Identity Through Art: Italian Canadian Artists Tell Their Tale In Images

How is identity defined? How do we know if we belong? What traits attach us to a particular group, ethnic or otherwise?

These are some of the questions raised by a group of Italian Canadian artists in a contemporary art exhibition which closed at the Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery in Toronto’s Columbus Centre on March 1. The show, titled “Identità –  An Exhibition by Italian Canadian Artists,” originally opened in Brantford in November, and featured the work of 19 Canadian artists of Italian heritage – Alvaro Bertoni, Dino Bolognone, Lucilla Bonfanti, Julie Campagna, Bruno Capolongo, Alfredo De Curtis, Lisa Di Quinzio, Fabio Gasbarri, Francesca L’Orfano, Tony Luciani, Roberto Marra, David Paolini, Frances Patella, David Pellettier, Germinio Pio Politi, Ester Vita Pugliese, Juliana Schewe and Sandra Tarantino.

While the answers to the questions raised, of course, differ according to each individual’s background, upbringing and influences, the common thread in “Identità” inevitably links identity to a process of discovery of one’s roots. The concerns raised are both personal and universal. Says Lucilla Bonfanti, “By revising my past I have allowed myself to readdress some unresolved issues that have been burdening me for many years, thus experiencing a healing effect.” Alvaro Bertoni asks, “Where did the person I am today really come from? As a Canadian of Italian heritage, I face this question everyday.”

“‘Identità” is a reflective and broad-based art exhibition addressing Italian identity in Canada and presenting the Italian Canadian artist’s journey of self-discovery and self-worth by exhibiting intensely personal to overtly political and public works,” says Flavio Belli, curator of the Carrier Gallery, and member of the three-person panel who selected the art works. The others were Teodoro Dragonieri, artist and head of the Arts Department at the Dante Alighieri Academy in Toronto, and Kathryn Hogg, curator of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery in Brantford.

The themes being explored and exhibited through the so-called immigration experience are not unique to Italian Canadians – they are issues which continue to confront any person or group of people who migrate from one country to another, or from one city to another, for that matter. “Growing up in Halifax,” says Lisa Di Quinzio, “meant that things Italian were contained within my family experience. Trips to Italy were internalized events where what seemed so foreign was also strangely familiar.”

This exhibit has given a talented group of artists an opportunity to share their personal and collective experiences. The exhibit weaves a complex tapestry of people coming to terms with who they are and what their place is in society. As viewers we can only benefit from the presentation of these works that explore the theme of origin as determined by culture, regardless of nationality.

First published in Accenti Magazine, Issue 2.

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