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‘Anti-Zionist Naples’: Award-Winning Italian Artist Speaks About Palestine And Why He Quit Photojournalism


On April 1, a mural appeared in the Southern Italian city
of Naples, depicting Palestinian workers lining at an
Israeli military checkpoint near the occupied city of
Bethlehem, in the West Bank. It is called ‘Welcome to
Bethlehem’.

The
mural, which quickly became popular in the town and on
social media, was the work of a well-known Italian artist
and photographer, Eduardo
Castaldo
.

Castaldo, who is a cinematic and
television photographer, is not your typical artist, as he
dedicates part of his time and efforts to championing
struggles for human rights, equality and justice, especially
in Palestine and throughout the Middle East.

It is
only befitting that Castaldo is from Naples, a Southern
Italian city with deep historical and cultural connections
with Palestine and the Arab world. As Italian culture had
itself influenced the Arab world, numerous markers of Arab
culture can also be detected in Naples, from the Neapolitan
dialect to music and dance, to food and much
more.

Moreover, Naples itself is a symbol of the
Italian resistance. The September 1943 uprising,
known as “Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli” – Four Days of
Naples – was a watershed moment in the history of the city
as it liberated itself from Nazi German
occupation.

Castaldo’s mural of the Palestinian
workers is not his only work on Palestine and the Middle
East. He has done other artistic displays. Moreover, he has
spent years in Palestine working as a
photojournalist.

We spoke to the Italian artist to
understand his connection with Palestine and the Arab world,
his inspirations and his ongoing fight against injustice in
all of its forms.

Capturing the
Occupation

This work originated from my
experience as a photo reporter in the Middle East,
Castaldo said in reference to ‘Welcome to
Bethlehem’.

Castaldo worked as a photojournalist in
Palestine for about four years, from 2007-2011. These years
allowed him to immerse himself in the Palestinian experience
and to “directly witness the cruel dynamics of Israeli
military occupation.”

“I visited the Bethlehem
checkpoint several times, where I took many photos. My
street artwork is a collage of photos that I took at the
time,” he tells us.

“That was a particularly
harrowing experience,” Castaldo reflects:

“I was
standing outside the checkpoint bars, taking pictures of
Palestinian workers between ages 30 and 60, even 70, piled
on top of one another for hours to cross the checkpoint and
reach Jerusalem to work. These people repeated this same
routine every day, from as early as 4 AM to 8 AM. And every
day, they were forced by circumstances to suffer that same
dehumanizing experience, simply to earn meager amounts of
money (to feed their families).”

Castaldo felt
“uncomfortable being a Western photojournalist, outside of
the bars, taking pictures” of entrapped Palestinian
workers. He explains the reasons behind his
uneasiness:

“These people were already deprived of
their dignity and I didn’t feel I had the right to take
photos of them as if they were animals in a zoo. This
feeling was so unpleasant that I decided not to show or
sell those pictures to
newspapers.”

But that feeling didn’t depart
Castaldo’s conscience; in fact, it grew “stronger and
stronger” to the point that Castaldo quit photojournalism
altogether. Needless to say, those experiences in Palestine
were imprinted in Castaldo’s mind until this
day.

“After several years, around 2018, I decided to
re-elaborate these photos and I turned them into something
else entirely,” he says, explaining:

“I put
together 40-50 images in one single image, which won
several awards, including the Sony World Photography Awards
in 2018. Feeling the need to convey Palestinians’ painful
experiences to the world, I transformed that picture into a
street artwork. As an artist, that was my way to narrate
that experience: both my feeling of discomfort and the
humiliation and abuse that Palestinians were forced to
suffer.”

From Naples to Palestine

The
Bethlehem mural is not the only street artwork that Castaldo
dedicated to Palestine. In Via San Giovanni a Pignatelli,
also in Naples, there is another breathtaking mural of a
Neapolitan woman dumping a bucket of water at two Israeli
soldiers who are trying to climb the wall.

Castaldo
says that this work is, too, a “reconstruction of a photo
taken during an Israeli military operation in
Palestine”.

“The act of throwing water is quite
common in Naples, especially by women who want to scare away
kids when they are too loud in the street,” he says. “By
associating this typical reaction with Israeli soldiers I
tried to epitomize Naples’ solidarity with the Palestinian
people. In my mind, that gesture became a symbol of
anti-Zionist Naples.”

But Castaldo’s Palestinian
inspiration exceeds that of the geographic boundaries of
Palestine to Italy itself. “Subsequently, I decided to add
an element to the Palestinian flag,” which is present in
the mural, namely a portrait of Ali
Oraney
, a Palestinian-Italian activist who has been
living in Naples since the early 1980s and died from
Covid-19 some months ago.

“Ali played an important
role in carrying out the struggle of the Palestinian people
in Naples. He has been one of the key figures for the
pro-Palestine activism in Naples and, more generally, in
Italy and that is a tribute from my town to the Palestinian
people and Ali.”

Human Connection

Like other
artists, journalists and other visitors to Palestine, the
human connection, for Castaldo, was far more powerful a
rapport than books and news broadcasts. Spending time with
Palestinians is usually the best answer to the
dehumanization they suffer at the hand of mainstream
media.

“Living in Palestine and the Arab world
allowed me to create a strong bond with ordinary people
living there, with their experiences, and with their daily
struggles,” he says.

“I have made friends with
many people there and I had the chance to experience some of
these things firsthand, as a journalist and a human being.
This is essentially what created my bond with the
Palestinian people.”

Art and Change

We asked
Castaldo whether he believes that art is capable of altering
reality in any way.

As an artist “I have no illusion
that my art can change things on the ground,” he says.
“However, it is a way to offer my skills to what I
perceive as important. It has undoubtedly a personal value
to me. And I believe the political value of my artworks is
intrinsically linked to the places in which they are set.”
Castaldo’s “ultimate goal is to connect the city of
Naples, where I live, to this cause.”

On art,
politics, and freedom, the accomplished Italian artist
says:

“I am perfectly aware that my art will not
change such a dramatic political situation or have a key
role, but I also think it can contribute because art is
freedom. And, to me, it is important to point out that this
freedom is not neutral, it has to stand on one side, on the
right side.”

Beyond Palestine

Castaldo’s
morally motivated and politically conscious artwork spans
other areas and subjects beyond Palestine, although, at
their core, all of these issues are
connected.

Castaldo, who also worked as a
photojournalist during the Egyptian
revolution
, dedicated another mural to Giulio Regeni, a
young Italian scholar who was murdered
in Egypt, presumably by Egyptian security
forces.

“The
mural was not only dedicated to Giulio Regeni, but to the
Egyptian situation as a whole, because Regeni was part of
it. Moreover, my ultimate goal was not only to denounce the
single violation against Regeni but the repressive system in
Egypt in its entirety.”

Castaldo
is particularly happy that his artwork is very popular in
the Middle East, where he continues to receive much support
and accolades from the people and fellow artists in the
region.

“Thanks to social media, my works are more
popular in the Middle East than in Europe. And I have to say
that their positive reactions, their support, and their
solidarity make me proud,” he says.

Castaldo is not
a typical artist. Ethics and morality play a crucial role in
everything he does. He takes his inspiration from the
people, and whenever possible, he exhibits his work also to
the people. He feeds on the love and support he acquires
from ordinary people, whether in Palestine or in
Naples.

This artist of the people is on a mission to
convey the kind of pain, suffering, and indignity that proud
people often undergo in isolation. His art also tells the
story of pride, beauty, and hope for a brighter
future.

– Romana Rubeo is an Italian writer and the
managing editor of The Palestine Chronicle. Her articles
appeared in many online newspapers and academic journals.
She holds a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and
Literature and specializes in audio-visual and journalism
translation.

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist
and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author
of five books. His latest is “
These
Chains Will Be Broken
: Palestinian Stories of
Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press).
Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the
Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the
Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is
www.ramzybaroud.net

© Scoop Media

 



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