Antonio Masini’s sculpture “Man of the Valley” is a gift from the Italian cities of Viggiano and Grumento. The sculpture is, in the words of Antonio Masini, “a tribute to the thousands of Lucanian migrants throughout the world and in Australia in particular. This monument represents the determination and courage inherent in the immigrant.”
The 2+ metre tall, one-tonne cast-bronze figure has been given a spectacular location by Coburg City Council in Coburg Lake Reserve. It stands on a square concrete plinth located on top of a small granite cliff that overlooks the valley where the Merri Creek flows and the park’s main picnic area. The cliff is not a natural feature; prisoners from the now closed Pentridge Prison across the road it was quarried out to build their prison walls. The quarry has been replaced with a small lake and a park.
“Man of the Valley” is beside the Merri Creek bicycle path. The best way to see Coburg’s sculpture is on a bicycle as most are located near bicycle paths. The park had a friendly atmosphere when I visited in the morning on my bicycle. There were ducks and two black swans with four cygnets swimming in the creek. There was Middle Eastern music playing as a band set up in the park’s band-shell. Families were setting up for picnics; the work ‘picnic’ is Turkish and Coburg’s Turkish migrant population makes good use of the parks. A man says: “Hello, my brother” to me as I pass, I prefer that to the nationalist political charged word – “mate”.
The sculptor Antonio Masini was born in Italy in 1933. He is a painter and sculptor in the New Figurative style (not that term means much as a description except that the images are not abstract). Masini has exhibited around the world; in 1977 he exhibited at the International Originals Gallery in Melbourne. “Man of the Valley” is a companion to “Man in the Wind” (2001), a bronze sculpture dedicated to the Italian migrants in Canada, located in Montreal.
The man is just a man, it is not a portrait but he has a pleasant face. His body is not classical or elegant but the simplified form of a clothed modern man. His arms are raised allowing the sheet or cloak that he carries catches a fresh wind. It is a point between the symbolic and ordinary emotion of determined exaltation made monumental. ‘Exaltation’ is to hold something up, represented in the figure holding up the sheet. The back of the sheet has some dynamic folds making the back of the sculpture as interesting as its front.
Coburg needs more sculpture to make the suburb feel more individual and to celebrate the variety of people from around the world who living here. And so I say, thank you to the cities of Viggiano and Grumento for the “Man of the Valley”.
P.S. Recently the sculpture has been taped off by Moreland City Council. Enquires were made to the council and the following explanation has been given. “… is roped because kids where climbing on it. The group associated with the statue requested it. The found it disrespectful. Also there is no fall protection at the base of the statue if someone falls.”
Whether a permanent solution made to fix any of these problems is debatable. The decision to construct a large playground just behind the sculpture (not visible in my 2008 photo) contributed to the problem. For more about health and safety with Melbourne’s public sculptures see my post about unsafe sculptures.