Art museum seeks German asylum to flee Italy's mafia
Tuesday 08 February 2011
Mafia threats and government incompetence drove Antonio Manfredi to the end of his tether. Yesterday the Italian museum director announced that he had written to Chancellor Angela Merkel pleading for asylum for his museum in Germany to escape the crime-ridden town in which his art collection is housed.
"I wrote a letter to Chancellor Merkel," said Mr Manfredi, the director of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Casoria, an impoverished, heavily Mafia-influenced town close to Naples in southern Italy. He declared he wanted the German chancellor to save his collection from ruin.
"I'm serious – it's not some kind of performance art," said Mr Manfredi, who also works as a sculptor. "If she gives me asylum, I'm going to pack up my bags and move to Germany with my staff and the museum's entire collection of 1,000 works," he added.
Threatening phone calls and repeated acts of vandalism have left Mr Manfredi in no doubt that he is under the near-constant surveillance of the Camorra, the name given to the Mafia in southern Italy. He said he had sent copies of his letter in Italian and German to Ms Merkel's Berlin chancellery and the German embassy in Rome.
His request for German asylum was accompanied by a broadside against Silvio Berlusconi's government for failing to take care of Italy's cultural and artistic heritage: "If the Italian government isn't capable of taking care of its cultural treasures, then let another country do it," Mr Manfredi told Der Spiegel magazine. "This is a warning scream from Italian art to the world," he added.
Mr Manfredi, 50, founded his museum in 2005 with the help of grants from his local municipality. But within three months the funding dried up and all the officials who approved the project were mysteriously replaced. In October that year Casoria's city council had to be dissolved because of fears that it had been completely infiltrated by the Camorra.
"I wanted to go on, but I realised that no town, no region, and no state would help me," Mr Manfredi complained.
His museum has collected some 1,000 pieces of contemporary art and deals with a wide spectrum of cultural issues ranging from paedophilia to urban decay. However when six West African immigrants were allegedly shot by the Camorra in Naples in 2008, the museum ran an exhibition called "AfriCAM" and then another called "CAMorra" – which was about the local mafia.
Not long afterwards, the phone threats and vandalism began. Security cameras were stolen and there were attempted break-ins. "The Mafia does not need to say outright 'we are going to kill you'," Mr Manfredi said. "You get the message anyway."
"Germany has been one of the few countries that hasn't cut its culture budget. It gives a lot of money to research unlike here," he said, adding that he had even planted a German flag outside the museum to show his support. Italy's government has slashed culture budgets in recent months, provoking a wave of protests.
However, Chancellor Merkel's office was clearly unmoved by Mr Manfredi's appeal for asylum yesterday. A spokeswoman said there would be no official response to his letter as it was considered a form of public protest rather than a genuine asylum application.
Even if Mr Manfredi and his museum were to be granted asylum, they might well be disappointed: a study by the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in 2010 predicted that every tenth museum or cultural institution in Germany could well be forced to close by 2020 due to lack of public funding.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Licence fee: What is the BBC charge – and how will the changes affect you?
- 3 This is what the photographer has to say about the picture of a weasel riding a woodpecker
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'