Swastikas on the wall become giant cupcakes with purple icing, and the words “my Hitler” are transformed into “my muffins”. All in a day’s work for the Italian street artist who fights racism by turning nasty graffiti into food.
“I take care of my city by replacing symbols of hate with delicious things to eat,” says the 39-year-old artist, whose real name is Pier Paolo Spinazze and whose professional name, Cibo, is the Italian word for food.
On a recent sunny morning he had been alerted by one of his 363 000 Instagram followers that there were swastikas and racial slurs in a small tunnel on the outskirts of Verona.
Up he turned, wearing his signature straw hat and necklace of stuffed sausages. He took out his bag of spray paints and set to work, while cars drove by beeping.
He covered up the slurs with a bright slice of margherita pizza and a caprese salad – mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. A swastika was transformed into a huge red tomato. As he created the murals in the tunnel, which each took around 15 minutes, people drove by, peering out of their windows to stare and wave. One art teacher wound down her window to compliment his work.
In recent years human rights groups have warned of growing racism in Italy following mass immigration from Africa. Fascist culture and wartime dictator Benito Mussolini still have a hard core of admirers.
As he has become a local celebrity in Verona, he has also made enemies: “Cibo sleep with the lights on!” someone spray-painted on a wall. He turned the threat into the ingredients of a gnocchi recipe.
“Dealing with extremists is never good, because they are violent people, they are used to violence, but they are also cowards and very stupid,” Spinazze said.
“The important thing is to rediscover values that we may have forgotten, especially anti-fascism and the fight against totalitarian regimes that stem from the Second World War,” he said. “We must remind ourselves of these values.”