How the Great Italian Migration Reshaped Art and Bridged Cultures


ITALIANITÀ, by the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, showcases the Italian Diaspora via the visual arts.

By ISDA Contributing Editor Marianna Gatto

Between 1876 and 1914, 14 million people left Italy during what was one of the largest migrations in history; millions more would emigrate in the years following World War II. Using the visual arts as a vehicle, ITALIANITÀ, a new temporary exhibition at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA), showcases the complex nature of the Italian Diaspora, and celebrates the beliefs, traditions, and defining characteristics connected to this movement.

In the arts, the term diaspora refers to artists who have migrated from one part of the world to another, or whose ancestors have. Their dissimilar experiences influence their creative identities, and in many cases, diasporic artists create alternative narratives, and challenge the structures of the established art world. ITALIANITÀ, which translates to “Italian-ness”, features more than 20 artists and work spanning nearly a century.

Among the highlights of ITALIANITÀ is Joseph Stella’s monumental 1935 work “Smoke Stacks,” which was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Rare drawings by architect Paolo Soleri, the founder of the experimental Arizona town of Arcosanti, are shown alongside the work of Ralph Fasanella, whose art depicted urban working life, and some of the nation’s early labor struggles. Fasanella, a self-taught painter, union organizer and activist, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and is considered one of the greatest primitive painters of the modern era.

This exhibition marks an important milestone for the IAMLA. Never before has this group of artists been exhibited within the confines of a single exhibition or institution. While promoting discourse about the Italian diasporic mosaic, ITALIANITÀ creates common ground on which connections to contemporary migrations can be forged.

ITALIANITÀ examines themes central to the Italian diaspora, including belonging, hyphenated identity, gender roles, memory, folklore, faith, dislocation, and migration.

Born in Calabria, Italy, Italo Scanga, who is best known for his Potato Famine series, explores folk Catholicism in one of the two pieces featured in the exhibition.

Photographer Anthony Riccio chronicled Boston’s North End during the 1980s, a century-old immigrant neighborhood whose character has changed tremendously in recent years.

American-born Cynthia Minet, who was raised in Rome, and examines the subjects of migration and the environment in her work illuminated mixed media sculpture titled Predator: Sky Dance. Rico LeBrun, a leading figure in California’s modernist movement, and Joe Mugnaini, Ray Bradbury’s long-time illustrator are also featured.

ITALIANITÀ continues until January 13, 2019.

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