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JAGO is JAGO, Not the New Michelangelo

“I want to be the new me. That’s what moving forward is all about.”

His name is JAGO. But not as a stage name. “For me, it is now the only one that works, the only one by which I am identified.” When I ask him where it comes from, he says, “JAGO is JAGO.” Born in ’87, JAGO is a young, cutting-edge sculptor who has been much talked about in recent years for his great artistic gifts but also for his unquestionable success on social media. The way he speaks about and shares his art has allowed him to engage thousands of young people with themes such as grief, old age, beauty and death. JAGO’s three-dimensional bodies, sculpted in marble, are hyper detailed and realistic: he has a magnetic ability to evoke visceral feelings from what was once just a simple piece of rock.  

During our online interview, JAGO is in Dubai on business and after a couple of minutes in, he gets up because “There is a sculpture nearby and I am deeply concerned about its state. I’ll be right back!” 


Maria Cristina de Rosa: You have often emphasized the notion that art gives people courage because it shows them a reality that they would not be able to grasp on their own. What do you think is the role of the artist in this?

JAGO: Recognizing that behind a work of art is the gesture of someone who is human, who is made of flesh and blood, makes accessible that dimension of “ability”. We’re otherwise accustomed to seeing art as distant, the result of the hand of some enlightened god, born with an alien ability that none of us will ever be able to reach… but that is not true. Each of us can reach very high levels in whatever field we want to specialize in. Some may have a predisposition, but each of us has the innate “ability”. The fact is that very often we fail to realize this because we are distracted by a thousand things. Humanizing the artistic gesture encourages and opens new horizons. The daring ones who succeed in realizing their dreams give humanity the most beautiful gifts.


MR: And it is precisely by humanizing the great artists of tradition that you were able to be inspired by them? 

J: Yes, I see them as human beings, people who had their moments of restlessness, of great joy and of great business intelligence. In fact, I have always described them in a way that is totally different from what we are usually fed, especially in school. I like the idea of competing with them. Like you probably also have reference points for your work, don’t you? [I unexpectedly become the interviewee as JAGO asks me to name some role models and I list some female journalists and writers who are inspirational for me.] Well they are people, just like you, who put themselves out there in public and on social media. They didn’t do their work in private. They understood what could work in a communication system and built a network with others. And that’s how everybody does it today, that’s how our stories are built. By understanding this, it allows a kid today to say, “I want to be the new Dante Alighieri.”

Jago in his studio; Photo by Massimiliano Ricci

MR: When you were called “the new Michelangelo” instead, how did you feel about that?

J: I felt like laughing. This label is something that people say because it’s easier to define someone by comparison. Rather than explaining what they see, people create a parallel. It concerns me very little, because I have no interest in being “the new Michelangelo”. I want to be the new me. That’s what moving forward is all about. 


MR: Did social networks play a key role in helping your work go beyond the four walls of your studio? I’m thinking of the “making-of” videos that you show in reel format or on live.

J: Everything would have been different [if I hadn’t used these social platforms]. The tools you decide to use, both to make your work and to communicate it, determine the outcome. Social was all I had at my disposal when I started, and it was a way to be both the gallerist of myself and the publicist of myself. I got into social media immediately, and I’ve been working with it for over 16 years. 


MR: Do you still subscribe to that idea?

J: Yes, absolutely. Social platforms are evolving tools. At some point, you are no longer just a user. You contribute to what other users perceive, and more importantly, you decide what to do with that influence. My work is not just the sculpture itself: it’s also the way it interacts with, presents itself to, and is recognized by the world. Because that is what will actually be remembered.


MR: One work that made such an impact was “Look Down”, placed right in Naples’ Piazza Plebiscito. What inspired you to install the piece here?

J: When I made the work, Naples was actually not in my thoughts. “Look Down” was born in New York as a result of constantly seeing the many people living on the streets among the skyscrapers. I started thinking about it and imagined that if there were babies in the street, everyone would stop, no one would be able to move forward. 

Around that time, the COVID pandemic started, so I went back to Italy, to Naples, and I brought the work with me. In the Sanità neighborhood, a group call was organized among the storekeepers of the area to shed light on the hardships faced by those who could not cope economically with the pandemic. I thought of the work I had done in New York, of this child curled up on himself with this chain representing the umbilical cord. The latter, in theory, breaks the moment you come into the world, but if you’re unable to cope with life’s difficulties, you remain bound and dependent on society to give you nourishment. An analysis based on a metaphorical reality of course. 

“Lock Down” was the original title, but I tweaked it to this play on words “Look Down”. The artistic operation is about summarizing concepts, but while giving the viewer a chance to put their feelings into it. Piazza Plebiscito was fundamental to the work because it is an important square [the piazza is in the very center of Naples and along one side is the Royal Palace], a reference point for everyone. It feels like a mother that holds you in a perfect embrace. When I went to study it, I immediately imagined “Look Down” there. I went through an authorization procedure with the municipality so that the work could be installed in the public space. 

Look Down, Piazza del Plebiscito; Photo by JAGO

MR: What is the Rione Sanità like as a home?

J: The neighborhood is magnificent. It’s a place that forces you to be in the school of life. Whatever background you have, you question everything here. This neighborhood is a place you either love or hate. I fell in love with Sanità because it amplified my creativity and forced me to read myself differently. Plus I received so much love and hospitality from the people who live in the neighborhood. I never found it again elsewhere, and now it resides in me. 


MR: You were born and raised in Frosinone, Lazio. What is your connection to your city?

J: My relationship with Frosinone and Anagni, where I lived during childhood, is one of affection, love and memory. Some of these places are a bit discriminated against, but in my opinion they set in motion a mechanism of redemption, especially in young people. Around the world, I have found many Ciociarians [a colloquial name for those from impoverished areas southeast of Rome] playing important roles. This is because many small towns in Italy give you what they can, however little it may be, but the real resource is that when you start from one of these towns, you want to conquer the world. I am very proud of my origins.


MR: “La Pietà” is a sculpture through which you take the pose and theme from Michelangelo’s “La Pietà” but you depict the grief of a father losing a child in an even more heartbreaking way. You call your works children: what is “La Pietà” a child of?

J: At the moment it’s born, a human child becomes a free individual who must relate to the outside world; when I finish a piece, I will continue to take care of it, but it must now be in the world and go its own way. La Pietà’ is the result of horrible images I have metabolized over time–the ones I used to see on the news when I came home for lunch: wars, destruction, people fleeing death… This generated a pain that has settled inside me. In particular, the work was inspired by an image of the war in Syria, which broke through me. I wanted to give this moment a three-dimensional form to freeze it in time and somehow exorcize it. 


MR: I imagine that in your backpack there is always a sketch book for when you feel inspired. Am I right or wrong?

J: No you’re right, that’s exactly right. In my backpack, there is always a sketch book–the cover is strictly black–with blank pages and an iPad. Plus for the life I lead, during which I am always on the move, this backpack is a home.

La Pietà; Photo by JAGO

Photo by Luca Parmitano

Jago sculpting La Pietá; Photo by Massimiliano Ricci