Francesco Piobbichi: “I draw the barbed wire that is sewn on the souls of migrants”


By Alessandro Puglia via Vita, April 19th, 2019

Francesco Piobbichi is the operator of Mediterranean Hope who decided to narrate the frontier through his crayons. He is the author of the barbed wire wrapped feather decorating the grave of Segen, the migrant only weighed thirty kilos who died after landing in Pozzallo: «Segen is the martyr of the frontier.» But don’t call him an artist, he is a social cartoonist.

There is a mother clinging to the body of a lifeless son in the middle of the sea, shipwrecked people wrapped in thermal sheets that look like stars in the nights of Lampedusa.  Jesus Christ crucified in a sea that has become the cemetery of indifference, the body of a boy who hardly weigh thirty kilos that dies the day after landing: a child fleeing Libya on a rubber boat with a drip on his wrist. And there are thorns. Everywhere thorns. «  I draw migrants with barbed wire on them, since even though they have been rescued, they will carry those thorns for the rest of their lives. The frontier is often a curse for them.

Francesco Piobbichi is an operator of Mediterranean Hope, the project on migrations promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). He does not call himself an artist, but a social cartoonist who tells the suffering of migrants since Francesco has a first-hand experience of this suffering.

After learning of a shipwreck one night in Lampedusa Francesco Piobbichi discovered those coloured pencils that have now been left on the beach of Catania on which o the bodies of six migrants were found on August 10th, 2013. « I was sitting in a café and I had some Ikea pencils in front of me, I began to draw the anger of those moments and colour the people who were drowning with a swirling sign that represents pain, death, hope. Lampedusa is the island that gave me the strength to tell the suffering of migrants. »

Lampedusa, Morocco, the barbed wire of the wall between Ceuta and Melilla, Lebanon where Piobbichi worked for Mediterranean Hope to create Humanitarian Corridors and drawing the border becomes a mission for him:

« You can tell it in two ways, speaking to the stomach or the hearts, I try to speak to the hearts, because it is not true that Italy is a racist country. In one of my drawings, someone has awakened Medusa by changing her appearance, her hair is made of barbed wire and her gaze petrifies consciences with fear, and a people with fear risks losing humanity.» Francesco Piobbichi said.

From Disegni dalla frontiera (Drawings from the border) to Sul mare spinato, and the next collection Sulla dannata terra! Storia dello sciopero di Nardò Francesco Piobbichi is a witness of the time in which we live, moving with a notebook and drawing like a reporter, the stories that the sea has left us as a legacy.

And then the barbed wire appears at leaving from Libya that burns the soul with migrants huddled on a beach trying to knock down another barbed wire, the one of the journey, which holds them prisoner and separates them  from a sea in which they die twice: «When water takes his breath away and when oblivion takes away the dignity of memory. » Piobbichi writes in the description that accompanies one of his drawings. A sea in which humanity fades away and the tales of Lampedusa fishermen that tells the stories of arms raised towards the horizon. A sea where in every dinghy we can meet Anne Frank We can find the barbed wire that surrounds the lives of migrants in the streets where women are forced into prostitution or over the backs of exploited workers that work for 3 euros/hour and drink tomato juice or the water used for irrigation. »

Our social cartoonist participates in the forty-second mission of the Pro Activa vessel of the Spanish NGO Open Arms. It is March 8th, 2018 when the humanitarian ship intercepts a small dinghy: « There were three brothers, among them there was Allah, a child who had a drip on his wrist and a drip trolley on the boat. He smiled at me with his gums leaking blood and then he showed me a sheet, then I understood that he was suffering from Leukaemia. He told me he was sorry for the death of the Fiorentina captain  Astori. That child who unfortunately died a month ago at the Gaslini hospital had tempted the fate to recover from his illness »

A few days later Francesco found himself in front of the thin arms and the face of Segen, an Eritrean migrant who hardly weighed thirty kilos and perished the day after landing in Pozzallo. Segen poems published by Vita  represent the testament of thousands of migrants fleeing from the Libyan hell.

«I laid Segen on the bridge after taking him from the dinghy When I raised him, I thought he weighed like my son and I felt the weight of a child. Once landed, while he was supported by a doctor, he greeted me with a smile and made the sign of victory. » Francesco said that he placed by his grave  a picture of a feather wrapped in barbed wire, intentionally without his signature.

«I speak of Segen very respectfully since dying he somehow won through his poems. A feather of freedom wrapped by barbed wire that represents today’s frontier, a war between rich and poor in which the poor always perish and the rich ignore. Segen is a Primo Levi of our time, he is a martyr and like all martyrs he must be remembered , Francesco said who continues to entrust to its swirling, scribbled and coloured lines the pain of the eternal frontier of migration.