On the morning of February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Missiles, rockets, and airstrikes hit across the country, including in the capital city of Kyiv, displacing millions of people and causing millions to flee the country. Additionally, there were tens of thousands of deaths.
Self-taught artist Nancy Iannitelli, who moved to Naples from Massachusetts in 1990, considers herself “deeply sensitive” and was moved to create a painting in response to the news about Ukraine’s displaced citizens. At the time, she had no canvas nearby, so she used a remnant of fabric, stretching it and painting directly on the cloth. To her delight, she discovered the colors of the fabric enhanced the artwork and added an extra layer of dimension to the result.
Iannitelli, who works as a hairstylist a couple days a week, went on to create 27 paintings from her imagination—all on fabric remnants, most of which were gifted to her from friends and clients. She painted faces of people from the various locales of the world where war is currently waging, creating likenesses of the nationalities. For example, she took the colors in the Ukrainian flag and created a stylized painting of what she imagined a typical person from that part of the world would look like—adding distinct features like eye and hair color.
“Everyone has a story,” she says. “So many people are dealing with war. I did not want these people to be forgotten.” The fabric remnants, she explains, were the perfect mediums—and metaphors—for her to portray the faces, explaining, “They are displaced pieces of cloth, but ultimately there is a use for each one, just as there are for the citizens of the world displaced by war.”
Iannitelli wasn’t exactly sure where her projects would take her or how she could help through her art. After sharing photos of her work with clients, however, she had her answer: She would start a nonprofit. Client Nancy Dagher helped her register as a 501(c)(3) foundation, Relief Through Art. Dagher then suggested meeting with attorney Kim Hastings, who after seeing the body of art, also expressed an interest in becoming involved. Hastings is now serving on the board of the new foundation. “Their encouragement has led me to this point,” says Iannitelli.
The foundation’s mission is to help creatives worldwide who have been displaced by war and who are dealing with challenging environments to pursue their dreams and achieve economic independence by cultivating their skills and crafts. Iannitelli is hosting up to 15 guests at her studio/garden for soirees where her paintings will be on display and where donations can be made to a special fund. She hopes the evenings will bring awareness, prompt dialogue, and ultimately empower artists in dire circumstances to continue pursuing their passions and get back on their feet.