Back to Rome for a hot minute: Triumphs and Laments

William Kentridge: Triumphs and Laments, Rome


Last month I had the great pleasure of staying in Rome for a few weeks.  I’ve lived in Rome in years past and, like so many others, have a great affection for the Eternal City.  The city has had its ups and downs, but still has great capacity to beguile.

As is well-known, Rome is suffering under mammoth financial and organizational problems; what is less well known but, quite interesting and inspiring, is how some non-profit organizations have stepped in with armies of volunteers to make a difference in the city.

One instantly noticed area of neglect has always been the banks of the Tiber. While for decades city officials have promised to clean up the river’s banks, little to nothing has been done over the years.  That’s until some volunteers stepped in.


As a result of their work, one of the best new things in Rome is the street art, or I guess I should say the river art, along sections of the Tiber: Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments. Great stretches of the riverfront walkways that abut the high travertine embankments built after disastrous flooding in 1870 have been covered with images from local–and thereby world–history.



As Rome’s largest contemporary art work, it was unveiled last year with great festivities. Launched by a local non-profit organization, the Tevereterno Onlus, the mission of Tevereterno is to reactivate the Tiber in the heart of Rome. It’s a multidisciplinary cultural organization, dedicated to the site-specific contemporary art on Rome’s urban riverfront, called Piazza Tevere. Overcoming years of administrative opposition and bureaucratic hurdles, the Italian culture minister and others finally gave the green light to the project.


Along a 500-yard stretch of the river’s embankment now appear an incongruous procession of historical characters depicting a series of “Triumphs and Laments,” culled from Rome’s history.

The figures were created using gigantic stencils and power-washing to erase layers of smog, soot and biological patina on the embankment — a process sometimes known as reverse graffiti — to produce beauty from grime.


The ancient statesman Cicero, St. Peter and the she-wolf who nurtured Romulus and Remus are among the dozens of figures, drawn from iconic sculptures, photographs and monuments, along with Bernini’s statue of St. Teresa in ecstasy.

There are celebrities: Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni from “Dolce Vita” days. And then there are the unknown and anonymous: three women who are the nameless widows of countless migrants who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean into Italy.

The artist, William Kentridge, discussed his work: “There’s no specific narrative, except that everyone’s triumphs and glories is someone else’s laments and shamefulness.”



You can read about Kentridge, a South African political artist, here:

You can view the project fully here:

And you can read more about it here:

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