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 into the boot that juts into the Mediterranean and pervades the Italian diaspora.
I invited 44 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 different but similar, 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 Gen X—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.
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.
Mary Bucci McCoy
Michael A. Giaquinto
Paula (née Maenza) Roland
Above: Hugo Rizzolil, Crooked Shelf Library of Ordinary Miracles,
Sheila Pepe, Origin of the World (part one), 2012, installed in the town of Ameno in Novara, Piemonte