Assunta Sera

Leaving the Galaxy, 2015, oil on shaped canvases, app. 120 x 120 inches overall

Sera: Fragments


I was born in a small town between Rome and Naples: Ceprano, Province of Frosinone. My parents, Natalina and Michele, had four daughters of whom I was the youngest: shy, silly and an introvert. Elena, Ida, and Frances were my sisters. Dad left for America before my birth. Mom and my three sisters cared for me in a loving, caring household of women. We raised chickens and grew vegetables on our farmland. Mom prepared meals for us on a stone fireplace in the middle of our small house.


Our lives came to an abrupt change in 1943 when World War ll started in Italy. Fears replaced our freedom. Fear of rape forced my sister Ida to take shelter with grandparents in nearby Strangolagalli. Elena fell in love with John and felt protected, and Frances, who was 11, traded eggs with the soldiers for woolen blankets. Using her sewing skills, my mother made us warm coats out of the blankets. 


The nearby Abbey of Monte Cassino was experiencing fierce bombing. I can still hear deafening noises that sounded like swarms of angry bees. We had to take shelter in a cave in the countryside near the river Liri. The cave was dark, scary, and cold, and all we had was a tarp on the ground for sleeping. I recall having a fascination with the stalactites that hung from the ceiling.


One morning I was struck by shrapnel from a Messerschmitt fighter plane. My mother saw that the right side of my dress was raggedly torn and my arm was bleeding. I was scolded and asked why I had walked out alone from the dark cave. “I wanted to see the sun and the butterflies,” I replied. That night a relative borrowed a truck and drove my mother and me to the American Red Cross in Naples. We were told that the wound was infected and that I could lose my right arm, if not my life. Mom was asked to leave without me. She replied, “No, if Assuntina is going to die, I will be with her.” A sulfa drug and gauze were given for treatment.


I survived. For many years after, shrapnel fragments continued to be removed from my arm. I am so lucky it retained its functionality: It is the arm and hand I paint with.


Four years later, on September 12, 1947, we embarked on the S.S. Vulcania from Naples to New York. At the age of eight I saw my father for the first time. We boarded a train at Grand Central Station bound for Detroit: my new home. It was on the East side of Detroit that Frances and I started Catholic school at Saint Philip Neri. For a year, I was given math problems in every class until I began to understand English. I was also having problems with my right hand freezing. Thanks to our new Doctor Carbone, pieces of metal shrapnel were removed and my hand was better.


Fast forward to 1986, I was back in New York City attending Brooklyn College for an MFA. Lori, Michael and Mark, my three children, were in different colleges at the same time in Detroit. I loved going to classes, meeting artists, studying with great professors and making art. I was fortunate to be showing at Michael Ingbar Gallery and having Grand Central Station as my theme. I also was chosen by the MTA to make a poster of the renovated station.


In 2010, I started cutting paper into shapes from a roll of art paper. Thinking about the universe and how we are only able to see fragments, I began to see my life’s experiences in the same way. From my Italian upbringing and how I so desperately wanted to be accepted as an American, I began to see the cave as a black hole and the sun that I wanted to see. The fractions that I had mastered in grade school were now tools for division of space. I had felt fragmented as an immigrant child, broken at times, laughed at for speaking broken English and called a DP, a Displaced Person. But I own it all, good and bad. I am currently doing artwork about time, space, and movement.

Expansion-Explosion, 2014, oil on shaped canvas, 41 x 81 inches

Fragment 5, 2018, oil on panel, 20 x 22.5 inches

Assunta Sera