Serie Edicole Sacre (Sacred Altars Series)

The outdoor edicole sacre (sacred altars) are found in every city in Italy, on the corners of city
streets, in the middle of narrow neighborhood streets, at crossroads on rural roads, or on the
edge of a field.  My work currently takes place specifically in Naples, Italy. The photographs
depict the intersection between public and private space, and the integration of worship into the
daily life of the community. These altars are built by the people that live in the neighborhood.
There is an inherent invitation to the public to participate in the ritual of worship, even as they
are just passing by. In the altars, we often find not only a portrait of a holy figure such as the
Madonna con bambino (Virgin Mary and Child), or the revered saints (Padre Pio, Sant’Antonino,
etc), but also photographs of loved ones that have passed away that people leave behind in a
ritual of honoring their dead. We can also find prayer cards, figurines, rosaries, fresh flowers,
and the other relics off worship and prayer. Additionally, the secular space of the street
interacts and vibrates around the altars. We find domestic items such as brooms, mops,
strollers, clothing drying racks, hanging laundry, clothes pins, and apartment numbers that
belong to the homes next to the altars. We also experience the urban elements such as the
exposed electrical wiring and mechanical systems, the cars, the motorini (mopeds), graffiti,
advertisements, car stops, cigarette butts, potted plants, etc. Another interesting characteristic
of these altars are the architectural enclosures built around them to delineate the sacred space.
They can be quite extravagant, or minimal and simple, often made with a variety of different
materials, that also can experience damage over time. The colors in each altar, such as the
strong reds and blues, recall references to the holy figures (such as the red and blue gown and
cape of the Madonna, and the red blood of Christ). Often, we find other strong colors in the
domestic and urban space that seem to echo the colors of the sacred space.
I grew up in a Muslim family, where religion was integrated into daily life and there was a rich
tradition of ritual and worship, however some Muslim societies: saints, figurines, altars, were all
discouraged. Most religious spaces, instead, incorporated architectural elements of intricate
geometric patterns, tilework, and calligraphy to create a sacred environment.
After migrating at a young age to the secular country of the U.S., where religion is present but
contained within specific contexts, I see this work as a point of departure in how the Catholic
country of Italy integrates religious iconography in public and private spheres.  In the images I
share with you, the representations in the street “edicole” become social document with
reference to both history and the contemporary, the sacred and the secular, the public and the
private, the personal and the universal, unfolding through manifestations of religious ritual
amidst urban growth.