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Fabio Mauri

October 1971, Venice. Fabio Mauri (1926 - 2009) presents for the first time a performance destined to go down in history as one of his major works: Ebrea. Realised for a solo show of the artist curated by Furio Colombo and Renato Barilli at Galleria Barozzi (Venice), Ebrea is a radical performance in which the element of evil is investigated in its continuity and, for the first time, in its legacy.

The performance takes place within an installation made of a series of objects taken from everyday life: utensils, furnishing accessories, soaps, skis, horse trim that Mauri produced by immersing himself in the terrible Nazi industry that used human parts of Jewish deportees. Like horrific vestiges, the various artefacts become materialisations of evil. In this evocative setting, a girl enters the scene, without clothes and with a Star of David drawn on her chest. Looking in the mirror, the girl cuts off a few strands of her own hair, then slowly attaches them to the mirror to form a second Star of David. 

The explicit reference to the tragedy of the Holocaust and the memory of the Nazi concentration camps is an important starting point for a calibrated and broader reflection. Mauri in fact intends to investigate racism as a universal phenomenon, taking as the supreme example the anti-Semitism that reached its peak in the 1940s. The artist, an adolescent during this dramatic period, could not help but be marked by it. But the one against the Jewish community is only one of the many faces of a discrimination that changes form but remains essentially the same. It is in this sense that Fabio Mauri finds in every type of racism the same matrix as the Nazi one, whose roots never cease to nourish ever new shoots.

'I feel Jewish whenever I can and suffer unjust discrimination'. This is how the artist, despite not being Jewish or the son of Jews, recounts his closeness to a people that has become, in spite of itself, a symbol of the consequences of hatred. Mauri takes on the perspective of someone who, looking in the mirror, is forced to observe the unreasonable reasons for his own discrimination on a daily basis; and this is how he reflects and is reflected by the Jewish girl, with the symbol of her people that has been transformed from a banner of pride into a mark of shame. 

The exhibition "Fabio Mauri. Opere dall'Apocalisse", realised by Viasaterna in collaboration with Studio Fabio Mauri and Hauser & Wirth, presents a photograph of the original 1971 performance, taken by Elisabetta Catalano, the artist's long-time work and life companion. The strong contrast of black and white, as well as the silhouette of the girl silhouetted in the void, give this photograph a unique and fundamental pathos and drama. Exhibition curator Francesca Alfano Miglietti writes: "The author of a highly personal, lifelong investigation into the insidious logic of art, ideology and totalitarianism, Mauri explores history by filtering it through the lens of the private sphere". And again: 'Mauri never backs down, but stands between the folds of a line that silently touches the forbidden, the forbidden'.

Fifty years have now passed since the first production of Ebrea, and yet it is still topical: racism and, more generally, discrimination are extremely vivid themes in our society and, unfortunately, still instrumentalised for political and propaganda purposes. Herein lies the greatness of an artist and the effectiveness of a work of art: in the ability to simultaneously investigate the past, the present and the future.

Alberto Villa

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