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THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF ART- PORTRAITS

United Nations Visitors Lobby, New York. June 2015

(double click on a thumb to enlarge it)

Fabrizio Ruggiero’s 16 large portraits combine the ancient fresco technique with contemporary technology and depict thinkers and artistes from all continents who contributed to the common good of humanity and stood up for the most vulnerable.

(double click on a thumb to enlarge it)

 

Audrey Hepburn (UK)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Her memorable lead role in Roman Holiday won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award in 1953. She was the first actress to be so widely honored for a single performance.  She will always be remembered for her brilliant transformation from the humble street-florist, Eliza Doolittle, to the gorgeously arresting “My Fair Lady”. 

Later, she put her luminous charisma and compassionate heart at the service of UNICEF, becoming its Goodwill Ambassador, and traveling to the most disadvantaged places in Africa, Asia and South America. By acting on the ground with the most vulnerable, she became the face of many UNICEF campaigns, and a key figure in building awareness in the UN humanitarian projects in conflict zones across the globe. Her distinguished and gracious example inspired many other stars to become Goodwill Ambassadors and walk in her evolved and transformative foot steps. 
 
One month before she passed away in January 1993, the unforgettable “Fair Lady” was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her humanitarian work.

Edgar Morin (France)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 
Philosopher and sociologist, he is recognized as one of the most important planetary thinkers of our time. Having been profoundly affected by the waves of ambivalence and human barbarism of the European experience of the 20th century, he created a large body of work focused on the complex tapestry of reality, in which all disciplines of knowledge are interwoven and connected.  His vision of “complexity” observes the singular and places it within the whole. It exemplifies his life-long concern of developing a method that can meet the challenge of our complex world and reform thinking so that fundamental global problems can be confronted. His seminal opus - the six volumes of The Method (1977-2004)—has been translated worldwide.    

Founder of the Paris-based International Center for Complex Thought, he has received honorary doctorates from thirty different universities in subjects ranging from sociology to political science and psychology.  He holds a UNESCO Itinerant Chair. His vision can be summed up in his words, “the treasure of human unity is human diversity and the treasure of human diversity is human unity”.

Fatemeh Motamed-Arya (Iran)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 
Regarded as one of the greats of post-revolutionary Iranian cinema, “Simin” started her theatrical career as a teenager.  She has collected many awards at home and abroad with ten nominations for Best Actress at the International Festival of Fajr in Tehran, and five prestigious crystal Simorgh prizes. 

She is beloved across the Persian-speaking world because of the socially conscious roles that she plays in her many films which include The Blue Veiled and Gilane by Rakshan Bani Etemad,  and Nasereddin Shah by the Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

In her career, she has appeared in over fifty films, as well as documentaries, and is one of the most committed personalities on her country’s cultural scene, also as an ambassador for many charities.
 
In Paris, she was awarded the 2012 Prix de Henri-Langlois.  At the ceremony, she said, “Tonight we have a common reason for being together. Without thinking about our homeland or mother tongue, we share peace and beauty and take our portion. Cinema taught us love, kindness and sharing of this life. To remember that despite our language, color and religion we love each other as human beings”.  In 2015, she again won the best actress award at Fajr Festival for her portrayal in Nabat.

Gong Li (China)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

With her haunting beauty and iron-willed film presence, Gong Li is credited with helping to bring Chinese cinema to the world. Through her strong female roles—Raise the Red Lantern, Memoirs of a Geisha, Ju Dou, etc.—she has challenged an obstinate male dominated society, showing that tenacious women are a vital part of China’s future. 

For well over ten years she has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The cause of ending hunger is close to her heart and she tirelessly travels to the field to meet farmers benefiting from FAO’s work. Recently, she also collaborated with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as a Global Environmental Ambassador in the global campaign to reduce carbon monoxide emissions abusive to the environment. 

Joan Baez (USA)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Joan Baez remains a groundbreaking musical force whose influence is legendary-- marching on the front line with Martin Luther King Jr., inspiring Vaclav Havel in his fight for a Czech Republic, singing on the first Amnesty International tour and standing alongside Nelson Mandela on his 90th birthday. She brought the Free Speech Movement into the spotlight, organized resistance to the war in Vietnam, then forty years later saluted the Dixie Chicks for their courage to protest America’s war in Iraq. 

In the summer of 1959, her eighteen-year old nightingale voice mesmerized the audience for the first time at the Newport Folk festival. A few years later, she introduced Bob Dylan to the world. TIME magazine crowned her "Queen of the Folk Singers." Her haunting arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads of longing and regret, mixed with an eclectic blend of Bahamian, Yiddish, and Mexican tunes set the tone for many of the first-person narratives and dialogues she selected that highlighted authenticity over sentimentality, envisioning the freedom struggles she later would join.

In 2010, she received the prestigious Order of Arts and Letters from Spain in recognition of “a trajectory governed by the artistic and personal commitment in favor of individual rights and civil and political liberties.” In May 2015, she was awarded the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate in history, having received it at only 16 years old in 2013. As soon as she could write at 11 years old, she started an anonymous blog expressing her preoccupation about the Taliban’s increasing control of her native Swat valley, where they prevented girls from going to school. Her popular activism brought a death warrant against her that ended in an attempt on her life.  She was severely wounded but miraculously survived only to return to activism with increased determination. 

She spoke at the UN headquarters in 2013 and called for worldwide access to education and TIME magazine featured her as one of “The 100 Most Influencial People in the World.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the global inspiration that Malala symbolized as "a brave and gentle advocate of peace who through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher.”

Maya Angelou (USA)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer, this multi-talented courageous artist published seven autobiographies, books of essays and poetry, and was credited with a list of movies and plays spanning over fifty years.  

Born in St. Louis, she won a scholarship for dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School before dropping out to become that city’s first African-American female cable-car conductor. A few weeks after her high school graduation, she gave birth to a son. As a journalist, she covered Egypt and Ghana during the time of Africa’s independence from colonialism. In the Civil Rights movement, she worked with both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

With her publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she personally reflected on her first-hand experience with racism, single parenting, overcoming poverty, seeking higher education, and participating in the civil rights struggle.  Mirroring the American landscape in her life journey, she became a respected spokesperson for African Americans across the country.

Writing with eloquence and detail, this extraordinary lady recorded her own history, as a legacy for future generations to understand the larger African American experience. With over fifty honorary doctorate degrees, she became an important influential voice in our time. 

Miriam Makeba (South Africa)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer and civil rights activist.

In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world. She is best known for the song "Pata Pata", first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.

Makeba campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. The South African government responded by revoking her passport in 1960 and her citizenship and right of return in 1963. As the apartheid system crumbled she returned home for the first time in 1990.

Makeba died of a heart attack on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organised to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra


Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Kenya)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Acclaimed novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, social activist, he portrays the arc of Africa's fragmentation and restoration amidst the global history of colonialism and modernity. In his view, a renaissance of African languages is a necessary step in the restoration of African wholeness.

This remarkable artist of the written word burst onto the literary scene in East Africa with the performance of his first play, The Black Hermit, at the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda, in 1962.  His novel form of theatre sought to liberate the theatrical process by encouraging spontaneity and audience participation.
 
He decided to abandon English as his primary language of creative writing and committed himself to writing in Gikuyu, his mother tongue. Sharply critical of the injustices of Kenyan society, he was imprisoned in December 1977.  Amnesty International named him a Prisoner of Conscience and when he was released, he fled into exile, first to Britain and then to the U.S. where he taught at Yale and New York University.  Among his many works, translated in more than thirty languages, his classic Matigari stands out as well the colonial-era memoirs Dreams in a Time of War. His recent novel, Wizard of the Crow, considered a masterpiece, is a sweeping satire laced with magic realism.
Okot p’Bitek (Uganda)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

Poet, novelist, and social anthropologist, he achieved wide recognition in the 1960s for Song of Lawino, described as a landmark of African literature. He wrote in his Acoli language with its poetic traditions, and then self-translated the works into English. The Okot School of Poetry or East African Song School which he founded, was exemplified by forceful dramatic verse monologue rooted in traditional song and words.
	
He was also a great composer, singer, and a noted athlete who participated to the 1956 Olympic games in the Ugandan national football team just before beginning his university education at Oxford University. 

P’Bitek then taught at Makerere University in Kampala while serving as Director of Uganda's National Theatre. His works satirized western influences, dramatically raising the debate about the neo-colonial mentality among the new African privileged class. He hoped for Africans to renew traditional ways, while acting as defenders of their culture.

His unpopularity with the Ugandan government, during the regime of Idi Amin, forced him to live in exile until 1982. He passed away that same year. His songs and writings about the Acoli philosophy of life have a single-minded purpose: to counter Western ethnography and to put Africans at the center of the discourse.
Pierre-Claver Akendengué (Gabon)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

This music pioneer, brilliant poet, and storyteller strongly believes that the artist’s role is to “sound the alarm, enlighten people and heighted awareness.”  His fluid compositions blend woody percussion sounds with dazzling backing vocals inspired by the rich musical traditions of his country. His visionary album Lambarena is an homage to Albert Schweitzer through the daring fusion of Bach with Gabonese traditional music. He named his 18th album Gorée after the Senegalese island that was a strategic center of the slave trade. The songs are a heartfelt cry against enforced exile. 
 
While studying at the Petit Conservatoire Mireille in Paris, he began to play a role in the emergence of the African-flavored music explosion that soon swept the world. His songs with their mind-opening lyrics were banned from the airwaves in Gabon, preventing him from returning home for many years.  But in 2004, Gabon’s president appointed him cultural advisor, a position he still holds today with President Ali Bongo Ondimba. 

For this marvelous musician, storytelling is the living heritage of ancestral society. He continues to sing in his mother tongue, Myene, and also in French about his faith in humanity and the dream of a united Africa.

Satyaji Ray (India)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

One of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all times, he was born in Calcutta into a family of Bengali intellectuals.  He debuted in 1955 with Pather Panchali, the first of his Apu trilogy—set in rural India—and won the special prize at Cannes as Best Human Document. This neo-realist trio of films launched his grand career.

Throughout his life, this master of the moving image favored a minimalist approach, though he was certainly capable also of staging large, spectacular scenes if the script demanded it. But he preferred the intimate story to the grand epic, and was a poet of the human condition, the comedy or tragedy of ordinary men and women. In his films, he explored the themes of coming of age, spiritual awakening, feminism, natural catastrophes, and mythology. His work reflected in microcosm the ever-changing manners and mores of India. 

He left behind a legacy of 36 films as well as short stories, illustrations and musical compositions.  In 1992, just before he passed away, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award.



Sebastião Salgado (Brazil)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

For the last 40 years, this grand master of photography has travelled across continents, documenting the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity, and witnessing some of the major events of our recent history - international conflicts, starvation, and exodus.  His brilliant and piercingly dramatic images are among the most iconic of the late 20th century and beyond. In close collaboration with his wife, Lélia Wanick, he produced The Other Americas, Sahel, Workers, Migrations and Genesis. These books are mammoth collections of images that have been viewed by millions around the world.
 
He then turned his focus to the planet’s natural beauty, launching the Genesis project as a potential path to humanity’s rediscovery of itself in nature. By then, Sebastiao and Léila had already started to plant the first of 500,000 trees which have now transformed dry land back into lush Atlantic forest in a small part of Brazil. Their Instituto Terra has turned this resurrected “garden of Eden” into a nature reserve. 

The remarkable arc of his artistic legacy-ranging from starvation and death to grandiose landscapes of pulsating flora and fauna and human communities that still live in harmony with their ancestral traditions and cultures—found expression in the academy-award nominated documentary, Salt of the Earth, by Wim Wenders.

In 2001, he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, and in 2012, Sebastiao and Lélia received recognition from UNESCO for their relentless work with Instituto Terra.

Umm Kulthum (Egypt)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 
Vasilij Kandinskij (Russia)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

This great master of modern art was the ultimate pioneer of pure abstract painting that would dominate the 20th century and beyond. He believed that total abstraction, based on color and shape, transcending cultural and physical boundaries, offered the artist as well as the viewer a deep spiritual experience. His desire was to communicate a universal sense of spirituality through a new pictorial language that rose from within. By inventing abstract shapes, he replaced the forms of nature, seeking the purity of creation through his own visionary world and perception of color.
He was thirty years old in 1896, when he chose the artistic path. His landmark book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, published in 1912, a work of pure poetry, turned the art world upside down. 
His visual vocabulary developed in three phases. His creative process shifted from early representational paintings and their divine symbolism to raptuous, operatic compositions, and then geometric flat shapes of pure color. His work and ideas inspired many generations of artists from the students of Bauhaus to the Abstract Expressionists after WWII. 
“Of all the arts, “ he wrote, “abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and color, and that you be a true poet.  This last is essential.”

Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)

Fresco with mortar, pigments 
on wooden panel.
Cm. 160 x 130 x 5 

This great man of letters is the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. Aside from his dramas and novels, marked by great scope and richness of words, his prodigious work includes poignant poetry, autobiographies, literary criticism and essays.

He was educated at Government College in Ibadan and the University of Leeds. He later worked at the Royal Court Theater in London and wrote plays that were produced in both the UK and Nigeria. His best-known works draw heavily on the mythology of his own Yoruba heritage while his satiric style conveys the evils that are inherent in the exercise of power. 
				
During the Nigerian civil war, after appealing for a cease-fire, he was held for almost two years as a political prisoner.  In 1994, he was appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador (for the promotion of African culture, human rights, and freedom of expression). But a month later, he was forced to flee across the border to Benin and into exile. In 1997, the military regime of General Abacha proclaimed his death sentence “in absentia.”

He prophetically warned against the UK and Nigeria allowing religious authorities to preach apocalyptic violence and proselytize extremism. He remains a famed activist leader of African civil society, and a courageous proponent of democracy.

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Playing with sand, lime and mineral pigments, the basic elements in the art of fresco painting, Fabrizio Ruggiero pose questions on the essence of colour and on the meaning of the very act of painting in contemporary society.
The structure and process of fresco painting are basic tools in his work that he developed using the most modern technology.
Fabrizio Ruggiero's search search spread in various directions, always having the art of fresco painting as their source.
One of these directions is close-up portraits, even though he prefers the word effigy to portrait, it conveys in a better way the idea of a symbolic image rather than a realistic one.