Our history is largely made up of conflicts over territories and borders, and of separations; and separating – as it is well known – is a task for walls. Erected, perhaps even destroyed and rebuilt from scratch, each wall has marked not only a place or a frontier, surrounding the community living within, but also an era. Thucydides spoke of the Long Walls of Athens, we ourselves have witnessed the Berlin Wall, and have looked on as tensions grew on the borders separating Palestine and Israel, and the United States and Mexico. For some weeks now we have even seen a wall surrounding the White House in Washington. However, there are also those who through – literally “through” – the same wall on the border between the United States and Mexico has built swings with the hopes of connecting and possibly briefly reuniting those on one side with those on the other (the “Teeter-Totter Wall” installation). Then there are walls that , unlike the previous examples, are able to bring people together: walls covered with art and words, not dissimilar from those left behind by primitive men. Among these, there are the walls of a cultural association known as La Biddina.

In the town of Grotte in Agrigento, officially since 2017, La Biddina has begun to discreetly discuss art, or rather to speak through it, using anonymous walls and consecrating them to carte blanche for artists. Today, those walls have since come to life and they shout out new messages with the images that cover them. Through their efforts, the association has given – or rather given back – art its space in the plot of a complex and often controversial social fabric, using urban spaces and fighting for their regeneration. But let’s start from the beginning.

The birth: do we really start from “zero”?

Yes, we start from zero. A cultural association exists as such only from the moment it is officially registered with the Revenue Agency. The act guarantees the newborn association the protection of their name and plans. From here, the life of the association begins.

However, in order to start, if one really wants to start – if one really believes that their actions could affect at least a small part of the world, and that with them a new window could be opened, effectively revealing and rediscovering something that had been forgotten or hidden – they have to be ready. Speaking with the founders of La Biddina, I’ve come to understand that before becoming able to establish their association it was necessary to have developed a precise and preliminary consciousness: the realisation  that it’s essential to make people talk (and scream, if necessary) about art, about the place that it was about to lose in our lives and in our cities. Perhaps, therefore, we are not really starting from scratch.

I listen to the founders and understand more. The official establishment of an association is only the final step in a path that had already started a long time ago: the authentication obtained by the Revenue Agency ultimately consists of  the drafting of a deed of incorporation and the registration of a statute attesting the legal existence of the association. However, authentication does not mean self-identification. The latter would have been conceived much earlier, ever since the aspiring founding members choose to work together to find the means and methods to achieve –  in the name of a precise ideal – what they believe would be a socially and culturally useful purpose. Before the project takes concrete form in an associative body recognized and protected by the law, a path of growth and development – which must initially take place in the consciousness of the initiators – is necessary. It is essential, therefore, to be willing to believe in the path and the ideals and, if necessary, to lose yourself in it. On the basis of these (and only these) conditions, the group of members can officially give itself a name and define itself as a “cultural association” before the law. This awareness, this self-identification, is extremely useful because, as they tell me, in a cultural association that fights for the revaluation of the territory through art, it is necessary to know each other’s history, heritage, and identity, before transmitting them to others. It is therefore useful, they continue, “to tell ourselves about ourselves in order to then tell others”. With art walls, La Biddina talks about the territory and gives new vigour to a local cultural heritage at risk of being forgotten, putting it back into the hands of artists.

“La Biddina makes walls” (but not only)

Artists are called to paint a wall and each wall then becomes the narrator of a story. One of these stories is that of the project “Transumanze”, which welcomed the muralist Gutan, or Ruce, with the videomaker Giniusa, with the aim of drawing attention to the cultural consequences of the micro-migrations from small towns to large cities. The association hosted the two artists who used the town’s disused walls to discuss a process of depopulation that caused a loss of traditions and history, and that favoured an overall impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the small town. Opposing the phenomenon they were exploring, the works of art of these two artists have made it possible for the surrounding abandoned urban spaces to be repopulated and have their identity re-evaluated, giving them the chance to live again as city landmarks.

Gutan, Matriline. Social Weaving, 2019. Murals, Caves (AG).
Ruce, Pinseru, 2019. Murals, Caves (AG).

Other walls, those on which the guest artist Poki – creator of the project “Systema Naturae”, named after Carlo Linneo’s homonymous work – has worked, tell another story. In collaboration with the botanical garden of Catania and the “Avaja” territorial design recreation club, Poki carried out a preliminary study on the local flora and fauna, and then set up gardens in which native species could flourish, and then represented them on the wall, essentially transforming it in a “botanical encyclopedia”. Additionally, the artist also installed in the wall some artificial nests, suitable to host escaping ornithological species, with the aim of preserving the local natural heritage and the distinctive characteristics of the area.

Poki (untitled), 2019. Murals, Caves (AG).

The principle underlying each of these actions is to restore value to a patrimony that undergoes a progressive devaluation and that risks the indifference of those who dispose of it, an almost involuntary concealment at a time when the arts, stories or literatures that characterize our identity are attributed an ever diminishing weight. Although aware that “it takes a lot of courage to build the present”, La Biddina has chosen to act, using urban art to regenerate the territory. In doing so, rethinking the role of the arts, stories and literature becomes a commitment that a cultural association can take on to improve everyone’s present. It becomes a commitment to look for that workplace for the Humanities, and a wall that history teaches us may not be just a wall.

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