Fabio Mauri – A Fighter Against Fascism
An Interview With His Brother - Achille Mauri
“When he was 14 years old, right after the war, Fabio put his painter coat on the body of Pippo, our pig killed by partisans. We were very attached to Pippo as we used to play blindman’s bluff with him. The pig’s body got dirty with the oil of colors. The partisans got nervous and our mother blamed Fabio. He replied: “You don’t know who I am!”. My mother called me and my brothers saying: ‘Ornella, Silvana, Luciano, Achille, come here, so Fabio will tell us who he is!’. Fabio took his coat from the pig, came to us and said: ’Perhaps the first modern art work was the sacred shroud. I am an artist, I want to show the horror’. My mother agreed”.
This was the turning point, when Fabio Mauri (1926-2009) decided to be an artist, tells me his brother, Achille Mauri. It is this theme that surfaced and re-surfaced throughout his life-long career, and we now commemorate ten years to his passing. The interview took place as part of my curatorial residency at the Fabio Mauri Studio in Rome, which remains an active working studio promoting the exhibition of Mauri’s work, its preservation and research, with the support of international gallery Hauser & Wirth.
Achille Mauri, Fabio’s younger brother, accompanied him in his artistic path and has acquired a respectable place in Italian culture in his own right. Achille Mauri is head the publishing group Messaggerie Italiane, and among other things, was responsible for publishing artists’ books of his brother Fabio and many other artists such as Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Julio Le Park. Since 2009 he directs the Studio Fabio Mauri in collaboration with his brother's assistants and pupils.
In his youth, Fabio Mauri experienced a painful disillusioning from the Fascist regime he was taught to admire, entailing eight years of care in psychiatric facilities. His profound shock at the atrocities of the Holocaust and its implications, are evident in throughout his artistic career. Fabio Mauri is a unique persona in the art world, and although he has exhibited several times in the Venice Biennale and in Documenta, he has not become a house hold name. A conversation with his brother Achille sheds some light on Mauri's work from a personal perspective.
Shlomit Oren: In a sense, Fabio regretted being a fascist in his youth. Can you identify with that?
Achille Mauri: The Mauri family has never been fascist. We have never had nothing to do with fascists. We hosted and hid Jew friends and we were victim of the fascist censure in our job.
When Fabio found out what happened to our Jew friends (they were not growing potatoes for the German’s army, they were lying down themselves on the ground) he had a deep crisis against everybody as we were all a silent majority. That’s exactly what’s happening today with the many atrocities in the world.
Shlomit Oren: In light of Fabio Mauri’s legacy, do you feel there are still Fascist elements nowadays?
Achille Mauri: Fascism is alive in Italy, Europe and all over the world. It’s called populism. We are all part of a silent and weak majority; we are day by day forced to get used to the ineffable. We see people drowning.
Shlomit Oren: After he found out about the horrors of the Nazis, Fabio sought the consult of the church and even thought of joining the clergy. Why do you think he chose this path? Many others that were faced with the holocaust forsaken all religious belief.
Achille Mauri: Fabio never addressed the church, he addressed God directly. He escaped from the world for two years of complete silence. 38 electroshocks were necessary to break the silence, as well as years of religious therapy. To be honest, he has been kicked out many times from convents by priests who couldn’t bear his insanity and self-harm. He used to sleep with wet blanket and constantly had serious lung issues. From convents he was moved to mental hospitals and behaved as a preacher: with his long blond hair, beard, blue eyes and white coat, sitting on his room’s bed with more than 80 mad men listening to him, he looked like Jesus.
Shlomit Oren: Fabio wrote that he felt himself Jewish. How do you feel about that?
Achille Mauri: First, maybe we are, as our grandmother’s surname was Andreoni and our grandfather Achille Mauri was living in the Jew ghetto in Rome. Second: once we went to a Masai camp in Africa with our family. It was full of incredibly tall and thin people, all with 27 cm necks. We came to a hotel in Abidjan where a Masai model, very elegant, was sitting in front of an American. My sister Silvana, who was very short, slipped between them and looking at the model claimed: “You Masai, me too!”. This identifying with the others and loving the different has always been typical of all the Mauri brothers.
Mauri has never exhibited in Israel although many of his artworks are dealing with issues of Jewish experience and identity. One of them, which Achille deems as his most important work is Il Muro Occidentale o del Pianto (the “Wailing wall”), a 4-metre long wall made of leather and wooden suitcases of different dimensions which represent world’s division, exile, escape and forced exodus. The suitcases of Il Muro Occidentale o del Pianto are the luggage of immigrants and emigrants. Another work, “La Resa” (The Surrender) of 2002 is an installation of tubes with a white flag on top, to suggest peace between Israel and Palestine through surrender.
Although his work was exhibited in MoMA Ney York, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Documenta at Kassel and the Venice Biennial, Fabio Mauri remained and outsider in a sense. His brother feels it is because never followed market trends and did not fully realize the commercial potential of his artworks. Moreover, the Italian language is integral to many of Fabio’s works, which makes it more challenging to present them in an international arena. These days the Fabio Mauri Association is working diligently to fix that and the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné will be in English.
Shlomit Oren: Was he criticized for his family's wealth by other artists? How did he react to such criticism?
Achille Mauri: I think that Fabio was criticized because he had enough financial resources to produce a lot. He had many assistants and a small foundation, as all his assistants were artists. He did a lot of performances like Gran Serata Futurista (A Futurist Grand Soirée), Che cos’è il Fascismo (What Fascism is), the comedy L’Isola (The Island), and many others. He wrote and directed the magazine “Almanacco letterario” with Umberto Eco, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia. At the age of 14, during the war, he created “Il Setaccio” with Pier Paolo Pasolini. Of course Fabio was not the archetypal poor and suffering artist, that’s why it was easy to blame him.
He never followed market trends in the production of his potentially most commercial works like the Screens, which could be more successful abroad. He was always changing topic switching to new projects, generating new ideas. He started producing screens in 1957 when the Pop Art was unknown in Italy. The screens are one of the first Pop artworks in the world, of course the first in Italy (where international Pop Art was presented in 1964 for the first time). In the early 60s he projected “L’Isola” (The Island), a comedy whose set, costumes and structure clearly refer to the use of comic books as new popular code. These are examples of the strong international and pioneering character of Fabio’s art.