GRIDAS - Carnival of Scampia
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The carnival of Scampia aims at being a tool of social critique while creating a tradition by bringing together the people in the neighbourhood of Scampia to create together.

Description of the tool

GRIDAS has been organising a neighbourhood carnival in Scampia (on the northern outskirts of Naples) since 1983. It is an occasion for protest and social critique through the use of masks, as well as for creating a "tradition" in a neighbourhood "without history". The carnival procession takes place on the morning of Carnival Sunday. Every year, a theme is chosen based on current events that inspire the construction of masks and structures that parade through the neighbourhood's streets. The masks are generally juxtaposed between positive and negative symbols related to the chosen theme. The procession ends with a bonfire to allegorically burn the negative symbols and let triumph the positive ones, dancing in a circle around the ashes. The masks are made of papier-maché, polyurethane foam and cardboard, mostly using recycled materials. Several classes from neighbourhood schools take and various associations working in the neighbourhood participate.

Steps of application

The mask-making workshops that are at the centre of the activity, last approximately one month and are held at the GRIDAS headquarters and at the associations' spaces, which have gradually joined over the years and carry out the workshops independently with their reference groups, as well as at some participating schools. GRIDAS provides external support in terms of methods and materials. The mask-making workshops are occasions for reflection, encounter and collective creation. The chosen topic reflects an actual political question, about which everyone can speak up through the carnival. The masks express social critique and the carnival offers a space to subvert roles and power dynamics, and allows to speak the silenced ones in a language accessible to everyone. Its story is strongly connected to the characteristics of Scampia and the neighbourhood’s problems with (the lack of proper) public spaces. Since 2007, every year, an insect-symbol that best interprets the carnival parade's essence is carefully chosen to complement the theme. The choice of the insect happens through constructive discussions, and the articulation of the possible factions, as well as an aura of mystery that accompanies the verdict on which insect is the insect of the year. The individual insects are carefully made in proportion to the original models. To mask oneself is to deny one's identity to assume another one. Assuming another identity has to do with rites and magic or the formality of speaking in the name of another: the ritual masks of shamans and sorcerers, which serve to highlight that it is not that person who does that action, but a higher power that acts by using that person, or that person who acts by impersonating another. Therefore, the masks must have the identifying aspect of the power in question: the totemic animal, the god, the power evoked, with all its attributes. The use of masks for carnival cannot fail to consider these ancient and ever-recurring uses of masks. We are recognisable from a distance by our unmistakable human silhouette: a head, larger than the neck, a trunk, two arms and two legs. As we get closer, we discover other characteristics that not only identify the figure as human, but also indicate its particularity. To deny one's identity, therefore, one can proceed in various ways: by altering the relationships between the parts, for example, one can lengthen the arms, to make them disproportionate to the body, or the legs. To be effective, these extensions must be concealed by coverings that make them appear one with the body. The face is like a landscape, formed by a forehead, two eyebrows, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two ears and the proportions and distances between these landscape elements. Altering the dimensions or ratios is enough to deny or transform the identity. Anyone who does not want to be recognised simply needs to hide their eyes, as is done on photographs to conceal identity. The mask that hides the eyes, like Zorro's, is the minimum mask. As for the limbs, the proportions can be altered: ears, eyes, nose, the mouth can be modified in size, or multiplied with additions, or with unnatural colours. Make-up is used to act on the face. With coloured make-up pastes, sticks and black pencils, one can add to the face what is not there, change its colour, divide it into sectors, superimpose a design on it. The faces, all white, resembling porcelain heads, of actors in traditional Japanese theatre, those of Chinese opera, or early films, where the 'bad guy' was immediately recognisable by his facial features, with pronounced eyebrows that shifted upwards - these are reminiscences of ancient theatre with fixed characters: the comic mask, the clown, the tragic mask, which persist in today's theatre in very sophisticated stage equipment. The superimposition on the face of a cover that also conceals it is widespread and hides the identity. The new identity assumed is either left in the indeterminate or is accentuated with simple strokes. This effect can be achieved with cloth or even paper hoods (paper bags, big enough to put your head in) on which you can draw different characterisations, of men or animals. One can, produce masks to be superimposed on the head, thus obtaining the double effect of denying identity and altering proportions because a mask to be superimposed on the head will be larger than the head and can be considerably larger. This can be achieved with different materials (paper, cardboard, papier-mâché , fabric, expanded polyurethane, leather, synthetic fur, etc.) The masks mounted on structures that can be applied to the body and are therefore animated, which they copied from the Els comediants but then tried to improve their functionality, are made as follows: Two strips of wood about thirty centimetres long, hinged, are the structure on which to mount the mask made of papier-mâché or polyurethane foam or other materials. Four strips of wood should be attached to the two strips, reaching a little beyond the waist of the person who has to carry the structure. A little lower than chest height, two other laths should be fixed, which will then be connected by strips, which will pass over the operator's shoulders. At the waist another piece of shuttering strap will be tightened to make the structure integral to the body and allow dancing, running and jumping without falling apart. Instead of vertical wooden slats, plastic slats of shutters can be used, which are lighter and flexible. But this is not the end of the story. The materials that are all those that we have in front of us every day, but we have to have the ability to change their use: the sheets of pressed cardboard used by sausage makers to contain eggs can become sets of eyes or other protrusions on flat surfaces, scraps of leather, fur, the padding of anoraks can be used to make masks or to complete papier-mâché masks with woolly hair, eyebrows and moustaches; the combination of different materials, smooth, rough, angular, flat, opaque, shiny, with different textures, sparse or dense, woolly, felted, shiny, we can use everything to invent and create. We will learn that we can draw not only on paper: we can draw in the air, modelling iron wire, we can "sculpt" with corrugated cardboard, we can make sounds with tin boxes with some stones inside, to be tied to the ankles, so that the footsteps resonate, etc.: a world to discover, as wide as the variety of human languages. Preparing masks for the carnival and participating in the parade means: participate in a collective creative process of discussing and making; connecting marginalised spaces and experiences through the creation; express diverse experiences; speak up against power; raise awareness; create encounters, build networks, establish traditions; appropriate public space. Website: Documentary: Credits: GRIDAS «L'utopia per le strade: i carnevali del GRIDAS, come e perché mascherarsi» 1998


GRIDAS, beyond the Carnival is an example of creating visibility to social struggles through art and creativity involving the most marginalised and silenced groups of the city. GRIDAS (group awakening from sleep, with reference to the phrase from one of the incisions of Francisco Goya's "quinta del sordo": "el sueño de la razón produce monstros") is a non-profit cultural association founded in 1981 by Felice Pignataro, Mirella La Magna, Franco Vicario, and other people who shared the common goal of putting their artistic and cultural skills at the service of ordinary people to stimulate an awakening of the consciousness and active participation in the improvement of society. GRIDAS established its headquarters in the abandoned buildings of the Centro Sociale dell'Ina Casa in Secondigliano, then Scampia (northern outskirts of Naples), in via Monterosa 90/b. The work of GRIDAS has been characterised, over the years, by the murals created by Felice Pignataro with the other members of the group and with the schools or active individuals who came to the association for "visible" support for their struggles in the Naples area and beyond. Visibility was given by the colourful and expressive banners, the 'animation' with drums, the demonstrations with the 'hand-held TV' with rollers painted specifically for the different struggles, the murals that lasted beyond the day of mobilisation, the self-produced linocut stickers on fluorescent paper. Interventions were often requested at the last moment, so Felice created the definition of the 'cultural emergency aid'. Moreover, since 1983 GRIDAS has been promoting the neighbourhood carnival in Scampia on actual themes and workshops to recover handcrafts, free alternative film forums at its headquarters proposing films usually " avoided" or relegated to late-night by TV or cinemas. With Felice's death, GRIDAS has lost, among other things, the great potential of his ability to represent in iconographic images, comprehensible to all, the voices of protest, the struggles and injustices of the world; but it continues, however, the journey undertaken with Felice for an awakening of consciousness and creativity. . Felice Pignataro was born in Rome on 6 February 1940. Raised in Mola di Bari (Ba), he moved to Naples in 1958 to study at the University, at the Faculty of Architecture first, then at Theology. In Naples, he stayed at the Collegio Newman, of the FUCI, of which he was director for several years, until 1972. Since 1967 he has continued, together with his partner Mirella, a counter-school for the children of the barracks, first at Campo ARAR di Poggioreale, then at ISES of Secondigliano. He settled permanently in Scampia (northern suburbs of Naples) from where he continued to put his enormous artistic skills at the service of the "last ones". In 1981, with Mirella and others, he founded the cultural association GRIDAS to offer tools to awaken dormant consciences. He became "the most prolific muralist in the world" (definition given by EH Gombrich, of the Warburg Institut in London), creating over 200 murals around the Neapolitan hinterland, but also in the rest Italy. Also, he created the neighbourhood carnival in Scampia which has become a tradition. Associations always found him available to support their battles with his multifaceted creative art. Felice died in Naples on 16 March 2004, leaving his "witness" to all those who knew him and were "infected" by his creativity at the service of social redemption.

Context of origin

Visual representation

Documentation«L'utopia per le strade: i carnevali del GRIDAS, come e perché mascherarsi» 1998, Istituto per gli Studi Filosofici di Napoli



Credits: GRIDAS«L'utopia per le strade: i carnevali del GRIDAS, come e perché mascherarsi» 1998