Monuments of tainted, dubious and disgraced national heroes/villains are being toppled, defaced and destroyed all the time, arguably now more than ever — but the act dates back thousands of years. As a sign of protest, violently tearing down shrines and burning likenesses in effigy are signs of disrespect just short of a public execution. Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whose bust was mandated by decree to appear in every government building and public square, was executed by partisans, and then his corpse was hog-tied and hung upside down at a gas station in Milan, next to his mistress and other fascist comrades. Nonetheless his image is often resurrected in feature films, paintings and illustrated books in full heroic glory. Usually, these media are not intended to celebrate but to vilify, but they raise a question: Are there rules or dicta that govern the depiction of evil incarnate? Can a dictator such as Mussolini or other monumental representations of his toxic ideology be made not just palatable, but beautiful?
Italian Illustrator Ivan Canu is deservedly well known and respected in Italy for stylish illustrations of historical political and contemporary cultural figures. His most recent project, L'Italia di Mussolini in 50 Ritratti, examines through word (by Paolo Mieli and Francesco Cundari) and Canu's stylized illustration how Italian Fascism was, for a time, heralded by many in the world for its avant garde art, alluring visualizations and dynamic typography—of pictorial manipulation combing quality and kitsch. While not meant to be a respectful celebration, this book is an ambitious recreation of a tyrannical past. It begs the question can work of this level be too seductive?
Canu's elegant art works beg the question of whether or not such quality should be applied to such individuals. It makes one wonder how artists and art history will respond to Donald Trump. Can Trump and his henchmen and women be depicted in a similarly yet paradoxically exquisite way to how Canu represents Mussolini and his loyal circle? Trump would probably be very happy if 50 years after his downfall that were the case.