Historically, Rome doesn’t boast the same European credentials as the northern football hotspots of Milan and Turin. However, as an innovative hub bursting with imagination and outspoken creators, it stands alone.
In recent years, the mysterious artist Laika1954 has emerged as the (hidden) face of political street art in the capital, making statements via murals, paintings, stickers and stencils. There are elements of UK icon Banksy’s oeuvre, but Laika is more than a mere imitator. The secretive disruptor is fiercely protective of their identity and personal details, only ever appearing in public with a white mask and red wig. The world is in on one fact, though: Laika is a massive Roma fan. And when the Giallorossi won the maiden Europa Conference League final last year, a new mural appeared that simultaneously celebrated the triumph while saluting the past.
Laika (named after the Russian stray that became the first dog to orbit Earth) produced a drawing of current Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini and Agostino Di Bartolomei (‘Diba’), captain of the team that lost the 1984 European Cup final on penalties in the Eternal City. In the emotionally charged image, Pellegrini sits on Diba’s shoulders, holding aloft the Europa Conference League trophy.
Diba suffered from fragile mental health for many years and took his own life exactly a decade on from the 1984 defeat. To this day, he is revered and loved by his fellow Romans. Over the phone from an undisclosed location, Laika – using a voice modifier – explains: “I did the mural of Lorenzo and Agostino primarily for myself, then I put it on the wall in public. Normally I do work with political messages, but I had to do something for that moment, the victory.
“It took less than a day; I did the original version on canvas and then made posters and prints. I had to share it. When we Roma fans get emotional, we make big gestures. The people of Rome loved it; I got lots of messages. It’s on a wall in Testaccio, near one of Roma’s most famous fan clubs. I always look for the best place – frame, if you will – for my posters.”