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Art

Up your street

The creative reputation of Italy’s capital is only enhanced by Laika, the Roma mural maker

WORDS Sheridan Bird

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.”

“I did the mural of Lorenzo and Agostino primarily for myself, then I put it on the wall in public”
By

Part of the mission was to bring Diba to a new generation. “The younger fans know Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, but they aren’t so familiar with Diba. He is a very important figure in our history because he was so in tune with what it means to be Roman. He was a troubled man and very lonely; his death was tragic. We Roma fans always want the team to make us happy, but we also want them to make Diba happy. As we watched the team with the trophy in Albania, we saw him with the team, celebrating.” 

Laika has also had cause to celebrate. “The reaction to the mural has been incredible: Di Bartolomei’s son Luca sent me an emoji of a heart and that said more than a thousand words; it really touched me. Lorenzo Pellegrini thanked me via a message on Instagram – that made me cry. I want to take a print to him in person. Or I might have to send one of my team to Roma’s training ground: it might be complicated for me to go in my mask and wig!”

Football and art seem more connected than ever thanks to the widespread reach of social media, but Laika believes it goes even deeper. “To me, football is art. The emotions that a football match generates, and the link fans feel to their team’s shirt, is incredible. Football is creativity. If I think about Totti’s skills, I get emotional. When a player is truly great and able to do things others can’t, that player is creating – like an artist.”

Laika also brings awareness to women’s rights, Italy’s social problems and global injustice. As someone who broaches difficult subjects and isn’t afraid to provoke, what does the artist think of the city’s other great communicator, Giallorossi boss José Mourinho? “It’s difficult not to love Mourinho – he has brought prestige to Roma. He has won everything in his career. He has given the team his strength of character. They never give up. We had so many setbacks in 2022/23 – the team were so tired and had so many injuries – but they never gave up.”

Mourinho and Laika may use different methods to get their ideas and philosophies across, but both are leaving their impact on the Italian capital. 

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Art

Up your street

The creative reputation of Italy’s capital is only enhanced by Laika, the Roma mural maker

WORDS Sheridan Bird

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.”

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“I did the mural of Lorenzo and Agostino primarily for myself, then I put it on the wall in public”
By

Part of the mission was to bring Diba to a new generation. “The younger fans know Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, but they aren’t so familiar with Diba. He is a very important figure in our history because he was so in tune with what it means to be Roman. He was a troubled man and very lonely; his death was tragic. We Roma fans always want the team to make us happy, but we also want them to make Diba happy. As we watched the team with the trophy in Albania, we saw him with the team, celebrating.” 

Laika has also had cause to celebrate. “The reaction to the mural has been incredible: Di Bartolomei’s son Luca sent me an emoji of a heart and that said more than a thousand words; it really touched me. Lorenzo Pellegrini thanked me via a message on Instagram – that made me cry. I want to take a print to him in person. Or I might have to send one of my team to Roma’s training ground: it might be complicated for me to go in my mask and wig!”

Football and art seem more connected than ever thanks to the widespread reach of social media, but Laika believes it goes even deeper. “To me, football is art. The emotions that a football match generates, and the link fans feel to their team’s shirt, is incredible. Football is creativity. If I think about Totti’s skills, I get emotional. When a player is truly great and able to do things others can’t, that player is creating – like an artist.”

Laika also brings awareness to women’s rights, Italy’s social problems and global injustice. As someone who broaches difficult subjects and isn’t afraid to provoke, what does the artist think of the city’s other great communicator, Giallorossi boss José Mourinho? “It’s difficult not to love Mourinho – he has brought prestige to Roma. He has won everything in his career. He has given the team his strength of character. They never give up. We had so many setbacks in 2022/23 – the team were so tired and had so many injuries – but they never gave up.”

Mourinho and Laika may use different methods to get their ideas and philosophies across, but both are leaving their impact on the Italian capital. 

Art

Up your street

The creative reputation of Italy’s capital is only enhanced by Laika, the Roma mural maker

WORDS Sheridan Bird

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.”

“I did the mural of Lorenzo and Agostino primarily for myself, then I put it on the wall in public”
By

Part of the mission was to bring Diba to a new generation. “The younger fans know Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, but they aren’t so familiar with Diba. He is a very important figure in our history because he was so in tune with what it means to be Roman. He was a troubled man and very lonely; his death was tragic. We Roma fans always want the team to make us happy, but we also want them to make Diba happy. As we watched the team with the trophy in Albania, we saw him with the team, celebrating.” 

Laika has also had cause to celebrate. “The reaction to the mural has been incredible: Di Bartolomei’s son Luca sent me an emoji of a heart and that said more than a thousand words; it really touched me. Lorenzo Pellegrini thanked me via a message on Instagram – that made me cry. I want to take a print to him in person. Or I might have to send one of my team to Roma’s training ground: it might be complicated for me to go in my mask and wig!”

Football and art seem more connected than ever thanks to the widespread reach of social media, but Laika believes it goes even deeper. “To me, football is art. The emotions that a football match generates, and the link fans feel to their team’s shirt, is incredible. Football is creativity. If I think about Totti’s skills, I get emotional. When a player is truly great and able to do things others can’t, that player is creating – like an artist.”

Laika also brings awareness to women’s rights, Italy’s social problems and global injustice. As someone who broaches difficult subjects and isn’t afraid to provoke, what does the artist think of the city’s other great communicator, Giallorossi boss José Mourinho? “It’s difficult not to love Mourinho – he has brought prestige to Roma. He has won everything in his career. He has given the team his strength of character. They never give up. We had so many setbacks in 2022/23 – the team were so tired and had so many injuries – but they never gave up.”

Mourinho and Laika may use different methods to get their ideas and philosophies across, but both are leaving their impact on the Italian capital. 

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