Carmela Melina Riccio is an outsider. She is a nomadic artist, an activist and a pacifist. Her art comes as a result of disagreement for the reality in which she lives. Riccio creates to overcome her fears and illness, her actions concern everyday life. The artist creates embroidery, banners, flags and assemblage. She travels across Italy proclaiming love and an inter-human community above borders. She intervenes in urban architecture by marking the buildings with graffiti statements – in the past, they were seen as acts of vandalism, today they are subjected to maintenance.
This is a visible change in appreciation of urban painting, which happened as a result of Gustavo Giacosa. He sensitised the viewers to the actions of freelance wolves-outsiders. Giacosa convinced through gradual encouragement the Italian society to their non-conventional practice. He organised an exhibition called ‘Banditi dell’Arte’, which helped to introduce the topic. The actions of outsiders were channelled by images of Mario del Curto, who surpasses his medium. He slips into and merges with the everydayness of the photographed people. Mario del Curto took a snapshot of Melina Riccio. One of my favourite photos shows the artist immersed up to her armpits in a container full of rubbish.
Melina is a freegan. She propagates no waste approach. The artist uses everything that was thrown out. She claims that: Too many things go to waste. We need to stand against it. She travels without tickets because she believes printing tickets is unnecessary and non-ecological. When she is caught by Carabinieri she is usually taken to a mental health institution. After two hours of waiting for a diagnosis, she runs away. She says: We are in Italy, no-one comes anyway, so I get on the next train. Melina is a nomad. She lives on the street. She does not have any money, she lives on what she can find or she gets from people. Mario del Curto remembers that while documenting Melina’s actions, they would go to get breakfast from a friendly bakery, which used to give them some stale bread.
Melina’s gestures aim to repair reality. The artist undermines the dominating image of the world by stepping against social inequality. She protests against building city parking lots, violence, racism, nationalism. She fights for women rights, immigrants and LGBTQ+. Melina participates in the equality marches, antiracist demonstrations. She always appears there with embroidered banners, which she makes by herself. She is remembered for greeting the participants wearing laurel wreath and a dress which she embroidered with hearts and stars.
Her art practice is an everyday ritual. Melina has been trained as a seamstress. She loves patchwork inserts which she decorates with a signature and prophetic texts. The embroiled hearts and stars are her marks. They have non-utilitarian and non-aesthetic character. They carry messages, which transmit love. They become an inherent element of her activism. Melina is faithful to textiles. She takes them and hides them in secret places all around the city: under seaside rocks, in parks and bushes. To search for them is an art in itself. Every day she sets off to her hideaways. She collects her possessions to sit down with them on the pavement amongst the passers-by. The artist takes out a needle and starts to do embroidery. She hangs the works, created in that way, between trees, or she puts them on the pavement. She creates them in order to exchange them for everything that passers-by may offer. Riccio is open for surprises brought to her every day. She loves incidental meetings, which may change into spontaneous action. She claims that it is best to know her through her works: Tomorrow – means ‘to give a “hand”. Future is in my hands’.
The outsider took a symbolic name Melina, which means an apple because: a rotting apple is in half good and in half rotten like me. Melina experienced many stays in mental health institutions. The first nervous break-down happened when she was thirty. Riccio worked then as a seamstress in the biggest fashion houses in Italy.
The breakthrough was in 1983 when during MACEF International Home Show she presented a multi-layered installation made of lamps, curtain and bedclothes. Under a strong impulse, she realised that everything spins around the money. The world is ruled by gain. The event coincided with her struggle against the Italian image of a woman: a mother and family carer. She felt unfit for the norms around her.
For a long time, she could not see the sense of functioning in society. She decided that the material side of the world is evil and dangerous. She suffered from a nervous breakdown and she found herself in a mental health hospital. She escaped from it many times. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After leaving the hospital, she abandoned her life. She left her husband, family and three children. She gave her jewellery to the poor and she set off to search for the truth to protect the world, earth, water, air and people. While searching for her place in the world, she went first to a sanctuary – Santissia Trinita in Vallepietra, Anagni. However, as she claims, it was not the temple that cured her, but a sight of a nearby garage dump – a symbol of a falling world. She took out a plastic bottle form there. She filled it with paper hearts and she called them ‘the light of the world’. Since then, she has been proclaiming her statement by asking incidental people: The world ends. What do you do to stop it?
The practice of Melina has a definitive critical feature. The fact that she does not fit socially and that she is ill, motivated her to act. The artist writes messages calling people to love and peace in many different cities and towns in Italy. The biggest number of them is in Rome and Genoa, close to railway stations and abandoned factory buildings. Their strength usually matches local contexts. They are spells thrown at capitalist reality, for example: Peace / I free this space from pain / for those, who want to do good for free / thank you / Melina Riccio. She creates her graffiti at night. She puts them on cash machines, trash bins, newspaper stands. The texts are like obsessive prayers, mantras or patriotic litanies. Melina explores in them the topic of love and collectiveness.
The outsider expands her postulates for loving the other to embrace all living organisms. She argues that: the statues in cities should be replaced with trees. The artist sees the greatest value in unwanted objects, in dead cemetery plants and everything that was left behind. During ‘the cemetery actions’, she collects thrown away, flower plantings, and she plants them in parks or city flower beds to give them ‘second life’. Melina’s gestures and her critical approach towards consumption releases a reflection in me over the condition of the contemporary world. I see her art practice as an honest, sensitive and uncompromising. The Italian artist expresses through art what we all feel, but we often anaesthetise it with a routine.