Engaged Arts in Rural Italy

Unraveling Nico Angiuli’s Tre Titoli: Labor, Migration and Socially Engaged Arts in Rural Italy [1]

Emanuele R. Meschini and Elisabetta Rattalino

Tre Titoli is a 2015 participatory film by Italian artist Nico Angiuli, which reflects on issues of workers’ rights.[2] The film’s storyline addresses the circumstances of agricultural laborers’ in Cerignola, a town in Apulia, Italy, through the biography and political thinking of the syndicalist labor union leader, Giuseppe Di Vittorio. The film’s performers are five Ghanaian migrants and an equal number of small farmers and former agricultural laborers of Italian origin. Recently presented at the XXVI Quadriennale in Rome and at the Kiev Biennal, the film won the third Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani prize. Between 2010 and 2016, the prize was awarded by the Milan-based arts organization Connecting Culture and the Italian Ministry of Culture (the Direzione Generale per il Paesaggio, le Belle Arti, L’architettura e L’arte Contemporanea), along with the Fondazione ISMU (a Milan-based research center which focuses on issues of multi-ethnic culture).[3] It was the first prize in Italy intended to foster the “artist-community-arts organization” relationship, already part of several Northern American initiatives, since at least the 1970s. It was also an attempt to move beyond the models of previous public art programs in Italy. Art historian and critic Enrico Crispolti—a pioneer in the field of participatory art in 1970s Italy—argued that post-war arts awards and prizes are markers of the vitality of specific artistic contexts and they mirror the critical temperature of their time.[4] Drawing on Crispolti’s methodological observation, this paper examines Angiuli’s Tre Titoli through the framework proposed by the Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani prize to reflect on the relevance of this project within the context of recent socially-engaged art initiatives in Italy. Despite the prize’s concern with empowerment, Angiuli’s project overcame the imbalance implied by the rhetoric of empowerment itself, as the artist delicately grafted a participatory methodology onto the local attachment to Di Vittorio by means of his collaborative handling of symbolic objects and gestures. 

Nico Angiuli, Tre Titoli, locandina film, 2015, © Nico Angiuli.

1. Borgo Tre Titoli, Di Vittorio’s Coat, and Angiuli’s film in the making 

Nico Angiuli’s wider artistic production explores the biopolitical and political issues of labor through performance and film. The project Tre Titoli follows on from his earlier artistic production: “Initially, I had been invited to work on the cultivation of tomatoes, thus continuing my series Tools’ Dance,” the artist revealed in an interview in 2019.[5] He was referring to a series of participatory films that weave together stories of migration with the performance of both traditional and mechanical agriculture, developed between Italy, Albania and Spain since 2011. Unlike these previous works, however, Tre Titoli did not focus on farming gestures. The encounter with the socio-cultural context of Cerignola and of Borgo Tre Titoli caused the artist to shift the aim of his project: “To tell you the truth, a world of historical and human richness has opened up to me. [This world] has led my research towards the exploration not so much of agricultural gestures, but of political ones.”[6]

Cerignola is a town where peasants have been fighting for their rights since the early 1900s, and Borgo Tre Titoli—which gives the film its title—is a tiny rural settlement located approximately fifteen kilometers away. The Cerignola peasants campaigned for fairer working conditions in the 1900s and 1910s, and later, between 1948 and 1950, participated in the epic collective land occupations that swept Italy and compelled the then-ruling Christian Democrat government to tackle the fundamental issue of land redistribution.[7] Between May and December 1950, three agrarian laws implementing land redistribution among the peasantry were approved by the Parliament.[8] These laws appropriated around 70,000 hectares of uncultivated land from large properties and redistributed it among non-tenant peasants and small farmers. Alongside the land, these new small-farm holders often received a dwelling.[9] The same process occurred in the Cerignola area.[10] Borgo Libertà and other farmhouse communities sprinkled along the provincial road SP95 that connects Cerignola with the neighboring town of Candela, expanded, as did Borgo Tre Titoli itself.[11] The buildings, however, soon began to be abandoned and deteriorated. Since the late 1990s, migrants from northern Africa and Eastern Europe started repopulating the village.[12] Today, Ghanaian migrants live in Borgo Tre Titoli, and work in the fields (especially the tomato fields) around Cerignola. Alongside other agricultural laborers’ camps across southern Italy, the living conditions of these workers are challenging, to say the least. Migrants’ marginal and marginalized conditions make them vulnerable to the caporalato labor contracting system, which has been illegal since 2016.[13]

Even though Angiuli selected the name of the settlement as the film’s title, there is very little of daily life in Borgo Tre Titoli—present and past—in the film. Angiuli avoids poverty porn, condemnation, and first-person narratives. His work does not reproduce mainstream narratives about migrants’ conditions in Italy–these narratives either pity migrants’ deprived conditions or depict them as a problem to be solved. Instead Angiuli mobilizes the legacy of Giuseppe Di Vittorio, still very much alive in the town. Born and bred into a family of agricultural laborers in Cerignola, Di Vittorio was a militant in the Socialist and then in the Italian Communist Party.[14] After the end of the Second World War, he became one of the most influential spokespersons for laborers’ and workers’ rights both in Italy, where he founded the CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro) or Italian General Labor Confederation in 1944, and worldwide, becoming the president of the World Federation of Trade Unions in 1953. Prior to his political career, he joined the trade union in Cerignola, where, between 1904 and 1910, he participated in violent peasant protests for fair and dignified working conditions. In the following years, he supported the activities of the trade union, not only fighting against landlords, but also promoting worker education.

Nico Angiuli, Tre Titoli, still from video, 2015, © Nico Angiuli.

More than six decades after his death, Di Vittorio’s legacy lives on in Cerignola, well beyond the walls of the local CGIL headquarters where his portrait still hangs today. Both Casa Di Vittorio and the cultural association Associazione Casa Di Vittorio promote cultural events and research dedicated to the life and thought of the syndicalist.[15] More importantly, in Cerignola there appears to be widespread affection for Di Vittorio. This is epitomized by the local commemorative memorial panels entitled Di Vittorio e la Questione Meridionale (Di Vittorio and the Southern Condition). Painted by the Centro di Arte Pubblica e Popolare in the early 1970s, the monument depicts Di Vittorio and protesters marching for their rights. It consists of three neo-realist panels (a fourth panel is lost today) embedded in a towering metallic structure installed in the Piazza della Repubblica.[16] Dismantled in the 1980s, the monument has recently been restored and reassembled. During a well-attended re-installation ceremony in 2017, the then-president of the Region, Michele Emiliano commented: “This artwork is a community work. Peppino di Vittorio is flesh of our flesh, a piece of the wonderful history of our country.”[17] Notwithstanding the political rhetoric involved in using Di Vittorio’s local nickname (Peppino) and invoking an image of embodied belonging, there is no doubt of the local community’s attachment and pride in their connection to the man. “Locals used to hang Di Vittorio’s portrait in their homes, next to or instead of religious icons,” according to Anna Santomauro, curator of Angiuli’s project. [18]

View of the monument dedicated to Giuseppe Di Vittorio in Cerignola, 1982 circa © Matteo Fiorino.

Local affection towards Di Vittorio provided the foundation for Tre Titoli, which reflected on the current condition of agricultural workers. Instead of referring to early protests, Angiuli’s project rest on the syndicalist’s later views. In the late 1950s, Di Vittorio embraced a socialist third-worldism that considered the conditions of all workers globally, whose rights he fought for all his life. In 1953, he expressed this position at the first congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions in Paris. In his presentation, Michele Pistillo reports, Di Vittorio “spoke in favor of the liberation of colonialized populations, for the protection of workers forced to emigrate, stating the principle–then welcomed by the whole congress–of the syndicalist organizations’ duty to ensure equality, and offer the same individual and collective assistance to foreign workers and the local workers in their countries of immigration.”[19] This speech by Di Vittorio has been widely researched and is reproduced in the blog that Angiuli created to accompany his film. It is pivotal in the framing the project, underscoring a bridge of solidarity between the local workers and the migrant workers living in Borgo Tre Titoli.

In light of Di Vittorio’s support for migrant workers worldwide, Angiuli’s project developed with the aim of bringing together two communities of agricultural laborers: Ghanaian laborers temporarily working and living in the fields of Borgo Tre Titoli; and Italians based in Cerignola and members of the local Trade Union, including retired and active agricultural workers and small holders. It was not an easy task. Italians and migrants shared challenges in their work, but these challenges were acutely different; as different as their connections to the history, culture and social milieu of the area. The locals had to endure the effects of unemployment.[20] The Ghanaian community was mostly composed of illegal migrants, working long shifts for obscenely small wages with no regular contracts. Journalists and NGOs have been denouncing these working conditions in Cerignola and across Italy as “modern slavery” since the early 2010s.[21] In addition to their respective challenging circumstances, Italians’ distrust of the migrants–possibly fueled by politicians’ rhetoric and by harsh political measures enacted against immigration–created even greater barriers between the two communities.[22] After attending a meeting of the local CGIL, the artist recorded locals’ recriminations in his blog: “I followed the intervention by the secretary of the CGIL in Cerignola, with particular interest. In this as in other circumstances, I noticed the incredible distance that separates the old agricultural workers and the new migrant laborers, the latter being blamed for causing the agricultural labor critics in Cerignola” [23] Locals appeared to ignore the role of corporate and political influence on the job market’s demands for cheap labor, and thus migrants were blamed for stealing agricultural jobs from the locals. Having no rights as workers and thus having to work for less than the minimum wage and for longer working shifts, migrant labor was preferred to local and regular labor.[24] Despite their differences, these two groups explored the possibility of co-existence, not just within the fictional reality of the film, but also through the three-month-long production process that made the film possible.

In the autumn of 2014, Angiuli moved to Cerignola to carry out the project. When he competed for the Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani prize his project was presented with the curatorial support of Vessel, a nomadic curatorial organization founded by Viviana Checchia and Anna Santomauro that supports situated, responsive and research-led arts projects.[25] The collaboration between Angiuli and Vessel had started in 2011, when Angiuli participated in Vessel’s initiatives exploring rural Apulia, agriculture and, more generally, interdisciplinary artistic research.[26] For the project Tre Titoli, the artist and the curatorial collective, especially Anna Santomauro, considered the fragile and complex context of both Borgo Tre Titoli and Cerignola, and critically discussed non-colonial possibilities of encounter with local workers together.[27] The institutional grounding in Cerignola was provided by Casa di Vittorio. Both organizations, however, had little or no direct relationship with the world of agricultural labor, and even less so with the migrants living in Borgo Tre Titoli. Therefore, Angiuli dedicated the first two months of the project to becoming acquainted with the two groups. Thus, he had to create his own project-connected community by entering the local social fabric step-by-step, by learning local habits and by simply talking and listening to the workers themselves. It was not a single handed task. Over time, he also received support from the CGIL Cerignola, to meet local laborers and farmers, and from the Associazione Ghetto Out–Nelson Mandela, especially with the help of its president, Pape Djamil Ndiaye, to meet migrants. [28] The latter association was initially an informal association of Senegalese migrants, but since 2014 has been promoting cultural mediation for African immigrants around Cerignola. Since then, the association organizes social events and debates on workers’ rights, supports newcomers’ access to medical services in public hospitals, and offers guidance in administrative processes, such as requests for a permit to stay.[29]

Nico Angiuli, laboratori preparatori 2015 © Ezio Cibelli.

The different times of the day that the Angiuli could meet local and migrant workers are quite telling regarding the varying conditions of his interlocutors. Originally from rural Apulia, he knew that he had to gain local people’s trust before asking them to participate in his film. During the day, therefore, he met with people around Cerignola and in bars, learning their stories about agricultural labor traditions, about the very much still vibrant memory of Di Vittorio, and about the difficulties faced by the very few agricultural workers still living in the town. At night, Angiuli met the community of migrants working and living in Borgo Tre Titoli. This was the only time he could meet with them, at the end of their day-long shifts in the fields. He first encountered some of the subsequent participants of the project not at a bar, but at an emergency medical support unit.[30] After several visits, he became so well acquainted with the people living there that he was introduced to a person of standing in the community. Borgo Tre Titoli dwellers call this person the “sindáco” of Tre Titoli, a nickname that sounds like a play on the Italian word for major, “síndaco”. [31]

Nico Angiuli, laboratori preparatori 2015 © Ezio Cibelli.

Only after living locally for over two months did Angiuli bring the two communities together. To do this, he organized five workshops with the specific aim of discussing the script he had authored over the previous months, after accessing archival and bibliographical material about Di Vittorio. The logistical support provided by the institutions was invaluable for this: the municipality and the CGIL of Cerignola provided venues (respectively the community space of Torre Alemanna in Torre Alemanna-Borgo Libertà near Tre Titoli, and the headquarters of the Trade Union) and the means to transport the participants from one shoot location to the next; the Associazione Ghetto Out–Nelson Mandela also organized the logistics of transportation, especially of the migrants. Vessel organized the practicalities of the shoots. Besides the institutional effort necessary to create shared opportunities for exchange, the movie script fostered bridges of solidarity between the two communities. The film alternates the documentation of performative actions in the streets of Cerignola with symbolic scenes. These different moments in the film are separated by a theatrical liminal element: a free-standing red curtain positioned in an iconic archaeological area of the city, the Piana delle Fosse del Grano. More importantly, the scenes are organized around, and connected through, several ritual gestures and objects. These include the emergence of the migrants from the medieval underground wheat storage space (the Fosse Granarie) at the beginning of the movie; the black-facing of one of the Italian participants with a lotion traditionally used to cure wounded olive trees, to symbolize a shared process of healing from the violence of agricultural exploitation; the wielding of a ‘volpino,’ a whip fashioned from the twisted sinew of a bull penis and traditionally used by masters to make laborers work harder or to punish them; the tearing up of black and white photographs of historical workers’ protests and in the final scene, depicting the migrants as they covered tomatoes with red paint.

These gestures and objects weave together the history of agricultural labor and exploitation in Cerignola to articulate the film’s narrative. They also created an opportunity for exchanges between the local residents and the migrants during the process. This led to what can be taken as the pivotal gesture of the film: the re-enactment of an event described in Di Vittorio’s biography that took place around 1910-1912. Italian author Gianni Rodari brilliantly reports this episode:

At the time, in Apulia, the masters used to wear coats whereas peasants used to wear cloaks. Di Vittorio persuaded his companions [in the Trade Union] to refuse the cloak as a distinctive feature of an inferior class. With many sacrifices, they all bought a coat. On a Sunday morning, in the main square [of Cerignola], the “gentlemen” found a surprise: the peasants wearing coats as they did, to demonstrate that they felt equal in their dignity and their rights. [32]

Di Vittorio’s coat episode was a powerful political gesture. In the project Tre Titoli, the migrants are the protagonists in Di Vittorio’s memorable walk. They strolled around the streets of Cerignola wearing suits and ties, and then attended a fictional political rally orchestrated by Angiuli in one of the main squares of the town. Here, migrants and local agricultural workers stood side by side, and listened to Aboubakar Soumahoro, an Ivorian Trade Unionist in Italy, reading Di Vittorio’s writings. This event became crucial for different reasons: in the film, it symbolized the participants’ acknowledgment of the exploitation and violence they all experience in the system of agriculture labor; in the public sphere of Cerignola, it performed and embodied Di Vittorio’s ideal of solidarity.

Nico Angiuli, Scambio d’abiti, (Chancing Clothes) 2014 © Nico Angiuli.

The coat episode was more than a political symbol. It also allowed the participants to create shared intimacy in the experience of the actual exchanges that occurred during the production of Tre Titoli. The clothes worn by the migrants did not come from a shop. Local laborers lent these clothes to them during one of Angiuli’s sessions. “Suspending the everyday dimension there was a fair and sincere involvement, beyond the wage that was paid to the participants. The agricultural laborers of the older generation lent the original coats of their very first syndicalist struggles to the younger laborers,” said the artist, referring to the project a few years after its conclusion.[33] Through this exchange of clothes, the film associates the peasants of Di Vittorio’s past and the migrants of today. It collapses the temporal distance between the past and present circumstances of precarious living conditions and the exploitation of the communities working locally in agriculture. In light of Di Vittorio’s legacy, it also opened up opportunities for solidarity and unprecedented dialogue between different communities of workers living and working around Cerignola.

2. Tre Titoli, Migrations and Artistic Practices in Italy (1993-2013)

Angiuli’s work emerges from within the field of artistic practices that, since the 1990s, has been trying to redefine the relationship between the visual arts and public space following three lines of enquiry: deconstructing the concept of public space as entirely defined by social cohesion and consensus, reconfiguring its relationship with a passive spectator and dismantling the idea that public means government-funding.[34] The redefinition of this relationship begins with the act of privileging the participatory tension of art projects, not the monumentality of a physical art work. This shift aligns with early political changes in Italy that favoured provincial autonomy and the possibilities of self-managed, decentralized production that emerged in the 1970s.[35] It was only in the 1990s, in tune with global changes, that Italian artistic practices discovered, above all, the “nonpublicness” of the country’s past public art, by beginning to question Italy’s principal promoters of a homologating history as well as a collective narrative of national identity.[36] What happened during this period represents not only a change in the arts but also a social change, a change that was initiated and fostered primarily by immigration. If one of the motors of artistic practices in the 1970s was artists’ and society’s engagement with extra-parliamentary politics and workers’ struggles, in the 1990s the encounter with new migrant communities and the subsequent redefinition of the city elicited a renewal of artistic practices in public spaces. During this period, Italian art critics adopted the English appellation “public art” to define practices that, despite their heterogeneity, emerged from this change. The use of this term is a testimony to the transnationality of artistic discourse as well as the impossibility of finding a suitable critical definition in Italian.[37] Furthermore, in Italy critics started to adopt the term “public art” to describe practices that employed open processes and community-based projects, at a time when American critics had already started to identify similar practices as constituting a form of “New Genre Public Art”. [38]

The 1990s marked the beginning of a new relationship to immigration in Italy, resulting in a range of different cultural and political responses. For the first time in its history, Italy faced the transition from being a country of emigrants to becoming a country of immigrants. In 1993, the migratory balance shifted: the major demographic increase in population was due to the permanent communities of foreigners who had recently moved to the country.[39] Given this context, the artistic practices of the early 1990s took the form of spontaneous investigations of the city, that could be described as encounters in “casual” urban spaces. Several artists, such as Marco Vaglieri and Enzo Umbaca in Milan and the Stalker collective in Rome, wandered around the urban outskirts seeking places of contact and encounter with the new residents.[40] In the first decade of the 2000s, the spontaneity of these artistic practices was partially institutionalized, due to the influence of programs such as Les Nouveux Commandataries. Conceived by artist François Hers, and supported by the Fondation de France di Parigi since 1991, its curatorial model has been adopted and disseminated in Italy by the Fondazione Adriano Olivetti since 2000.[41] The art critics collective a.titolo curated several projects of this kind. [42] Despite the role of the program in fostering the participation of the citizens themselves, in many cases, the program adopted the notions of periphery and public space as anthropologically given “objects” with an embedded, un-deconstructable meaning.[43] Interventions and sculptures developed within this institutional framework relied on two premises: first, that urban peripheries have to be regenerated; and second, that public spaces have to be participatory, and that participation is a matter of process with the same value for everyone. In the 2010s, artistic practices entered a new phase. Artists tried to reclaim a certain degree of freedom from object-driven interventions. At the same time, they started reconsidering the very concept of periphery. [44]

Marco Vaglieri, Operazioni necessarie alla circolazione accelerata di ossigeno (Necessary Interventions for the accelerated circulation of oxygen), Milano,1995 © Marco Vaglieri.

Since Tre Titoli won the third Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani prize, it seems pertinent to analyse it within this institutional framework. The Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani prize was conceived by the Milan-based association Connecting Cultures, along with the government office Direzione Generale per il Paesaggio, le Belle arti, L’Architettura e L’Arte Contemporanea (PaBAAC) and Fondazione Ismu (Iniziative e Studi sulla Multi etnicità) from 2010 to 2016.[45] The prize consisted of a bursary that artists could use for their proposed projects.[46] As an expression of a collective and governmental trend, Arte, Patrimonio, e Diritti Umani was the first prize that tried to facilitate the interconnection of artists, community groups and cultural institutions, following the example of several North American socially-engaged art projects from the 1990s. The prize was open to young artists, video-makers, designers, filmmakers, and photographers as well as cultural institutions, such as museums, cultural associations, archives, and public libraries. The aim was to promote collaboration between an artist and an institution to produce a real impact on a specific site through the direct involvement of local residents. Most of the projects presented during the six years of the prize’s existence have focused on small-scale interventions, to be as effective as possible. This also represents a new attempt to get closer to the community living locally rather than to the community of passers-by.

Arte, Patrimonio, Diritti Umani essentially aimed at artists/creators under 35, which in Italy corresponds to the category of young artists. This demonstrates the emancipatory aim of the prize, which was to support new, emerging social art practice squeezed by the Italian art system between public art and site-specific interventions. In addition, the prize fully integrates notions of “cultural material and immaterial heritage,” “intercultural dialogue” and “intercultural heritage” into the language of the arts and the Italian art system.[47] The first time the prize was awarded, it was entitled “Concorso per giovani artisti e istituzioni culturali sul tema della relazione fra le culture” (Contest for young artists and cultural institutions about the relationship between cultures). The prize was presented at the Triennale di Milano on February 23rd, 2010, alongside a symposium entitled “Lost in Translation. Arte e Intercultura”. The symposium included presentations by Maria Thereza Alves, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Adrian Paci, Marjetica Potrč and Luca Vitone.[48] The winner of the first prize awarded was Out of the Box, by the Impossible Sites dans la rue collective, in collaboration with the Associazione Culturale Isole. Conceived specifically for the Piana degli Albanesi in Palermo, the project proposed a participatory photographic workshop where participants explore their own place of living; in particular, hidden spaces that are not marked on most known maps. This photographic investigation became a communication bridge between the Italian community and the Arbëreshë community in Palermo. The Arbëreshë, also known as Albanians of Italy or Italo-Albanians, is an Albanian ethnolinguistic group based mainly in Southern Italy. Piana degli Albanesi was founded in 1488 by Albanian refugees escaping Turkish repression following the death of the military commander Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu.[49]

The second time the prize was awarded (2011-12), its title was Arte, Patrimonio e Diritti Umani (Art, Heritage, Human Rights) and the importance of the themes of community, territory and rootedness had only increased. On this occasion, the jury selected two winners: Landscape Remix and Lingua Mama, developed by artists Sara Basta and Mariana Ferratto, and the curator Emanuela Termine, which aimed to address communities of Bengali women based in the neighborhoods of Tor Pignattara and Quadraro in Rome. The Municipal library Dino Penazzato and the School Carlo Pisacane were the project’s institutional partners. The latter was a well-known school in the neighborhood, which appeared frequently on Italian television and in national newspapers due to its high number of foreign students. Through the creative and playful development of proficiency in Italian, Lingua Mama aimed to become the connecting point between the different cultures inherited both from the Bengali mothers and their children in Italy. The project Landscape Remix used music to help people experience the collections of the MAN Museum (Nuoro, Sardinia), thus bringing new audiences to a territory with few art institutions.[50] Nico Angiuli won the prize the third time it was awarded (2013-2014). The key themes of the award this year were again non-material cultural heritage, intercultural dialogue and intercultural heritage education. The final time the prize was awarded (2015-2016) it was influenced by the new institutional body created by Ministry of Culture (at the time MiBACT), the DGAAP (Direzione Generale Arte e Architettura contemporanee e Periferie urbane or General Direction of Contemporary Art and Architecture and Urban Peripheries). A statement about the General Direction’s scope was released at the time on the Ministry’s website. In the statement, the urban periphery was linked with visual art and architecture as “instruments” which might bring these spaces into the contemporary moment.[51]

Since its very first award, the prize has dealt with an important and controversial theme, that of empowerment. The notion of empowerment, crucial in the 1990s North American analysis of what a community-based project was, began appearing in Italy’s language and artistic practices beginning in 2010.[52] The complexity of this notion resides in the clear-cut separation and imbalance that is assumed to exist between the agent of empowerment and those who need to be empowered. Issues surrounding the notion of empowerment are complex when it comes to artistic practices developed in public space and, even more so, in and with communities. This fragile relationship has been examined in the Northern American context by Grant Kester in the 1995 essay “Aesthetic Evangelists: Conversion and Empowerment in Contemporary Community Art,” a key contribution to the development of critical awareness of socially engaged art projects.[53] Empowerment–as Kester conceives it–has two aspects: on the one hand it represents a praiseworthy aim and civic commitment; on the other hand, it perpetuates the inequalities of a ‘reactionary’ political agenda which sees individuals’ failures as stemming from a lack of will power and thus alleviates the government from any responsibility for promoting social policies that would actually benefit its citizens. According to Kester, this is rooted in the moral economy of capitalism, and the history of liberal reform. There is a separation of values at the basis of the decision to enhance another being. If we consider that the concept of empowerment has become extremely frequent in corporate literature (around 30,000 articles and texts about empowerment were published between 1994 and 1999), this separation is evident, and the terminological appropriation by the business world demonstrates a certain predisposition to class division [54]. This decision triggers a process of de-subjectivation in the subject in need of amelioration. Furthermore, following this logic, the idea that damnation comes from inside the subject but salvation comes  outside, implies that the entire process of empowerment (perceived as salvation) should be guided by external agents, as saviours or sponsors. This process represents the realization of a concept of moral pedagogy that risks permeating socially engaged or community-based art operations, especially in projects which are not run directly by a given community but are commissioned by an external body. [55]

Drawing on Kester’s ideas, it appears that the problem of empowerment concerns more the commissioners—in the case of this prize, the Ministry of Culture or local organizations—who expect practical answers to emerge from symbolic processes, rather than from the artist. The disagreement between North American and European critical approaches—see the querelle between Grant Kester and Claire Bishop in 2006 and the one between Grant Kester and Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen in 2016—in terms of the aesthetics and ethics of socially engaged art operations has now elicited the development of critical practices that look at the symbolic transformation of the ordinary experience succeed in suggesting answers that could no longer be categorized in terms of sculpture or exhibition. The artwork is not the answer but a starting point for elaborating alternatives practices in urban spaces. Angiuli’s work appears far from promoting any type of alternative moral pedagogy. Firstly, because Tre Titoli’s final outcome is not community empowerment in the first place but the mobilisation of Di Vittorio’s legacy in town to disentangle the circumstances of workers currently living and working locally. Secondly, because the creative process, the meetings, the conversations and the convivial moments that occurred during the project were intended to lead to the creation of an object-work—in this case, the film—but not one capable of summarizing the artist’s intervention as a salvation, as redemptive or somehow social, in the sense of welfare. With Tre Titoli, Angiuli symbolized the unspoken: the gestures that bond the Ghanaian laborers living in Cerignola with the old Italian workers. The artist reconfigured the inveterate historical and discursive frame by presenting film viewers and participants in the project the possibility of feeling in a fluxus, where personal stories and history can merge, even as exploitation remains an issue that repeats itself in ways that transcend time and nationality.

Emanuele Rinaldo Meschini is an art critic and art historian. PhD in History of Contemporary Art at University Ca’Foscari (Venice). Since 2016, together with the artist Luca Resta, he has created the AUTOPALO project with which he investigates the techniques and methods of social participation through projects related to the world of football. He is the author of the book Comunità. Spazio. Monumento (Mimesis, 2021) on the participatory and socially engaged art in Italy in the 2000s. Currently he is adjunct lecturer at the Department of Arts (Alma Mater, University of Bologna) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Università IUAV di Venezia. Emanuele is the author of the second section of this contribution.

Elisabetta Rattalino is an art historian whose research engages with experimental arts and design practices from 1945 to present day, with a focus on rural environments, especially in Italy. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and a Lecturer at the Free University of Bolzano. Elisabetta is the author of the first section of this contribution. Elisabetta holds a Ph.D. from the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews (Scotland). Since 2010, she has been collaborating with socially-engaged artists and arts organizations in both Italy (BAU, Bolzano; Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella) and Scotland (Deveron Projects, Huntly).


1. ‘Socially engaged art’ can be translated into Italian as arte socialmente impegnata. However, this term is rarely adopted due to a prejudice that I will try briefly outline as follow. ‘Socially—socialmente in Italian—involves a set of nuances that do not directly refer to the civil aspect of post-political action, as in other contexts [The Art of Civil Action: Political Space and Cultural Dissent, edited by Philipp Dietachmair and Pascal Gielen, (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2017)]. The term socialmente still has a strong link to the 1970s, and also the political activism that accompanied Genova’s G8 in 2001. Both events were repressed by state violence (Aldo Moro 1978, Carlo Giuliani 2001). Therefore, the relocation of this term within art criticism seems to be impaired by political ideology. There are social conditions for the formation of socially engaged art that the universality of artistic practices and their dissemination or co-optation cannot overcome. Of these, plurality, the rewriting of cultural identity, transculturation [Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes. Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge: 1992)] can lead to the formation of a civil society capable of overcoming the conservatism and populism of political discourse, so allowing the term socialmente to be understood more broadly and completely. Therefore, the use we make of the term ‘socially engaged art’ is potential and its critical suitability will be verified in the future.

2. The film is available online: http://www.nicoangiuli.com/tretitoli.html. Last accessed on September 9, 2021.  For an overview of the prize awards, see the dedicated page at: www.connectingcultures.it/arte-patrimonio-diritti-umani/. Last accessed on September 9, 2021. For a further analysis of the prize see also: Emanuele Rinaldo Meschini, Comunità, Spazio, Monumento. Ricontestuallizzazione delle pratiche artistiche nella sfera urbana (Milan: Mimesis, 2021), pp.247-277.

4. Enrico Crispolti, Come studiare l’arte contemporanea (Rome: Donzelli, 1997), pp.154-155. Crispolti’s book presents art historical methodologies to study contemporary art. In his book, he refers to interwar and postwar prizes, but he suggests that this kind of enquiry could be adopted to study more recent artistic productions.

5. Conversation between Elisabetta and Nico Angiuli (October 29, 2019).

6. Ibid.

7. Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1988 (London: Penguin, 1990), p.127. About Cerignola, see: Gina Dimunno, L’occupazione delle terre a Cerignola nel 1949 (San Ferdinando di Puglia: Litografica ’92, 2013).

8. Ginsborg, A History, pp.121-140. The reform affected the Calabrian Sila region (Legge Sila), the Fucino basin (Abruzzi), the Maremma Toscana (Tuscany), the Po delta, and other area of Sardinia, Basilicata, Campania, Puglia (Legge Stralcio), and Sicily (Sicilian law). Substantial interventions – land-tenure, agronomic, and hydraulic reorganization – already reshaped the Tavoliere plain of Apulia during the fascist period as part of the regime’s nation-wide project of land reclamation (the ‘bonifica integrale’) in the 1920s and 1930s. Social anthropologist Irene Peano interestingly argues that the racialist, biopolitical ideology underpinning these interwar infrastructural transformations lives on in this wider territorial context where Cerignola is located. See: Irene Peano, “Specters of Eurafrica in an Italian Agroindustrial Enclave,” e-flux Architecture (October 2021): www.e-flux.com/architecture/coloniality-infrastructure/411213/specters-of-eurafrica-in-an-italian-agroindustrial-enclave/. Last accessed on December 8, 2021.

9.  Fausto Carmelo Nigrelli, “I paesaggi della Riforma Agraria. Dalla storia al progetto,” in Quaderno 13. I paesaggi della riforma agraria, edited by Fausto Carmelo Nigrelli and Gabriella Bonini (Gattatico, RE: Istituto Alcide Cervi–Archivio Emilio Sereni, 2017), pp.9-23.

10. Irene Peano, “Containment, resistance, flight: Migrant labour in the agro-industrial district of Foggia, Italy” (2017) www.opendemocracy.net/en/beyond-trafficking-and-slavery/containment-resistance-flight-migrant-labour-in-agro-industrial-district-o/. Last accessed on December 1, 2021. Emilia Melossi, “‘Ghetto tomatoes’ and ‘taxi drivers’: The exploitation and control of Sub-Saharan African migrant tomato pickers in Puglia, Southern Italy,” Journal of Rural Studies (2021): 2. www.//doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud, last accessed on September 4, 2021.

11. Ibid. Archival recordings, respectively from the 16th and the 19th century, document the use of the name ‘Tre Titoli’ to designate a farm in the same area. Many thanks to Lorenzo Tomacelli and to Associazione Casa di Vittorio for proving us with this piece of information about the foundation of Borgo Tre Titoli.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., p.3. See also the studies compiled by the Federazione Lavoratori Agroindustria: https://www.flai.it/osservatoriopr/osservatorio-placido-rizzotto/, last accessed on last accessed on September 1, 2021. See also: Claudio de Martino, Marco Lozito, Daniela Schiuma, “Immigration, illegal hiring and work in agriculture,” Lavoro e diritto, Rivista trimestrale. 2 (2016), pp.313-328.

14.  For Di Vittorio’s short biography, see: Giuseppe di Vittorio. Il valore del lavoro, edited by Maurizio Landini (San Miniato,Pisa: Edizioni Clichy, 2015), pp.9-19.

15.  www.casadivittorio.it. Last accessed on June 9, 2021.

16.  Agnes van der Plaetsen, “PCI, Art et Culture en 68 “Peindre avec le people,” EUI Working Papers in History, 93/2 (Florence: European University Institute, 1993), pp.1-37.

17.www.bari.repubblica.it/cronaca/2017/11/03/foto/cerignola_ritrova_il_murale_sul_suo_giuseppe_di_ vittorio-180179449/1/.  Last accessed on August 24, 2021.

18. Conversation between the authors and Anna Santomauro (October 9, 2021).

19. Michele Pistillo, Giuseppe Di Vittorio 1944-1957: la costruzione della CGIL: la lotta per la rinascita del paese e l’unita dei lavoratori (Manduria: Laicata, 1987).

20. www.ottomilacensus.istat.it/sottotema /071/071020/13/. Last accessed on August 31, 2021.

21. These are only a few of the several enquiries pursued by journalist in recent years referring to migrant agricultural workers as modern slaves: Marina Forti, “Schiavi delle Campagne Italiane”, Internazionale, April 9, 2015, www.internazionale.it/opinione/marina-forti/2015/04/09/braccianti-italia-sud; Aryn Baker, “It Was as if We Weren’t Human.’ Inside the Modern Slave Trade Trapping African Migrants”, Time, March 14, 2019, www.time.com/longform/african-slave-trade. Last accessed August 31, 2021; Tobias Jones and Ayo Awokoya, “Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour?” The Guardian, June 20, 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/20/tomatoes-italy-mafia-migrant-labour-modern-slavery. Last accessed on August 31, 2021. For a gendered scholarly analysis of this issue, see: Giovanna Faleschini Lerner & Elena Past “Toxic fruits: tomatoes, migration, and the new Italian slavery”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 25:5 (2020), pp. 592-619. See also anthropologist Alice Bellagamba’s research on the contentious topic of modern slavery (2016), www.opendemocracy.net/en/beyond-trafficking-and-slavery/ living-in-shadows-of-slavery/. Last accessed on December 1, 2021.

22. Laura Cervi, Santiago Tejedor, and Mariana Alencar Dornelles, “When Populists Govern the Country: Strategies of Legitimization of Anti-Immigration Policies in Salvini’s Italy,” Sustainability 12, no. 23 (2020), 10225. www.doi.org/10.3390/su122310225. Last accessed on December 10, 2021.

23. www.nicoangiuli.com/blog-tre-titoli/previous/2. Last accessed on August 31, 2021.

24. These mechanisms are explored in the 2019 contribution by Tobias Jones and Ayo Awokoya referred to in The Guardian.

25. www.vesselartproject.org/en. Last accessed on June 9, 2021.

26. See, for instance, Terra Piatta, or Rural in Action.

27. Conversation between the authors and Anna Santomauro (October 9, 2021).

28. Conversation between the authors and Pape Djamil Ndiaye (August 30, 2021).

29. The association’s status changed in 2014, when the administration of Apulia region approved an experimental plan (Capo Free–Ghetto Off) to evacuate one of the widest migrant workers’ camps, the ‘Ghetto sotto Rignano’ near Foggia. The plan was to move the workers to new areas and create a network of support for migrants, to avoid further exploitation, see: www. burp.regione.puglia.it/documents/10192/4800023/DELIBERAZIONE+ DELLA+GIUNTA+REGIONALE+2+aprile+2014%2C%20n. Last accessed on September 9, 2021.

30. NGO medical units provide first aid for migrants working in agriculture. Doctors have been raising awareness of their deprived living conditions. See for instance: Claudia Marotta, Francesco Di Gennaro, Paolo Parente, Giovanni Putoto and David Mosca. 2019. “Stop the exploitation of migrant agricultural workers in Italy.” The British Medical Journal. www.blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2019/03/27/stop-theexploitation-of-migrant-agricultural-workers-in-italy/. Last accessed on August 24, 2021.

31. Accents are not used in Italian orthography. In this case, we used it to underline the different pronunciation of the two words.

32. Translated by the author. Gianni Rodari in Paese Sera, November 3, 1977.

33. Conversation between Elisabetta and Nico Angiuli (October 29, 2019).

34. For a specific dissertation on these lines of inquiry see: Mapping the Terrain. New Genre Public Art , edited by Suzanne Lacy(Seattle and Washington: Bay Press, 1995). The text came from a program called “City Sites: Artists and Urban Strategies” sponsored in 1989 by the California College of Arts and Crafts.

35. Art interventions such those curated by Enrico Crispolti during the 1970s, especially Volterra 73 and Gubbio 76, reflected upon the very concept of political autonomy since at that time the system of political decentralization through the political bodies known as Regioni (the Italian political and administrative districts), was instituted. Several projects emerged in Italy through the Italian Pavilion Ambiente come Sociale at the Venice Biennale, 1976, curated by Enrico Crispolti and Raffaele De Grada. See: Martina Tanga, “Flipping the Exhibition Inside Out: Enrico Crispolti’s Show Ambiente come Sociale at the 1976 Venice Biennale,” OBOE Journal I, no. 1 (2020), pp.62-77. See also: Elisabetta Rattalino, “’Sono rimasta sorpresa: nella piazza ho notato un albero fiorito’. Notes on Mirella Bentivoglio’s Participation in Gubbio ’76,” PalinsestiContemporary Italian Art online (2021), Martina Tanga, Arte Ambientale, Urban Space, and Participatory Art (New York London: Routledge, 2019).

36. The conceptual framework for Italian public art can be traced back to the so-called 2% law (1949). Drawing on artists’ assemblies held during the Fascist period (such as, for instance, the “Convegno di Arti: rapporti dell’ architettura con le arti figurative” 1936), from this post-war law essentially aims at the creation of works of art for the embellishment of public buildings, as 2% of the total costs of a newly built or restored construction could be invested in the production of art works. See: Paolo Nicoloso, Mussolini Architetto. Propaganda e paesaggio urbano nell’Italia fascista, (Turin: Einaudi, 2011). This often means that the work of art does not question the space where it is inserted because it is created as its own completion. Even when in 2006, the Mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni presented the resolution “Promozione dellArte nella realizzazione di opere pubbliche nei programmi urbanistici attuativi” which extends the application of the law to all public works of new construction, architectural redevelopment, and urban planning. See: Alessandra Pioselli, L’arte nello spazio urbano. L’esperienza italiana dal 1968 a oggi, (Milan: Johan&Levi, 2015).

37. Emanuele Rinaldo Meschini “Comunità e urbanistica nelle pratiche artistiche italiane degli anni Novanta. Verso un superamento dell’arte pubblica”, La Diana, Rivista semestrale della Scuola di Specializzazione in Beni Storico Artistici dell’Università degli studi di Siena, no.1, (2021), pp. 67-91.

38. Lacy, Mapping the Terrain, pp.19-46.

39. Maria Teresa Miccoli and Anna Pucci, Dati statistici sull’immigrazione in Italia dal 2008 al 2013 e aggiornamento, (Rome: Ufficio Centrale di Statistica, 2014), pp.3-4.

40. Pioselli, L’arte nello spazio urbano, pp. 131-146.

41. For further details about Les Nouveaux Commanditaires programme, see: www.nouveauxcommanditaires.eu/en/hom. For the Italian version of the program see: www.fondazioneadrianolivetti.it/nuovi-committenti-italia/. Last accessed on February 9, 2021.

42. www.atitolo.it/. Last accessed on June 9, 2021.

43. For research about non-stereotyped neighborhoods, see Giovanni Laino’s work in the stigmatized neighborhood Quartieri Spagnoli of Naples.  Quartieri Spagnoli. Note da quarant’anni di lavoro dell’associazione, edited by Giovanni Laino(Naples: Cavalcavia, 2018).

44. In the 1990s, the Italian collective, Stalker, defined as “territori attuali” (current territories) places where something happens, where someone makes something happen, where something makes someone happen. Territori attuali are places where passive public space merges with an active community. www.osservatorionomade.net/tarkowsky/manifesto /manifest.html. Last accessed on September 2, 2021.

45. For an overview of the prize awards, see the dedicated page at: https://www.connectingcultures.it/arte-patrimonio-diritti-umani. For a further analysis of the prize see also: Meschini, Comunità, Spazio, Monumento, pp.247-277.

46. Each bursary amounted to 5,000€.

47. Arte, Patrimonio, Diritti Umani. Riflessioni e indagini sul diritto alla cittadinanza culturale, edited by Connective Cultures (Milan: Prinp, 2013).

48. Connecting Cultures, Arte, Patrimonio, Diritti Umani, pp.88-92.

49. For further details see: Nasho Jorgaqi, Lontano e Vicino. Viaggio tra gli Albanesi d’Italia (Cosenza: Pellegrini Ed., 1991).

50. Connecting Cultures, Arte, Patrimonio, Diritti Umani, pp.130-137.

51. The DGAAP was founded in 2014. In charge of everything related to the contemporary, including, for the first time, the regeneration and re-qualification of urban peripheries as the remit of the Ministry of Culture. Since 2019, the functions of the DGAAP have been integrated into the DGCC–Direzione Generale Creatività Contemporanea, the General Direction of Contemporary Creativity.

52. See the text of the second prize award in which one of the main goals is to highlight the role of empowerment in the policy of cultural inclusion. Connecting Cultures, Arte, Patrimonio, Diritti Umani, pp. 93-95.

53. Grant H. Kester, “Aesthetic Evangelists: Conversion and Empowerment in Contemporary Community Art,” Afterimage vol. 22, no.7-8 (1995), pp.5-11.

54. Lorenza Dallago, Che cos’è l’empowerment (Rome: Carocci, 2006); Giuseppe Aymerich, Aspetti emergenti nella progettazione organizzativa: prospettive ed illusioni dell’empowerment (Università degli Studi di Cagliari, 2001-2002).

55. This was specifically the case of the intrusion of Rockefeller Foundation into the project created by Inigo Manglano Ovalle, for Culture in Action (Chicago,1993) along with the youngster of the West Chicago area. For further details see: Inigo Manglano Ovalle interviewed by Rebecca Zorach, Simply Agreeing to Appear Together. A Conversation about Street-Level Video, Art Against the Law, edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller, Chicago Social Practice History Series (Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 2014), pp.145-152.