I grew up in an old, superstitious, Roman Catholic, Italian family. Around each neck at family parties you could find a gold chain with a cross and a little metal symbol, the mano cornuto. The symbol used in Italy and other mediterranean cultures to keep away the evil eye, to protect its owner from bad luck. The symbol found its way into the mainstream when musicians began to use it at metal and rock shows, and now it’s more commonly known as “rock on”.
My maternal grandfather passed away when my mom was 11 at the age of 49. The family rumor is that he was in the mafia and therefore the circumstances of his passing at such a young ago are fuzzy. My godfather, Angelo, has even admitted to me that he “did some jobs for the mafia” but didn’t join or continue because he started a family.
I don’t know what kind of jobs my grandfather or my godfather did, but I couldn’t help but wonder, considering the Italian mafia were not really “nice people”. But to me, to the rest of my family, although they have their flaws, my grandfather and godfather were and are great people.
My mother and aunts’ testimonies of my grandfather’s character is all I have to understand who he was. He was jealous, but kind. My mom’s favorite story of him to tell me was that one day her father brought home a color TV and it was the only one in their neighborhood, so he invited a bunch of people over and they all watch. Her stories about him always painted him as a man who took care of everyone, even those who had no blood ties.
So how could someone be so generous but also be involved in a mafia? Maybe he felt as if he had a safety net as my grandmother and great-aunts prayed for his soul until years after he passed. Maybe he thought the little golden mano cornuto would protect him.
For my project, I wanted to remake the mano cornuto in a way that mocks the people who use it for protection from evil, while they’re doing evil. I made the hand life-size and dismembered, as if it were the hand of someone who was involved in the mafia.