Enzo Mari and the Hippo

31 Aug 2021

Left: Enzo Mari - photo by Danilo Scarpati  | Right: Hippo designed by Enzo Mari for Fratelli Mannelli, 1970s

When the quality of form emerges, it goes straight to your heart. It has no need for justification.
Enzo Mari (1932 - 2020)


There has been a small hippopotamus sculpture in my life for as long as I can remember. Today it lives in Mum's house on a narrow hall table in East Fremantle - I've always loved its simplistic form and weightiness. Dad bought the hippo from a European gift shop in Perth in the 1970s - he had an eye for beautiful things. He had just designed and built a home for us with a Brutalist concrete relief ceiling - its concave curves remain etched in my memory. My parents had to sell this ambitious house when I was about seven years old due to accruing debt. Not long after this, their marriage imploded. The hippo stayed with Mum - it moved with us in and out of many houses - some very ordinary. I discovered that a well-designed object catches the eye and nourishes the soul regardless of its environment. Somehow the hippo wasn't dropped, broken, or lost along the way. Mum loves it too - it holds our history in its porous travertine stone. I also think of Dad (deceased 2002) when I look at it.

Yesterday I decided to research our hippo after seeing a similar-looking giraffe pop up on someone's Instagram feed. I discovered a myriad of animals under the hashtag #fratellimannelli. Our hippo has a family!

I wasn't surprised to read that our hippo was designed by the great Italian luminary, Enzo Mari. I read an article on dezeen.com by Tom Ravenscroft - he stated, "throughout his career, Enzo promoted the idea of creating well-designed items for ordinary people" - this resonates with me.

Sadly, Enzo Mari died last year, aged 88. Enzo's widely celebrated art curator wife, Lea Vergine, died the day after him, aged 82. Both deaths were due to coronavirus.