The most frequent depictions are of animals: domestic, wild, imaginary, monstrous. This is how we find a peaceful coming together of a hedgehog, snail, mouse, bird, fish and flamingo (Figs. 9 and 10). Other drawings include cats (Figs. 11 and 12), sharks (Fig. 13), imaginary horses (Figs. 14 and 15), but also an elephant (Fig. 16), a crocodile (Fig. 17), and a likeable dinosaur (Fig. 18). More disturbing are the drawings with a mocking mouse (Fig. 19), a monster with strange patches of color (Fig. 20), a large dragon resembling a basilisk, the symbolic animal of Basel (Fig. 21), and two jellyfish, one of which is next to human heads (Figs. 22 and 23).
A delightful stork − potentially inspired by those that sometimes settle on nearby fields − holds in its beak a bag with a baby, of whom only the head is visible (Fig. 24). Another frequent theme is that relating to human figures: some are depicted with animals (Figs. 25 and 26) or in rural settings (Fig. 27), while others appear engaged in various activities (Figs. 28, 29 and 30) or group conversations (Fig. 31). Some, on the other hand, appear isolated, even though there are multiple figures, and seem to be rendered with sinister strokes: these are almost inert bodies abandoned on the asphalt (Figs. 32 and 33) or even outlines of bodies traced after an accident (Fig. 34).
This year, Easter and other holidays took place during the lockdown. As everyone knows, there were no religious or collective celebrations. Each person, in their own home, passed these days as best they could, often in complete solitude. But in those painful and surreal days, the thresholds of houses and the edges of gardens catered to many festive greetings in the form of drawings: eggs (Fig. 35), Easter bunnies (Figs. 36 and 37), and imaginative shapes of Easter figures (Fig. 38). In this way, personal events such as birthdays, which could not be celebrated with friends, were signalled with sumptuous and colorful signs on the sidewalks in front of the houses (Figs. 39 and 40).
Among the images relating to human beings, there is a beautiful and complex drawing (Fig. 41) which depicts a country house and its inhabitants, portrayed with great vivacity. To the right of the scene appears Pippi Longstocking, with her polkadot horse and her monkey on her shoulder, next to two children who become her friends in the book (Fig. 42). In front of the house there are some children holding hands on a flowery meadow, illuminated by the sun. At first glance, it would appear to be a depiction of a serene instance of family life, but one detail instantly recalls the difficult reality of this period: on the left, separate from the others, an adult man sits behind the line of the wall with his arms opened disconsolately and wearing a mask (Fig. 43), as someone who should protect others from their own illness. It is probably the father, if the first figure is the mother, larger than the others, in the row of people holding hands in front of the house. The reality of illness and isolation thus bursts into the rural idyll and provides the dramatic key to interpreting an otherwise happy scene.
It is precisely to this anguished theme of illness and death, obsessively present in those lockdown days, that some of the most impressive drawings I photographed are dedicated. Two drawings schematically represent a man and woman with their lungs highlighted, namely the bodypart that could be most severely affected by the coronavirus (Figs. 44 and 45). But in this singular childhood iconography it is not to be overlooked that the shape represented at the height of the lungs could be a giant, frightening representation of the virus itself.
Another drawing with extraordinary expressive power depicts two skeletons, an adult and a child, who seem to be desperately trying to take each other by the hand, one moment before the tragic leap into emptiness (Figs. 46 and 47): almost the abbreviated and schematic version of a danse macabre. The drawing, done by a sure hand on the side of the road, seems to scarily adapt the traditional sequence of the characters (adults) accompanied dangerously by death for the world of children. This scene recalls the famous frescoes of an ancient Totentanz, once painted on the walls of the cemetery of the Predigerkirche, of which only a few impressive fragments survive, and are kept in a room of the Historisches Museum in Basel.
M. A. T.
(translated by Jeanne Muguette Müller)
The photos published here were taken by Maria Antonietta Terzoli in Basel, in the neighbourhoods of Bachletten, Gotthelf and Iselin, between the 12th of April and the 17th of May 2020.
1. Sidewalk decoration
2. Floral and geometric elements
3. Rain, umbrella and flowers
4. On a garden wall
5. On the edge of a flower bed
6. On a ping pong table
7. On a log rest
8. On a manhole
9. Hedgehog, mouse, bird and snail
10. Fish and flamingo
11. Pink cat
12. Blue cat
13. Two sharks
14. Horse with pink mane and tail
19. Mocking mouse
23. Jellyfish next to two heads
25. Female figure with animals
26. Female figure with animals (particular)
27. Child, flowers and bees
28. Astronaut with a flag
29. Astronaut with a caterpillar
31. Female conversation
32. Three children
33. Two children
34. Outlines on the asphalt
35. Happy Easter
36. Easter bunny
37. Easter bunny (particular)
38. Easter figure
39. Happy birthday
40. Happy birthday (particular)
42. House: Pippi Longstocking, with a horse, monkey, and children (particular)
43. House: man with mask (particular)
44. Sick male figure (?)
45. Sick female figure (?)
46. Two skeletons
47. Two skeletons (particular)