Baj, Enrico, 1924-2003

A biography of the Italian anarchist and painter Enrico Baj. Well known in Italy, he was finally beginning to become known in France as well though his name had never really been known in Britain.

Submitted by Ed on September 20, 2004

Baj was devoted to anarchism and this expressed itself in his works. His vast canvases were beautiful and often funny. When it was exhibited in Italy in 1972, his Funeral of the Anarchist Pinelli (thrown from a police station window and made famous by Dario Fo's play Accidental Death of an Anarchist) led to police commissioners marching in and closing down the gallery.

Born into a well-to-do family in Milan on October 31st 1924, he exhibited a rebellious streak early on when, as a boy, he stood to mock attention in front of a fascist parade. He quit Italy to take refuge in Geneva in 1944 to avoid conscription into Mussolini’s army.

A good part of CIRA, the anarchist library in Lausanne, was constructed thanks to his generosity. He financed the first Russian translation and printing of Voline’s Unknown Revolution. Like other anarchist artists - Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac, Vlaminck and others - he gave away lithographs, objects and texts to comrades and allowed the free use of his works by them, as well as the use of his table and wine cellar!

He created the work Monument to Bakunin – referring to anarchist Mikhail Bakunin - at a collective exhibition in Berlin in the mid 1990s. This was exhibited at Monte Verita in Italian Switzerland where anarchists had set up an artists’ colony many years before.

Baj was ‘Satrap’ of the College of Pataphysics (in honour of Alfred Jarry, the writer of the Ubu plays) and as such was often the victim of state censors. He was attracted to Jarry’s sarcastic and absurdist writings and founded the institute of Pataphysics with the photographer Man Ray in 1963. He also collaborated with another stalwart from the Dada and Surrealist movements, Marcel Duchamp.

With Duchamp, Baj produced a parody of the Mona Lisa,. Among his other works are Nixon Parade, Berluskaiser (a reference to the politician-crook Berlusconi), Apocalypse and the Generals- all works suffused with anarchism and anti-militarism. In addition he wrote a dozen books, all bitingly satirical.

Among them are Automitobiografia, written in 1983, and Kiss Me, I’m Italian from 1997. Connected with the radical COBRA art movement in the post-war years, his work became more fertile in later years and, like many great artists, he continued to enrich it. He founded the arte nucleare movement in 1951 with Sergio Dangelo.He died in Nice on 16th June 2003. An obituary of Baj appeared in the Guardian, which studiously avoided mentioning his anarchism.

By Nick Heath, edited by libcom