B. Amore, DeIorio 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’s what defines us as a culture: food and family, making things, making do, and the art, music and literature that belongs not just to us but to the world, all of which permeates the boot that juts into the Mediterranean and extends throughout the diaspora. Although Italy itself deals with political and economic issues that drive a wedge between North and South, Italianità is a uniter. Here in the United States, we embrace our Italianità, our Italianness, even as we are fully American.
I have invited 75 artists—most Italian American, but a few from throughout the Italian diaspora—to contribute to this post, curious to know how their culture relates to their art. On a personal level, I was curious how their stories relate to my own. What I found is that every story is different but similar, a warp of shared experience that supports a fabric woven with unique weft threads. Although we don’t identify as “Italian American visual artists,” preferring to focus on genre, aesthetic, or medium, our ethnicity informs us, sometimes in ways we are still discovering. We are painters and sculptors as well as photographers, filmmakers, and animators. We are women and men, gay and straight, born after World War II—Boomer and Gen X—descendants, for the most part, of the Mezzogiorno, that beautiful land blessed by the sun yet unable to sustain the hopes and dreams of the people who tried desperately to eke a life from it.
Emmigration to l’ameriga was our grandparents' way out. Our connections to the Old Country remain strong, especially through the traditions we absorbed and the language—usually dialect—that so many of us grew up hearing, perhaps spoke. For others it’s a deep connection to geography, architecture, and history acquired through travel and study in Italy.
The two worlds continue to be united as successive generations make the voyage here. Now it's a relatively quick trip, with numerous back and forths in a lifetime.
Part 1: Immigration and Traditions from the Old CountryThe artists in this section are inspired by immigration, the Italian language, making things, making do, folklore, and spirituality. The experience of growing up Italian American has informed not only who we are but the work we make.
Lisa Zukowski, Bundles, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable
Diana Gonzalez Gandolfi
D. Dominick Lombardi
John Paul Morabito
Paula (Maenza) Roland
Charyl (Urbano) Weissbach
Part 2: Inside and Outside the Sphere of Ethnicity
The artists in this section share their memories of the Italian American childhoods that shaped them. The difference is that while many have the blood of makers in their veins, for this group it is less the culture of tradition that informs the work and more the culture of Italy itself.
Roberta Tucci, Something Special Here/Nothing Special Here, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 60 inches
Mary Bucci McCoy