The Art of Italianità: Introduction
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.
D. Dominick LombardiJoanne Mattera
John Paul MorabitoLaura Moriarty
Lorenza SannaiThomas Sarrantonio
Mary Bucci McCoy
Michael A. Giaquinto
Paula (née Maenza) Roland
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.