Anita Ekberg stands 10 meters tall along the banks of the river Tiber. In this interpretation of the iconic scene from La Dolce Vita, she isn’t cavorting in the Trevi Fountain but standing in a bathtub. Further down the river, Daphne spurns the advances of Apollo, metamorphosing into a laurel tree as her only method of escape in this mythological tale.
The death of the famous film director Pier Paolo Pasolini is juxtaposed against the grand she-wolf; the definitive symbol of Rome’s creation and glory. Triumphs and Laments, the title of this artwork, features both the good and the bad of Rome’s 3000-year history.
The project is the work of South African artist William Kentridge. Known for his creations across varying disciplines, including drawing, prints, film, and sculpture; Kentridge has turned his versatility to the banks of the river Tiber in his largest project to date.
Unlike a traditional mural, Triumphs and Laments isn’t created by the addition of paint or pigment but by subtraction. High-pressure jets were used to wash away selected areas of pollution, mold, and grime that had built up on the surface of the walls. The result is an artwork that, in comparison to the city’s long history, is fleeting. In 5-10 years time the clean surface of Travertine stone will have again been covered by dirt and weathering and the artwork faded away – consigned to the history books like the characters represented within it.
Up close this 500-meter long mural blends with its surroundings; graffiti tags left behind are visible in the silhouettes of the characters portrayed and daisies grow between cracks in the stone, pushing themselves towards the sunlight.
Craning your neck upwards and viewing from down at water level really gives you an idea of the scale of the project. Climb the steps to the east side of the river however, and you’ll get a view of the design as a whole. The characters stretch out across the riverbank in an unwinding chronicle of Roman events, old and new.
This monumental mural was made possible with the support of Tevereterno, a social organization dedicated to revitalizing Rome’s waterfront. Whilst taking a stroll along the river can be a pleasure, there’s no doubt some stretches of it are a little neglected. And in comparison to the wealth of activity that takes place on the rivers of other capital cities, Rome comes up short.
As a result, it’s promising to see Tevereterno take the lead on improving this previously overlooked space. Their Kickstarter campaign raised $95,000 of private funding to complete this public artwork.
Again in the spirit of community, Triumphs and Laments officially opened on 21 April with a free public theatrical show created in collaboration with composer Philip Miller. Timed to coincide with Natale di Roma, Rome’s birthday, audiences enjoyed two processions: one representing the triumphs of Rome, another representing the laments.
Italian and South African musicians marched in front of the frieze, chanting, drumming and singing as they went. More than 100 musicians and extras helped to present a live shadow play, creating giant silhouettes of the characters seen in the artwork itself.
Tevereterno was founded upon the belief that art can be a powerful catalyst for urban transformation. Now, on the part of the river Tiber that stretches from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Mazzini, you can see an example of this renewal in action. Not only do passers-by stop to take photos of this grand public artwork, but they also take the stairs down to the riverbank and use a space previously only frequented by cyclists and runners. Heading to the river and joining these spectators in examining this special interpretation of Roman history is, to put it simply, a must-do.