Museums are usually hushed places that fall silent when the doors close at the end of the day. But one museum in Rome’s eastern suburbs is home to 200 squatters, 80 of them children, who live among and protect the works of art.
In 2011, curator Giorgio de Finis came across a former salami factory occupied by homeless migrants and organised art events and performances there. These, in collaboration with the inhabitants, grew spontaneously into the Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz, or Maam (it means Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere). It quickly became one of Rome’s most important contemporary art spaces, with murals, paintings and installations by more than 300 artists from around the world.
Many of them incorporate remnants of the site’s previous use as a slaughterhouse or, taking inspiration from its residents, address ideas of discrimination, xenophobia and nationalism. A room once used for stripping carcasses features a giant mural of strung-up pigs. Livestock cages serve as part of an installation about the lives of prisoners and migrants. All artwork is donated as a gesture of support for the illegal museum that works on no budget.
But visitors often show more interest in Maam’s occupants than in its art. Since occupying the abandoned factory in 2009, the migrants (from Morocco, Peru, Sudan, Eritrea and Ukraine as well as several Roma families) have transformed factory buildings into homes, painted with murals. Maam’s halls serve as a gigantic playground for the children, and some artists have designed playrooms which are at the same time works of art.
The citizens of Maam, most of whom are poor and unemployed, maintain the museum together with curator de Finis. To protect their privacy and for fear the police might try to evict them, they open the museum…