In Naples, Diego Maradona has transcended his role as a football player and become emblematic of the South city's penchant for chaotic and energetic living. This artist reminds everyone of the unique relationship between the two.
A huge force presides over the Neapolitan people - its powerful potential for fiery destruction is ever-present. Mount Vesuvius leaves the flat city in its foreboding shadow. The volcano is peppered with mythology from the former Greek civilisation, yet, Vesuvius isn't the most mythology-laden entity of Naples, nor does it cast the most striking shadow. That mantel is reserved for a diminutive Argentinian football player - a man whose on and off-field charisma endeared him to a city that seemed to be his brick and mortar equivalent.
Maradona gave Napoli their first league win in the club's history - a miracle for the poor team from the South to rupture the industrial North's dominance. From then on he became much more than a football player, but a mythological force that conjures a reaction unmatched in the port city. Now it is hard to turn a corner without seeing a cafe with his face on the exterior or rails of Napoli shirts on sale on the street with 'MARADONA 10' emblazoned on the back. Due to his quasi-religious stature, he's also entered into the echelons of art.
His likeness can be spotted in graffiti murals and paintings all around the city. It wasn't in fact a local that made the most iconic of these though, it was a man from Maradona's home of Argentina - graphic designer and 'image-worker' San Spiga.
It's worth noting that the South American artist is also deeply invested in making political work - opening difficult dialogues and challenging social norms. How better to do that than plaster the infamous 'Hand of God' all over the city of Naples and later, the world. In the World Cup of 1986 - the final in Mexico City was played between Argentina and England, in front of 114,000 people. The noise and atmosphere was intense.
In the second half Maradona, all 5ft 5" of him, leapt up for the ball and knocked it past the keeper. It was the first goal in a match that would finish 2-1 to Argentina. The blatant hand-ball got its name from the statement after the match where Maradona stated that the goal was scored with, "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God." A contentious image yet one that is enduring. In Naples, the city he became a hero in, it was a roguish middle-finger by the little man - the Neapolitan people loved him and embraced him as an anti-establishment symbol.
As well as being an artist, San Spiga is a teacher. His murals of Maradona's 'hand of God' ironically teach us the hardest lesson - that people will do anything in the quest for victory. Besides obsessively pasting Maradona around cities - the two have another deeper connection.
On the similarity to Maradona and Che Guevara, San says, "When I was more of a teenager, 13 or 14, I loved Maradona in the same way that we love Che Guevara or that kind of hero—the more incorrect ones, and I think that many aspects of my life I was learning through Maradona’s life. Maybe he’s done bad things, but I prefer to see the best part—the revolutionary part, and for me, Maradona is a revolutionary. And whatever he does, the people of Naples will always love him.”
Maradona is a slum kid - he comes from nothing and was, at one point, the king of the world. Since then, he has been an advocate of left-wing politics - building relationships with Cuba's Fidel Castro and vocalising his admiration for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. San Spiga is also imbued with this political flair. His work with Argentina's political left is essential. Traditionally, the political right communicate better, they make better use of reappropriated symbols and of cultural idiosyncrasies that pertain to a national identity.
San Spiga attributes this to who the right-wing usually are. They're traditionally wealthier, with better access to those in the business of communicating big ideas like multinational companies compared to the left's strengths lying elsewhere. For him, design is something necessary to persevere with his agenda, it's a service he feels like he can offer his country for the greater good. It's his own way of being remembered and making a difference.
Maybe it's this fact that draws him so closely to the enigmatic figure of Diego Maradona - a contemporary saint that seems so very human in his shortcomings. For him, being a graphic designer is about more than strengthening your portfolio. It's a way for society to reach a better place. Maradona is a symbol of the underdog that came to be king - he's the cheeky grin on the face of poverty and living proof that one can emancipate themselves from their surroundings. By pasting his presence around cities, San Spiga is telling us too that with a little fight and a courageous heart - that nothing can stop us, that we too can be free.
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