Ozioma OnuzulikeNigeriaVisual Arts2003
UNESCO-Aschberg Fellow

Excavating Civitella


The Civitella Ranieri Castle represents one of the best preserved of over 28 other surviving castles in the Umbertide region of Central Italy, built as fortresses during the feudal age of the 15th century. Accommodated in the now peaceful and quiet Civitella castle, where I occasionally get startled by the sudden gun shots of hunting men around it’s immediate environment, I soon began to ruminate over the nature of war in the feudal age and how hunting and agriculture served castle dwellers in their unique security arrangement.


Surveying and ‘excavating’ the Civitella valleys soon revealed lots of oil barrels that apparently oiled the farm machinery of past castle dwellers. I was first struck by the connection between agriculture and warfare, and then by the relationship between oil and much of the recent and current international strife. Today, oil is at the center of major international disputes.


“War is in the heart.” “The heart is like a bag: you are carrying yours, I am carrying mine.” “Lie is bigger than war.” “The mouth invites/causes/instigates war.” These are the sayings of the Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria, where I was born and brought up. With these in my mind, I reclaimed the oil barrels, removed their covers (or mouths) and washed them with hot water, detergent and perfume. Then I set to work first on the metal barrels. I hammered them into bags (hearts) of different shapes and sizes. The bombs of the heavy Civitella hammer landed with loud explosions as I bombarded the metal barrels. Then I cast them further into the war front with magazine/poster images of war and war victims glued on them. I shot them with the long bullets of power drills. I blistered them with the fire of a welding machine. I charred and scorched them with the consuming tongue of gas fire. I inflicted them with large scars employing the searing disc of the grinding machine... Studio 3 and the immediate Civitella vicinity were suddenly transformed into a war front by the echoes and reverberations of the noise of battle. Creating these series of works using oil barrels ‘excavated’ from the Civitella environment begins to examine the processes of re-construction and re-preservation, which the Civitella castle itself has been undergoing in recent years. But perhaps much more significant is the context of the castle’s shift of status from a war fortress to a war museum. I have keenly observed tourists from different parts of the world coming to experience the peace of the surviving castles of Umbertide. This thus raises the question: can the world ever settle its quarrels permanently and become as quiet and as peaceful as the surviving 15th century castles of Umbertide?