by Giulia Riccò
“Italianicity is not Italy”:
Questioning Contemporary Italian Art History
Edited by Tenley Bick
Not unified as a nation state until 1861, what we mean by “Italy” and “Italian” culture is often complex in temporality and even anachronistic with regard to the history it engages. Within contemporary Italy and Italian culture persist histories that inform Italy’s present but can be, as Igiaba Scego has recently written, “uncomfortable traces of our past” (Scego, “Cosa fare con le tracce del nostro passato,” 2020). Histories of colonialism and fascism, for example, continue to inform current debates surrounding migration and Italy’s increasing multi-ethnicity. Recent scholarship on race and biopolitics (Rhiannon Noel Welch, Vital Subjects, 2016), empire and mobility regimes (Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema, 2015; Stephanie Malia Hom, Empire’s Mobius Strip, 2019), and postcoloniality in Italian Studies (Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Caterina Romeo, eds., Postcolonial Italy: Challenging National Homogeneity, 2012) has shed light on contemporary Italy’s understudied sites of identity and often negated histories. Although this scholarship is bringing the so-called postcolonial turn to bear upon studies of contemporary Italian culture, more remains to be done—especially in art historical studies of contemporary Italian art. Indeed, although works by artists of color and themes of migration have been included and addressed in recent years by major exhibitions in Italy, these artists are almost always non-Italian. The need for postcolonial art historical studies of contemporary Italian art history is marked and overdue.
In support of this work, and its relation to the journal’s examination of the contemporary, Palinsesti is launching a special issue dedicated to the topic. The historical frame of the contemporary for Palinsesti begins with 1960: a year that notably initiated the widespread decolonization in Africa. It was also the year that Italy lost its only remaining colony, Somalia, which it held under trustee governance from 1950 to 1960. The contemporary for Italian art, then, is necessarily framed by a loss, by the failure of empire, and by a marked shift in ideas regarding Italy’s cultural geographies and identity. Despite the rise in the 1960s of Italian activist movements for immigrant rights and groups that protested global authoritarianism and imperialism, especially during the Vietnam War, the 1960s and 1970s in Italian art were often a site of renewed artistic interest in primitivism, Orientalism, and tropes of racial difference as vanguard strategies. It is only now that Italy is beginning to take stock of the presentness of its colonial past, and that contemporary Italian artists are beginning to address this problem.
Drawing its title from Roland Barthes’ famous description of “Italianicity” and the artificial, even barbarous regulation of connotative meaning, this issue would invite scholarship in art history and related disciplines (architectural and design history) on contemporary Italian art that challenges dominant narratives of postwar and contemporary Italian art, specifically through attention to the exclusionary discourses that frame it as an area of study. Following Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Caterina Romeo’s 2014 manifesto on “The Italian Postcolonial,” this issue calls for a radical questioning of contemporary Italian art history and mapping of new critical, spatial, and temporal trajectories in Italian art history for today. Through this issue, it seeks to constellate new, radical futures, to borrow T.J. Demos’ use of the term, for tomorrow.
Central to this project is reconsideration of Italian identity itself. Studies on the work of Italian artists of African, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern descent are especially welcome, as are studies of works by immigrant artists in Italy. Also welcome are studies of works by non-Italian artists, especially in former colonial contexts, who address legacies of Italian colonialism.
We welcome topics in these and the following four areas:
RETHINKING ITALIAN IDENTITY
- Critical readings of whiteness in contemporary Italian art
- Constructions of race and of the neocolonial Other by artists, collectives
- Theorizations of italianità alternativa (Joseph Sciorra) in and through contemporary Italian art
- Studies of the work of Afro-Italian artists
- Studies on the Second International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome, 1959
- Racial inequity in Italian museums
- Collaborative practices with migrant and immigrant communities in Italy
- Contemporary Italian art and the Black Mediterranean (Alessandra Di Maio)
- Art in Italy’s diasporas and understudied cultural geographies (past and present)
- Legacies of Futurism in north Africa
- Influences of north and east African cultures on postwar and contemporary Italian art
- Transnational and international themes that decenter conventional constructions of Italian identity in Italian art
ARTISTIC STRATEGIES AND REINSCRIPTION
- The neo-colonial Other in Italian art of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s
- Nomadism and the Transavanguardia
- Neo-primitivism in Arte Povera
HISTORIES & FUTURES
- Contemporary practices that consider histories and legacies of Italian colonialism
- Postcoloniality in contemporary Italian art and cinema
- Art and migration in Italy
- Radical “Italian” futures
Palinsesti is an Open Access Journal, published by the University of Trento (Italy), that selects articles based on a double-blind peer review process. Copyright policies adhere to the Creative Commons License system. The editorial board invites interested scholars to submit a full article in English or Italian. Max. length: 50,000 characters (spaces and footnotes included).
Deadline: July 1st, 2022. For submission instructions, please sign in at https://teseo.unitn.it/palinsesti/issue; for other details contact firstname.lastname@example.org.