10 days prior to lockdown in Bogota I had opened a space in the Torres del Parque, designed by Rogelio Salmona. A space with large windows from which you can look out and see in. There I started painting Julian Assange, as I could see that my friends, including Yanis Varoufakis, from Diem25 were struggling to save his life. I also felt that I had to do something. Driven by the need to relate to this hero of ours, I started painting and thought of showing the outcome on the internet and then giving it to whoever asked for it first. There were immediately a lot of requests and the success of the initiative was encouraging, so I started doing a second Assange and I put that on the internet too, then it came upon me that I should have done a portrait that for every day that Assange would be in prison.
I became absorbed by this character, in the face of Assange, a very interesting face. I am not a painter with a great talent for painting faces, usually I have them done by some assistant, and then I touch them up or even project and copy them; but with Assange’s face, I discovered a talent in painting it, strange, because I didn’t think it possible to paint anyone famous. People who have been photographed by paparazzi in my eyes, are destroyed by media attention. Instead, Julian Assange’s face is somehow opposed to this media destruction and I felt it had to be painted.
Assange began to self-confine eight years ago, when he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. At this time Assange, in his universe of the man who feels his mission is to save the world and with friends who went to visit him, he seemed to be almost happy.
I believe that freedom for Assange is the ability to communicate the information he obtained, and being in jail he is communicating the spirit of his Freedom. By painting Assange’s portraits I felt a disruptive communicative force growing within.
Shortly after the opening at my space at Torres del Parque, the lockdown came to Colombia, and our somewhat privileged period of closure began. Our wonderful days, whilst being served by subordinates, who in the meantime have continued working for us, nothing has changed for them, they are in constant danger … during quarantene I continued to paint Assange’s portrait and give them away. In reality they are not really gifts, it is manipulation, of propaganda, because I offer an Assange and whoever takes it makes it his own, enters the Assange world. Interestingly so, no one from the United States has so far asked for an Assange.
At some stage in this uninterrupted portrait production process, Clara Tosi Pamphili wrote to me and tells me that she would be interested in exhibiting the Assange portraits at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, where she is vice president, and that she presented the idea to Cesare Pietroiusti (President of the Palazzo). Cesare was not only interested, but became the co-author of this exhibition, a collective effort: a unique opportunity to transmit our experience of the Assange condition, an exhibition in which he becomes an avatar of this condition and who is now in prison, another level to the experience of isolation, of which we know nothing of, yet.
I believe that Assange has agreed to remain isolated: with all the contacts and friendships that could have found him an alternative, compromised, an escape route, as we can certainly do too – I am referring here to our self detention, as a kind of “dress rehearsal” for the climatic catastrophes that are upon us: we will have to close ourselves in again, like Assange, do we want to wait for the annihilation that is getting closer and closer? He at least has good reason to ..
The exhibition on Assange at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni was organised at the right moment: a closed museum which houses an exhibition on an arrested person, while all of us are locked up, from the beginning it was decided that the exhibition would never open and its closure would not be announced and which has found its precise meaning, because it occurred during this particular moment in history.
Fortunately, the paintings I had sent from Colombia did not arrive, because they were blocked at customs due to Covid, and therefore the opening took place with prints of digital paintings and video paintings by Assange. I said fortunately because the space was not yet ready to receive these paintings, it was not “jail” like enough, today (13.05.2020) I made sure another coat of grey was added, to render the space a little darker, a little more extinct, destroying that pictorial beauty effect that was there before.
This exhibition began via an open dialogue between myself and Cesare Pietroiusti, a dialogue which has become its backbone, we continue to write to each other and invite other people to join the dialogue with us on these issues.
After the opening, – which took place at “CondizioneAssange” (Instagram.com/CondizioneAssange) , an Instagram account which functions as the extension of the show in Cyberspace, – my ideas have become much clearer on the meaning of this exhibition, especially when I saw on Monday that things were not going well, because when things are going well you can lose your direction. The “no show” on Monday 11 May seemed too much of an exhibition, too beautiful, and so when things are not going quite right, it immediately becomes clear what you have to do. There is only one direction in which this exhibition can go and there are two points of view: one is Assange and his character and then there is ourselves and the exhibition talks about us.
A great catastrophe is upon us and we haven’t done anything, we stopped for the virus, but we haven’t done anything about the real problem that afflicts the future of the world, which is climate change.
The privileged class lives totally separate from the majority of the rest of the world and we don’t even know they think, we don’t know anything about these people. The hope is that this silent majority, whose ideas or opinions we know nothing about, will rebel and stop working for us. I really hope they do something surprising. And at the same time if we, the privileged class, think of returning to the way it was before without doing anything, it means – as Bartolomeo Pietromarchi said – that we are already dead.
May 27, 2020, the paintings have finally been “released”, tomorrow we will install them and see how this operation is to continue. In the meantime the Palazzo has decided “to keep the exhibition closed” until July 26th. From the opening on Instagram a parallel project has come about, #AssangePowerTogetherness, the faces of the people who collect the paintings while looking at the works, creating a figurative chorus of protection around Julian Assange and around themselves too.