Playing the martyr earns DMU student international acclaim

Challenging audiences to self-reflect through an interactive and provocative performance, has earned Leonardo Venturi a top prize at an international art exhibition.


Martyr, the piece by the second-year Performing Arts student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), won the ‘performance art’ category earning Leonardo €1,000 in the Artkeys Prize, an annual competition taking place in Italy’s Campania region.

The 21-year-old from Italy said: “Presenting my piece was an award in itself, but winning was incredible. The experience of performing in a castle on the Italian Riviera among such talented artists was breathtaking, and it gave me a taste of what being treated like a professional looks like.

“Personally, the most important thing about winning this award is that I’m representing a generation of young Italian artists who aren’t valued or given enough opportunities. That in itself is an honour.

“I’m especially grateful to have had this opportunity during a global pandemic and so thankful for social distancing measures and people wearing masks.”


Devised as part of his degree assessment last year on the topic of ‘games’, Martyr is a play on the Stations of the Cross, a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man.

“My piece is about seeing religion as a performance. There are still so many inequalities and much pain in the world, yet religion doesn’t really address any of it. We continue to perform these rituals despite that and it’s a global issue,” said Leonardo.

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The performance opens with Leonardo exposed and tied up, pleading for help. Later on, he invites audience members to take part in a digital game of noughts and crosses. Each time a participant makes their mark on the screen, a loud whipping sound plays and Leonardo screams in pain.


He said: “Every time I perform this, I’m fascinated that the majority of people ignore my cries for help and continue to play the game of noughts and crosses despite digitally whipping me.

“I definitely see it as a reflection of how we exist in the world, often without empathy and by turning a blind eye to what’s happening around us.

“To me, it’s simple. If you see someone calling for help, you help them. You don’t just stand there watching or contributing to their pain. It also makes me think about those whose pain isn’t visible.”

Studying dance, drama and musical theatre from a young age, Leonardo was keen to pursue Performing Arts as a degree, which led him to DMU.


“I knew I would have to leave Italy to pursue this opportunity and the UK was my first choice because of its rich history in the arts. I did a lot of research and I couldn’t find another university that offered a curriculum as fantastic as DMU’s,” he said.

“Not only do I get to combine all of my passions, I’m also learning technical skills and exploring mixed media. I’m especially looking forward to discovering routes into education in my final year, because teaching is something I’m very interested in.

“What also sets DMU apart is the amazing facilities we have, as well as the talented technicians and helpful personal tutors who support us.”

Find out more about Leonardo’s work on his website and connect with him on Instagram and Facebook.

Posted on Friday 20th November 2020

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