In the marble replica of Michelangelo’s La Pietà, a Nigerian boy replaces Christ. Who is Lucky Ehi?

I met Lucky Ehi in a reception center in Turin. He is a young Nigerian Catholic who escaped persecution in his country. His story of an escape and the welcoming of the Mother of God is symbolic. However, it is transversal to religions: a veiled woman with a bowed head is visible from behind the sculpture. It is a powerful and suggestive iconic plot that drives idealized connotations synthesizing Christianity to become even more universal. This is what fascinates me. I shared this idea with the Poggiali gallery and with the current director of the Museo Novecento in Florence Sergio Risaliti. We mapped out the project in the Milan office, and then launched the first exhibitions in Pietrasanta and Florence.

In another reinterpretation of the work, however, it was the body of the Virgin Mary that was missing: only Christ remained and fingerprints impressed on his right hand. What was the message of that sculpture?

This work is a synthesis of the Souvenir series, entitled Souvenir Pietà (Christ): Christ is ripped from the Mother. Made in 2007, the sculpture evokes the roar of a thundering absence of one living without the other. The same for the 2018 Souvenir Pietà (Mother), where instead, stripped away Christ is imagined through the creative gap that I created. Souvenir Pietà (Christ) condenses what I said earlier: my personal challenge to create a maniacally perfect, suggestive 1:1 reproduction, without limiting myself to this threshold. The immediacy of a throbbing absence, that of Christ, nurtures this work’s conceptual dimension: the immediate reference to Michelangelo’s Pietà generates the same instantaneous identification of the absence of the Mother, Christ becomes a Souvenir ideally within everyone’s reach.

You have always been looking for new results, also experimenting with the laws of mechanics and physics, with which you gave life to the famous motorized marble boat, “Ahgalla”. Is poetical displacement exceeding the limits?

It is a challenge: a challenge to materials and a close encounter with myself. My temperament to generate and experiment with new possibilities is an inner necessity. No engineer was willing to ensure the success of the experiment so, albeit without any economic means at the time, I enjoyed the generosity and rare sensitivity of a quarry owner who gave me marble and space to make it, after which mounted an engine while docked at Carrara’s port and set sail with great trepidation. In my mind’s eye, I am still sailing. After Carrara, Venice during the Biennale, then Rome, Turin and Gorky Park in Moscow.

Which artists do you feel closest to?

There is something to learn from all of them, each talented in their own way.

Is your art classic, pop or punk?

I think classification is rather vague and inapplicable, but at the same time, all three adjectives are, in different ways and times, valid without being exhaustive. Perhaps my answer is that my art gives us back past meaning through coherent, rigorous artistic choices that surprise me first, drawing on the technical relevance of marble’s sophistication, and anthropological in how actuality is evaluated — this is why I think it is contemporary.

Paolo Del Panta

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