The Art of Italianità: Introduction

Part 1: Immigration and Traditions from the Old Country

Part 2: Inside and Outside the Sphere of Ethnicity

Part 3: Essay: Two Worlds / Due Mondi

All images and essays (c) the individual artists unless otherwise noted

B. Amore, De Iorio Triptych: Family Stories, 1998; wood, tin, photo, mixed media, family artifacts; 41 x 72 x 10 inches

Photo: Tad Merrick

Italianità is the essence of being Italian. It is what defines us as a culture: food and family, superstition and folklore, making things, making do, and the art, music, and literature that belongs not just to us but to the world. Italianità is steeped in the boot that juts into the Mediterranean and pervades the Italian Diaspora.

I invited 58 Italian American artists to contribute to this project, curious to know how the culture they experienced relates to their art. On a more personal level, I was curious to know how their stories relate to my own. What I found is that every story is similar but different, a warp of shared experience that supports a fabric woven with our unique individual weft threads. Although we don't identify as "Italian American visual artists," preferring to focus on genre, aesthetic, or medium, our ethnicity informs us. We are painters and sculptors as well as photographers, filmmakers, and animators. We are women and men, gay and straight, spanning an age range from pre-Boomer to post-Millennial—descendants, for the most part, of the Mezzogiorno, that beautiful land east and south of Napoli that is blessed by the sun yet was cruelly unable to sustain the hopes and dreams of so many people who tried to eke a life from it. Emigration was their way out.         -- Joanne Mattera

Our connections to the Old Country remain strong because the connections of our forebears remained strong. Through their traditions we grew up on Italian home cooking and absorbed the language, usually dialect, that provided the soundtrack for so many family gatherings. For others of us it's a deep connection to the geography, art, architecture, and history acquired through travel and study. 

Is there an Italian American aesthetic? Soprano-style home decor aside (and who remembers plastic coverings on the sofa?), I would say no. Certainly there are themes we explore. And in the same way our stories may intertwine, there are inevitably conceptual and physical elements that thread their way through our work. But as you will see from the art shown in this project, even if we borrow directly from the culture our expression has been shaped by our experience as contemporary artists.

I have divided this project into three parts, outlined below. Each of the posts is crossed-linked to the others, so you will be able to read everything in a seamless flow. Should you wish to return to specific sections, an index of individual artists is posted on the sidebar.

Lisa Zukowski

Brian Alterio

David Ambrose

B. Amore

John Avelluto

Nancy Azara

Jeanne Brasile

Jennifer Cecere

Chris Costan

Joe Cultrera

Elisa D'Arrigo

Grace DeGennaro

Claudia DeMonte
Sandra DeSando

Milisa Galazzi

Antonietta Grassi

Margaret Lanzetta

D. Dominick Lombardi

Joanne Mattera
Patricia Miranda

John Paul Morabito

Laura Moriarty
Sheila Pepe
Don Porcaro
Patti Russotti

Lorenza Sannai

Thomas Sarrantonio
Lisa Zukowski  

Carolanna Parlato

Gianluca Bianchino

Serena Bocchino

Mary Bucci McCoy
Sean Capone
Paul Corio
Janet Filomeno
Michael A. Giaquinto
Robert Maloney
Lloyd Martin

Timothy McDowell
Thomas Micchelli
Sandi Miot

Dario Mohr
Wayne Montecalvo
Carolanna Parlato

Anna Patalano
Victor Pesce
Vincent Pidone

Lucio Pozzi

Paul Rinaldi
Hugo Rizzoli
Paula (née Maenza) Roland

Grace Roselli

Michelangelo Russo

Karen Schifano

Mary Schiliro

Assunta Sera
Denise Sfraga
Josette Urso
Mark Wethli

Carleen Zimbalatti

Sheila Pepe, Origin of the World (part one), 2012, installed in the town of Ameno in Novara, Piemonte

Photo: Paola Ferrario

The illustrated essay that comprises this section contextualizes the work of each artist in the project. Following the format of Traditions from the Old Country and Inside and Outside the Sphere of Ethnicity, I have looked for the commonalities within our individual efforts as well as the elements that make each artist's work unique. As the project grows, so does the essay.