Setback for Kentridge mural in Rome

Two thirds of Rome residents in favour of project

The grand-scale mural project along the banks of the Tevere by internationally acclaimed South African artist William Kentridge has been stalled by a regional office of the Italian culture ministry.

A representative from the non-profit organisation Tevereterno, which is promoting the project, confirmed to Wanted in Rome that the obstacle comes from within the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Lazio, an office which is directly dependent on Italy's culture ministry, and not connected with the Regione Lazio.

Architect Tom Rankin of Tevereterno confirmed that the project, which is Kentridge's largest artistic undertaking to date, has the full support of the capital and the region of Lazio as well as the verbal support of Italy's culture minister Massimo Bray.

The 550-m long frieze is proposed for the Tiber's embankments between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini, a site named "Piazza Tevere" by Tevereterno. Entitled Triumphs and Laments, the project will explore the city's "sorrows and jubilations from mythological time to present", with more than 90 figures each measuring up to nine metres.

Rankin said that Tevereterno has repeatedly requested meetings with the office of the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Lazio to explain the project better, "especially the fact that it is temporary and involves removing dirt, not adding any substance, but we have to date not received a positive reply." Tevereterno has now expressed concerns that bureaucracy may impede the project from keeping to its planned September schedule.

The project has the support of Rome's MAXXI (Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo) as well as the capital's US and South African embassies. It is funded by private donations and is not reliant on any financial support from the city.

The process involves washing the embankment walls to form a reverse silhouette procession which will be visible from the banks of the river as well as the streets above. The organisation says the process is fully compliant with governmental regulations for the protection of historical monuments, and leaves no permanent trace.

Speaking to Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero, architect Luca Zevi of Tevereterno said "We have received support from everyone, from the Campidoglio to the [Italian cultural] ministry. If the project were to fall through, the damage would be for the entire city to lose an artist of the calibre of Kentridge."

On 9 January Il Messaggero published the results of its online survey asking readers for their views on the project: almost 67 per cent said they were in favour, with just under a third against the idea.

In 2012 Tevereterno began site tests for the project which is due to continue into 2015 with a series of live, multi-disciplinary, public performances created against the backdrop of the frieze.

Kentridge is already known to Rome audiences for his installation Refusal of Time at the MAXXI last year; and the performance Refuse the Hour for the Romaeuropa festival at Teatro Argentina last November.

Founded in 2004, Tevereterno is led by artists, architects and planners working in parallel with the city to reanimate the Tiber with cultural events. Since 2005 it has overseen public programmes along the banks of the river by acclaimed international artists such as Jenny Holzer, Steve Reich, Kiki Smith, Roberto Catani and Walter Branchi.

In 2011 the organisation was recognised within UNESCO’s Management Plan for the City of Rome as an exemplary pilot-project.