The powerful emotions of Jago’s white marble sculptures are like quiet hurricanes – profoundly moving, changing the entire atmosphere in the recently restored Chiese di Sant’Aspreno di Crociferi, and helping regenerate the Sanità district of Naples. At first sight they are classical sculptures, borrowing from renaissance and post-renaissance masters. A closer look changes everything. While Jago’s sculptures refer to and communicate with the past, these are modern and embrace universal human truths in a new light and shout, delicately and deftly. They cry out for social empathy, social conscience. I can’t believe anyone can feel the same after seeing Jago’s work.
The first sculpture as we enter is a giant bald marble head, an imposing sentinel I take to be Jago. The eyes are cut-in hollows, with pupils that somehow track us. A type of double trompe l’oeil – we see the eyes despite their absence, and they somehow move: Jago watches us as we watch him, beholds us as we engage with his work. His is a calm face, seeing the world, taking it in, and, judging by his works, finding it socially, humanly wanting. We should listen to his criticisms, to his laments, to his plea to act on our social conscience and regenerate ourselves, our local communities and the world.
The next work, Figlio Velato, presents a child lying under the veil of a thin, rough blanket, head to the side, one arm over his heart, legs twisted, stomach bloated from having died at sea. A rock lies near his right hand, the only part of him not covered by the veil, the rock a symbol of resistance. Figlio Velato is a lament for the loss of a child drowned trying to reach Europe – inspired by the tragic loss of the Syrian boy. Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on 21 December 2015. It is also an emblem for all those tragically lost trying to find a new life away from the misery of a war-torn home. Jago’s Figlio Velato echoes the awe-inspiring Cristo Velato by Giuseppe Sanmartino (in the Capella Sansevero) – of Jesus Christ under a thin, transparent veil, his sacrifice for humanity evident. When the Syrian boy lost his life so many learnt (again) of the base stupidity of war and the importance of solidarity.
Yet, after the outpouring of sympathy, many hearts have hardened as Europe struggles to cope with any dignity of the waves of often tragic migration. Jago’s Figlio Velato says simply: remember. Feel the sorrow and remember what it is to be human.
Pietà presents a grown man, face wracked with loss, holding his child in his arms, whose head lolls back, lifeless. There is no veil here, no clothes, just them creating a raw statement of loss, of parental chagrin. How many men or women in Ukraine, in Syria, in Sudan have held their children in their arms and felt this? How many parents in Russia feel this as the body count rises one by one as these sacrifices the regime leadership is willing to make relentlessly mount. While focused on the tragedy of today, this work is also a nod to the past – to Michelangelo’s Pietà, showing Mary’s suffering as she holds Jesus, and a statement that this is universal chagrin.
The final piece – Aiace & Cassandra (Ajax and Cassandra) – is, at first look, a simple homage to Homer’s dramatic tale of the Greek “hero”, Ajax’s abduction and rape of Troy’s Cassandra. He is a muscular giant, with powerful limbs and strong hands grasping the struggling Cassandra, clasping her breast. But this is not submission as classically portrayed; Cassandra resists fiercely, shouts her anger, one arm thrusts back Ajax’s head, her other hand holds a rock she seeks to smash into his face to free herself. Ajax in history is presented as a hero warrior, but his is a predator’s heart. In the awakening of the Me-Too movement and the ever-growing outrage at mankind’s crimes, it is high time that heroes of the past are presented as what they were – rapists, slavers, exploiters – history needs an upgrade.
It is not surprising that Jago places his face to watch us. He studies humanity and states that all are human, all too human, and points out our failings, presenting us with a challenge: to rise above what we are unfortunately too able to do or fail to do. On 5 November 2020, during Covid, he placed a sculpture of a naked baby in the Piazza del Plebiscito, titled “Look Down”- a symbol that “the homeless are as fragile as a newborn baby” and that society should take care of them. How can we call what we have society and how can civilisation earn its name if people look away or are hard-hearted?
Jago is a sculptor contributing to a social awakening. When youth vandalised his work, he invited them to his atelier to show them what he was trying to do, how to do it, presenting them an alternative path. He works with the La Paranza Cooperativa, the social cooperative inspired by Don Antonio Loffredo, the parish priest at the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità who initiated the movement of engaging youth to recreate not only a local appreciation of their cultural heritage, but to engage and themselves create a new cultural heritage, helping rejuvenate their Sanità region of Naples
Within this movement, Jago supported these youth’s skills, inviting them to his making of Pietà. Jago stated that “The Sanita will be the Manhattan of the future. Here there are human and artistic resources with amazing potential.”
Visit Jago’s work in the Chiese di Sant’Aspreno di Crociferi from 20 May 2022 and explore the La Paranza Cooperativa’s other initiatives and cooperations. See can also see Jago’s Figlio Velato in the Basilica di San Severo fuori di mura, and see further works on his site. Jago will keep an eye out for society’s choices and comment, a little bit like Banksy in marble, or better, simply himself. Awesome.